For aspiring inventors, startup innovators, and small business owners, protecting ownership of an original idea can be as important as the merit of the idea itself. But legal protection of intellectual property can be costly — and sometimes this unnecessary expense might be equally fatal to an emerging business.
Roy Rosser, who has worked on both the legal and technical ends of invention, is well acquainted with competing impulses that conflict for small, independent innovators. “You have a great idea and you want to go out and tell people about it, but you don’t want them running off with the secrets,” Rosser says. “So what can you do to protect yourself without spending a lot of time and effort and money?”
Rosser will introduce methods of protecting intellectual property, exploring both patent law and possible alternatives, at a SCORE workshop titled “Protecting IP and Patents” at South Brunswick Public Library on Tuesday, November 27, at 6:30 p.m. Visit www.princeton.score.org.
In the workshop Rosser will explore a range of strategic reasons to pursue a patent. Tactics that work for big companies — such as constantly filing patents for incremental advancements in technology — may not be suitable for small business owners. However, there are still legitimate reasons for individuals to seek patents without institutional backing. For academics, patents might be used purely for burnishing a resume, similar to publishing a paper. Patents also have value as a marketing tool — advertising a product as patented may give a competitive advantage over alternative products.
Rosser hopes to balance these possible reasons for pursuing a patent with a realistic understanding of the process: “A lot of inventors have a very optimistic view of what will happen if they get a patent, they think they’ll become a millionaire, and that’s unrealistic.”
Rosser notes that while some patents are worthwhile, most are not particularly valuable and may not be worth investing time and effort in defending once they expire. “It’s relatively easy to get a patent but to protect it you really have the right people and make sure you’ve put the right things in place.”
Rosser became interested in invention at an early age, through his father, an airline pilot, who introduced him to the mechanics of airplanes when aircraft technology was in a period of tremendous growth. Rosser’s father was a fighter pilot in World War II who flew in North Africa and Italy during the war. When the Korean War broke out, he moved his family to Zimbabwe, where he served as pilot for the first Central African airline. “Growing up, I was taught how a jet engine worked, and then I was always interested in the technology of what makes something work,” Rosser recalls.
Rosser’s interest in technological production was also a product of his uncle, who owned a printing and stamping factory. Rosser eagerly anticipated vacations when he might spend his day at the factory, helping workers, inspecting the machines, and learning about the technology involved in the molding process. These two early influences stirred Rosser’s “wonder at how things work and are made, and curiosity for how to make them better or different.”
After studying physics and applied optics at Imperial College, London, and earning a Ph.D. in optical design — an accomplishment Rosser wryly calls an accident (his South African passport made it impossible for him to find work outside of the college, effectively forcing him to remain a student) — Rosser moved to Princeton to work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), where he conducted laser and synchrotron-based research.
Through connections made at PPPL Rosser began working on a new business, Princeton Video Image (PVI), creating technology that would allow for visuals to be projected on live television. As founder of PVI, Rosser came up with the concept and helped create the technology that allows the yellow first-down line to be projected onto the field during football games. This technology is the same that allows, for example, Major League Baseball to project advertising behind batters.
During his time working at PVI, Rosser became involved with the legal team’s efforts to defend the business’s patent. He realized that his background as an inventor was invaluable to his legal team, as he could provide technical knowledge that assisted in defending PVI’s case.
From this process, Rosser learned how tricky the practice of patent law can be: “Protecting intellectual property is very difficult, and part of that is because it can be very complex because you have to understand the technology as much as the law, and that is very difficult for the legal system.”
After his process of collaborating with the legal team, Rosser worked as an advisor to law practices such as Woodbridge and Associates, Fox Rothschild, and Gearhart Law. A registered U.S. Patent Practitioner, Rosser now owns his own practice, named R.R. (Princeton), and helps advise, draft, and file patent applications on behalf of inventors. He has also written a book, “Efficient Patent Drafting.”
He is also an inventor himself: he has invented a reciprocating-action crank set for bikes that he says is more efficient than normal peddling.
In his talk, Rosser will share his expertise honed through years of experience both as an inventor and patent consultant. “As an inventor, I’m very conscious of the fact that legal and patent advice can be very expensive,” Rosser explains. “My aim is to try to provide [workshop participants] with some idea of what’s possible and what resources they can access themselves, so they don’t do anything that is damaging in the long run.”