Patenting a Woodworking Invention

The deck is stacked against the small inventor, but teaming up with a large manufacturer could repay your creativity. February 6, 2010

I have invented a type of chisel that I am trying to market. I have made a wooden prototype and am having a steel prototype made. I am told a patent is "iffy" due to the nature of how the tool works. I am told a slight change to the tool would make my patent invalid.

I am very sure this is a seller and would like to know if anyone can tell me how to proceed with marketing. Should I sell the idea to a tool distributor - maybe Fastcap? Iíve been thinking of this for ten years and still, it doesn't exist anywhere in the world (as I researched it extensively).

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
If you are trying to market a unique chisel it would be best to do some market research on what type of shops would be interested in it. Go to a local university and do some research about what type of market to focus your efforts. I am a student at Boise State University the library is very extensive in all topics. Look at old cases dealing with patent issues this will help you to avoid some pit falls.

From contributor D:
Holding a patent on an item is far over-rated. It is what you do with the item in terms of marketing it, or like you said, selling it. Patents are very expensive. The good news is this. You can obtain "patent pending" status for about $100 without an attorney. You may then reveal your secret to prospective investors safely. This gives you a window of one year to see if your invention is marketable, or worth anything on the market. If after one year, you have offers, or want to pursue further, you then hire a patent attorney and obtain a full fledged patent. The biggest mistake people make is that they spend $5,000 plus obtaining a patent only then to realize that no-one wants to buy their item or that marketing it themselves is not practical. Be careful! The attorney wanting that $5000 plus is not going to give you this advise. He will likely go straight for the full patent at your expense. I hope this gives you the tools you need to move to the next step.

From contributor H:
Do not wait another ten years. Act today. I like your idea of approaching FastCap.

From contributor J:
Fast cap will give you a 2-3% royalty. Thatís only $.20-.30 if the chisel is sold for $10.00. I would start the patent process and take it to a machine shop and see what they could mass produce it for.

From contributor W:
I owned the patent on ice chests with wheels for several years and let it lapse. Rubbermaid simply told me that they had more money and better lawyers than I could afford. I actually got a letter that figuratively gave me the finger! What you need to do is get your product to market. Forget all of the other stuff.

From contributor M:
In general, patents are overrated. I got a patent about 15 years ago and wasted about $10,000. In less than a year on the market a company copied some of the features of my product. I contacted my patent attorney who told me to purchase one of them. I spent about $400 on one of the copies and my attorney said that the offending company must have studied my patent and worked around it in order to not infringe on my patent. He sent me a bill for over $1,000.

A year later another company copied my product almost exactly. I spent several hundred more dollars to purchase one and my attorney said that it was an infringement. He contacted the other companyís lawyer and told them to stop making this product that was infringing on my patent. The other company said ok, and he charged me $2,000. One day I received a card in the mail that said that another patent had been issued that cited my patent. You see, if something is patented that is similar to an existing patent, the lawyers just have to list the previous patents that are similar. This card said that if I sent $35.00 they would send me a copy of the patent that was similar to mine. My attorney said to just toss it in the trash and not to bother. Two days later I got a bill for $50.00 for his great advice to not waste $35.00.

I say go with Fastcap, or have the things made and market them. If they are copied by a big company with deep pockets, even if you had a patent, it could cost $250,000 or more to defend your patent. Deep Pockets could even prove that your patent is invalid and should never have been granted. So, if it is a great idea go forward with it, but donít waste your money on a patent.

From contributor B:
Always be careful of who you go to with it. Shortly after Fastcap came out with the fast tape I emailed them about an idea I had to make your own fastcaps. I received a reply that said it would violate their own patent and I couldnít do it without violating their patent. A while later guess what, they came out with it. I email and called about it and never got a reply. I searched for the email I sent, but could not find it as it was a couple of computers ago. By the way, if you want a punch, go to a craft store and you can buy circle punch for about $4.

From contributor A:
At the end of the day a patent does not stop another company from stealing your design. The patent may allow you to win a lawsuit preventing the offending party from future offenses. You are the enforcer of your own patent. You need to hire and pay a lawyer to take your violation cases to court. People always complain about the $5k to get the patent, which is simply wording and title search. Imagine the bill when the lawyer sues the first violator.

Fact number one - patents are a waste of time unless you are talking about absolutely unique hard to copy items.

Fact number two - creating a product's market share "fast & furious" is more important than getting a patent.

However, I still encourage you to get a patent for a totally different reason. 99.9% of the general public does not understand the above. Likewise the general public does not understand marketing. Companies often write "new" or "improved" on products because that simple word increases sales .

You can file your own patent application for a few hundred dollars. That allows you to place "Patent Pending" on your product. Just those two simple words will increase your sales.

The vast majority of people assume that something is a better product if it is "Patented" so "Patent Pending" in their minds means that the product will be patented and therefore is a better product and desirable/worthwhile to purchase. Apply for the patent with no expectation to receive it.

FastCap is a marketing machine. Many of their patented products will be copied and they will not care. They have a leg up on competition by their brand. People now believe that a patented FastCap product is better and will purchase it without researching other brands or products. They have won the battle before it has started through their brand. I learned this info when I designed and fabricated what I believe to be a superior sharpening guide.

It had all the right stuff (elegant design, ease of manufacture, superior function, etc.). However, I paid a patent attorney a few hundred bucks to explain the above. He encouraged me to file my own app if I truly was interested in busting my butt to sell a bunch of tools. He likewise encouraged me to license my idea to a company like Lee Valley (this was ten years ago before FastCap).

Designing the best mouse trap never beats superior marketing of a decent mousetrap. There are hundreds of mousetrap patents, yet most people buy the old school wood ones made right here in the USA.

From contributor E:
We have several design registrations (patents) for furniture items we designed. The first one we did through a lawyer, who happened to teach patent law in a university. All the drawings and documents were returned by the patent office, for various reasons. These were all inspected by the lawyer and he submitted them himself. Every time you involve the lawyer the bill keeps going up and up. In the end we spent thousands to protect our design in 3 different countries, which is fine. The next series of registrations we did on line on our own, and not one of them came back, and it costs about $400 each time. All of the products that we hold patents on, to my knowledge have not been copied. We have table designs that at least two companies have copied, which we didn't bother to try to register. A patent may save you, but the truth is how deep are your pockets? There were two furniture companies who went to court over a patent infringement and it took 11 years and a $211,000,000 payout, not to mention the court costs.

From contributor H:
They may steal your idea, or they may not. Once you patent it, they may steal it or they may not. You have no control over their actions - you only have control over your own fear. Fear of losing something that is not making you any money and has been in your mind for how many years? Keith Ellis says: "if you want to make your dreams come true, you have to wake up." In other words you have to take action, some action towards your goal. Start a small action by trying to find the contact at the tooling companies you want to work with.

Make sure there is more than one company so that you have a comparison of attitudes and accountability as you progress. Once you know the contact, ask how they handle new ideas. How do they protect the inventor? If you don't like their answers then stop and find another. Don't show your invention until you have a contact and a contract you feel good about. Yes, they may steal it, but they may also sell the hell out of it. They may also tell you that it is not enough of a difference to be worth promoting. But you have to start making some action, or you will always have the "should-a would-a, could-a" on your shoulders. If they steal your idea than you are exactly where you are now with one exception, you will have learned how not to market an invention, and that will be very valuable on your next invention.

From contributor L:

If you can put a defining name of the product you can copy write that easily. Then go to some manufacturers with it. You have to get it to market with the power of a larger manufacturer behind it. Promotion and distribution take time and money; you don't have enough of either to do it on your own.