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June 27, 2024 | Tom Ballard

“How’s your health?”

That question launches a discussion with a former Patent Examiner about intellectual property in this month's "In the Room" session.

Early in Thursday morning’s latest “In the Room” session at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), Gera Grinberg asked Phil Stuckey, Founder of FC Renew, “Are you in good health?” His response was, “I think so.”

It was the sort of candid give and take that has characterized the monthly sessions that our colleague Katelyn Keenehan has captured since the since the series was launched last December (see articles as follows: December 2023, January 2024, February 2024, March 2024, April 2024, and May 2024). I covered this month’s session since she was out-of-town.

Gera Grinberg

A different local entrepreneur is in the proverbial “hot seat” each time, pitching her or his company as the individual is peppered with questions from Grinberg. This month was Stuckey’s opportunity and, when that portion of the program was over, Grinberg said, “I thought Phil did very well.”

So, what was the point about good health?

It was a setup for the main topic of the day – intellectual property – and also the fact that prospective investors in FC Renew, a member of the 2021 Cohort of the “Innovation Crossroads” program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, would be betting on Stuckey since he has not filed for any patents yet. (UPDATE: He told us in a follow-up email that the company has filed some provisional patent applications but have not yet converted any to non-provisional patent applications.)

As he described in this February 2023 article, FC Renew provides the equivalent of an oil change for hydrogen fuel cells.

Since we have not attended previous sessions, we only knew what we had heard, but this one seemed to have additional content contributors that included:

  • Stuckey, who previously served as a Patent Examiner reviewing fuel cell and battery applications for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) before launching FC Renew.
  • Brian Krumm, Interim Director of the Clayton Center for Entrepreneurial Law at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). He’s also an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Business Clinic in the Haslam College of Business.
  • Melissa Centers, a longtime corporate attorney, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at UTK’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, KEC board member, and Grinberg’s wife.

Before Grinberg shifted to the main topic, Centers asked Stuckey another probing question. “You seem like a very coachable founder. If I asked you if you would hire a CEO so you could focus on just the technology, how would you react?” His response was candidly, “I don’t know.”

The balance of the discussion focused on three types of intellectual property (IP) – copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Grinberg said that his biggest issue with IP is the cost associated with it.

How timely was the topic? The session, which was scheduled to end at 10 a.m., ran over just a bit due to the robust discussion that followed.

“In the Room” will skip the July session before returning in late August for another local entrepreneur in the hot seat and a discussion about terminating employees.

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