Patenting a New Jig or Tool

A woodworker has thought up a modification that improves on someone else's design, and wonders whether he should seek a patent. Responses supply a rundown on the patent process and its pitfalls. February 17, 2006

I can slightly modify an existing woodworking jig and come up with a jig with a completely different use that seems to be much better than anything I have seen for the use of the new jig. Originally I was thinking of it for my own use, but I can see others in small shops making use of it. I have been given advice on patenting the device and have been warned the big guys will just take the idea. I do not see myself manufacturing the thing, but if there was some money to be made, that would be great. The original jig is about $75.00 and the modification is slight.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor R:
I would think that you need to build a brand new prototype, and not alter someone else's patent. Many, many things don't have a patent on them. Maybe you should take your idea to the company that almost came up with it.

From contributor D:
Don't let anyone steal your idea. Don't tell anyone about it. Make your prototype, test it, build more and sell them. Screw the big guys - they will try to screw you from the word go.

From contributor J:
It's obvious, I'm sure, but make sure your product has enough differences from the original to keep you out of legal trouble from the beginning. I would definitely consult legal help in the beginning.

From contributor M:
You need to talk to a patent attorney. Here's the deal with patents, as it applies to you. To get a new patent, your idea has to be 10% different from an existing patent. If the patent has expired, it is fair game - i.e. the Biesemeyer fence. Once the patent expired, everyone started using this idea.

Even if your idea is 15% different, you may still be sued. You can either choose to defend it, or stop making and pay for infringing on someone else's patent. If you want to pursue a patent, you can still have someone else use your idea and sell it. It would be up to you to sue them. This could be either a US company or a foreign company, in which you would file in a court with international jurisdiction. The company could make its millions and go out of business before it came to trial. You have no one to recover damages from.

If you still want to apply for a patent, you can write this yourself. You must describe it very carefully, make a drawing describing it (it seems like it must conform to standard drafting protocol). Then you pay your money and you are granted 'Patent Pending.' This means that you have registered your idea first, and are protected if someone else tries to say that it was their idea. Then you must research. You must show how this is different from existing patents and patents that have expired. This is where a research firm is helpful. Attorneys that I have talked to wanted between $3,000 and $10,000 for this process. Once you have received patent pending, you have 1 year to complete the process, or your idea becomes public knowledge and no patent may be granted.

Talking to companies about this before a patent is offered can be tricky. You will want them to sign a non-disclosure form, which says that they will not start producing this idea - steal it from you. The tricky part? Many companies don't want to be tied down to this, because they may be working on the same idea. And if they sign this statement, they would be giving up any rights they may have had. It's a double bind. In short, apply for a patent before you start talking. And whatever you do, there is no such thing as a 'poor man's patent.' Some people will tell you to write up your description and drawing, and mail it to yourself. Don't open it until you need to. The date will be on the outside, verifying your story. This is not reliable. Just apply for the patent and the patent office will be your best defense.

Many people that I have talked to have said just start making it and sell 'em. The patent process is expensive, especially if you have to fight in court. And then there is a good chance that a foreign company will make a knock off and undersell you.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the great responses. Do you have suggestions on contacting the original jig maker and having them modify and sell the product? Or contacting someone like Kreg and running the idea by them? I realize I am trying to take the easy way out and would expect to be compensated accordingly, if at all. But I must say I think it is an idea with potential.

From contributor P:
I'm in the process of patenting a tool also. It is a very long, detailed, and expensive process. And yes, the waters are full of sharks. Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances use any of the patent application services advertised on television. They will take your money and ask for more. The most they will do for you is get what is called a provisional patent (patent pending). You can do that yourself for $100. But you then have 1 year to complete the patent process or your idea cannot be patented, not to mention you will not get a dime!

If you don't have the time, money, or don't think this will be worth the effort to patent, you might consider licensing your product to an existing tool manufacturer. They will not buy an idea. You have to have a working model. You will need, at the very minimum, a working prototype, manufacturing cost analysis, market penetration figures, and hopefully, real world test results and surveys. The more you can offer them, the more money you can receive.

From contributor N:
I've been under the impression that an item which would qualify for a patent would have to be a new concept of operation. For example, one might invent a clip device that goes around the edge of a picnic table and holds on the table cover. But the concept exists already in the ink pen clip, alligator clips and things of that nature - there are no patents. Likewise, rubbing a jig on or near a rotating spindle to create any pattern cut. The concept of a jig isn't new. Trademark a name, like Bandaid. Then all bandages are Bandaids. Never Curad. Then, if the interest is there, manufacture it with your picture logo and TM and sell, sell, sell it. You might sub the parts out and run the assembly and marketing. Later, the trademark business could be sold. Joining with a tool manufacturer sounds like an possible avenue as well.

From contributor K:
You might check with WoodWorking Supply. They have a "design a tool" contest in which the winner may have their idea produced and sold in their catalog and you get a percentage of the sales. You may also want to contact the Fast Cap people - they seem to market a lot of common sense tools and such.

From contributor G:
Look into the original patent for the product you want to improve on. There is a waiting period for using the original idea and improving on that product. Contributor M posted a great response! On the other hand contributor D, I think you are putting the cart in front of the horse. What you are referring to is the "name" or "catch phrase" that is an everyday household name. I believe that is secondary to making sure your product or idea is marketable.

From contributor M:
You're right, contributor G. A trademark is rights to a logo. You could not take a Lexus or Mercedes logo and put it on your cabinets or invention because that symbol is already protected. Copyrights are for printed material. Before you go to a manufacturer or marketing group, make sure you have applied for your patent. Otherwise, it is up for grabs.