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April 16, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Vance VanDrake uses two board games to describe the patenting process and its tradeoffs

For nearly two hours, Patent Attorney, Author and Serial Entrepreneur Vance VanDrake turned a normally dry topic into an insightful talk during a virtual workshop hosted by the Knoxville Technology Council on Wednesday.

Originally planned as an in-person event, the session was delivered using the Lunchpool virtual event platform that allowed individuals to participate from many different locations. Probably the person who was the farthest away was Lia Winter, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Winter Innovations, who joined from her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA where she was visiting family.

VanDrake’s book – The Patent Game – is an Amazon bestseller, and the Cincinnati-based Attorney started his presentation by comparing the patenting process to two board games – Monopoly and Risk.

“Like Monopoly, not all properties are created equally,” VanDrake noted, something that those who have played the game will recall. Boardwalk and Park Place are the most expensive property on a standard Monopoly Board, and the highest in rent revenue. Conversely, Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues are the cheapest.

Because of those disparities, rent that an owner collects from those who land on Boardwalk and Park Place is considerably higher than monies collected from players who land on Baltic or Mediterranean. That’s the analogy he drew in terms of a patent.

“Once you own a property, it operates very similarly when someone lands on your spot; they pay you rent” or, in the case of a patent, a licensing fee, VanDrake explained. In terms of the other board game, he said, “Like in Risk, you have to pick and choose which countries you want to invest to protect your risk.” The point is the tradeoff between expense for patents in more countries and the risk of not pursuing.

For the balance of his presentation, VanDrake discussed patents in considerable detail and trademarks, branding, copyright, and trade secrets to a lesser extent. Throughout the session, he combined humor and frequent questions to engage the virtual attendees. At the end of the presentation, VanDrake offered perhaps the most common sensical but valuable advice: “Do the easy stuff until you have bags of cash.”

Here are some of the interesting points we captured:

  • The name of his book has a distinct meaning. “There’s a lot of gamification in the patenting process,” VanDrake said.
  • Those seeking a patent should expect a rejection on first submission. That happens more than 90 percent of the time.
  • Entrepreneurs and inventors need to understand the three types of patents: (1) utility – functional including processes; (2) design – “entirely ornamental, truly the way something works”; and (3) plant – “a very niche area.”
  • To get a patent, the invention must be useful, novel, and not obvious to one skilled in the art. We particularly noted a key point that he made in terms of novelty. While an inventor might only be seeking a U.S. patent, the invention has to be novel throughout the world. “Anything from anywhere in the world can be used against you,” VanDrake explained.
  • Patent Examiners, on average, have about eight hours to review and rule on applications. As such, there are some unintended results. “There are a ton of patents that are on the books that are invalid or unenforceable,” he noted. If you’re wondering why, it’s because the limited time for the review did not uncover prior art that exists somewhere across the globe.
  • Only three percent of patent litigation ever goes through a full trial. The vast majority of cases are settled.

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