So you invented something. That means you no doubt think it’s the greatest idea ever.
It isn’t. Even if it is, Eric LaMorte, a patent attorney based in Yardley, will not get excited for you. For one thing, he has written more than 1,000 patents. For another thing, it’s not his job to get excited, it’s his job to help you patent your idea.
But it’s also a personal mission for him to help keep the average garage-and-basement inventor from getting ripped off. Too many inventors think the whole process is like buying a lottery ticket, he says. An idea seems like the new sliced bread and an inventor thinks all he needs to do is just get a patent and his life of avarice will just roll in.
It won’t. Not until you think of your invention like a business.
LaMorte will host “Shark Tank,” a one-night class on how to research and protect ideas so those ideas can be safely presented to companies and investors, on Tuesday, February 21, at 7 p.m. at Princeton High School. Cost: $50. Visit www.ssreg.com/Princeton.
If the name of LaMorte’s class sounds familiar, it’s because so many of the students who attend his regular patent workshops lately are fans of the show. Many of his clients have actually appeared on “Shark Tank.” While most of his bread-and-butter clients are companies, most people who attend his workshops are people with ideas they think are worthy of being on the show. So the name is meant to attract the person with what LaMorte calls “the fever.”
And while the class is not meant to crush enthusiasm, it is meant to cool the fever of anyone who thinks that just because he came up with something it will automatically make him rich.
The trouble with inventing. The first thing to know about getting a patent is that your idea has to be new. It can’t be something someone patented 100 years ago and the patent has expired. It can be a modification, but it has to be new and unique.
“Half of the people come in with something not patentable,” LaMorte says. The other half? Nine out of ten have a patentable idea that already exists. The rare one who has a genuinely patentable idea, he says, is typically more of a professional.
By professional, LaMorte means an entrepreneur with a business plan. In fact, the first thing LaMorte asks someone who comes to him with the new greatest idea ever is, “What are you going to do with it? Will you start a company? Will you license your product?”
A patent, he says, is a small piece of an overall business endeavor. Sure, there are a lot of vanity patents out there. Things doctors invent, for example, just to have the patent so they can hang it on the wall and look extra smart. But people who have success with patents are those who understand that a patent is just a legal protection of intellectual property. It’s not a money generator in and of itself.
And if you’re thinking you can patent something and leave it sit there until some poor fool builds your technology and you cash in on royalties, that’s really not going to happen. The odds are long that you came up with something that astonishing in the first place, and even if you did, companies with business plans will probably just wait until the patent expires and then build it.
Patent trends. The things inventors make move in trends. In the late 1800s it was a lot of wires and gears, for example. These days, LaMorte says, it’s software.
This lends itself to a curious evolution in the patent office. In short, the more tech-based an idea, the more education in things like engineering, computers, and science you need to develop the idea.
“People say, ‘I want to do an app,’” he says. “I ask, ‘How do you do it?’ If you don’t have the technical skills to do it, you either need to hire somebody or learn it.”
You don’t need to build a prototype, but you do need to show the Patent Office how it works. In other words, it doesn’t need to be built, but it does need to be buildable from the patent.
Beware the provisional patent. “The primary reason I teach the class is to keep people from getting ripped off,” LaMorte says. One way to do that is to counsel people away from the TV ads that offer patents for $99. Those, he says, are provisional patents.
“A provisional patent is an application that never gets looked at by the Patent Office,” he says. “They don’t tell you that you have to register a patent within a year. And it’s $1,000. They don’t tell you that either.”
Most people leave LaMorte’s classes deflated, he says. But for him it’s a good deal — he gives them some of his knowledge and they get to keep their shirts.
LaMorte, like most patent attorneys, is an engineer. The nature of the work requires the ability to translate technical details into what amounts to a manual for someone else to follow. Unlike most lawyers, patent attorneys need to have a bachelor’s degree in a hard science. LaMorte holds mechanical and electrical engineering degrees from Villanova.
He began his career in engineering controls at Ford Motor Co., where he sat in meetings with company attorneys who needed to know technical things for lawsuits. One of those attorneys encouraged him to go to law school, so he went to Seton Hall for his J.D.
LaMorte’s father ran a vending machine company on the boardwalk in the family’s native Staten Island. His wife, Mary Alice, whom he met at Villanova, works as a patent agent at their Yardley firm. This means she has passed the U.S. Patent Office’s bar exam but has never gone to law school. She can file for patents but cannot take on lawsuits.
After Seton Hall LaMorte worked for several law firms, the largest being Gibbons Del Deo, based in Newark. He opened his own firm in 1995.
Over the years he’s given several workshops and classes on patenting idea. How many people he has kept from getting taken by provisional patent scams is anyone’s guess. He does know that if he ever hears from anyone who attended his class, it’s always more than a year later. Those, he says, are the ones who tend to have more of a plan than invent, patent, then cash the check.
“Those are the ones who chew on it for a long time,” he says.