The Patent Professor
John Rizvi, Esq.
Inventors know me as a champion of simple ideas that have far reaching impacts on everyday life. Inventions like the coffee cup sleeve® or Spanx® reveal a simple ingenuity and insight into solving big problems with a KISS approach.
Despite this, inventors often doubt that their idea is big enough. In my 20 years as The Patent Professor®, I have never had anyone come to me with an idea for a flux capacitor or a time machine but somehow that is the impression they have built up in their minds.
Others, like the toilet purifier® developed by David Cogswell were cleverly engineered and garnered mass appeal on the Home Shopping Network and on store shelves in Walmart. These inventions were far removed from elite complexity of the mythical flux capacitor and it’s mad but brilliant inventor “Doc” in the movie Back to the Future.
For the small minority who may have not watched this blockbuster, the highest grossing movie of 1995, Marty McFly must reach 88 miles per hour in the fabled DeLorean DMC-12 to break the confines of nature and travel back or forwards in time. It’s a great movie and underlines the fascination all of us have with technology and its power to positively affect change in our lives and society
However, most of the time it’s the small things that affect the greatest influence on everyday activities and my client inventions attest to that.
Every now and then, however, I must admit that one does see a science fiction idea emerge out of the ether which kindles massive awe and reverberations through scientific communities and may one day reach the masses.
The Flux Capacitor has again recently become a talking point when scientists in Australia and Switzerland confirmed the possibility of device that uses Quantum Tunneling of magnetic flux around a capacitor thereby breaking time-reversal symmetry.
And, while I love small, simple ideas how can I NOT bring this technological breakthrough to the attention of my readers?
Quantum tunneling is a process whereby a particle literally passes through walls or barriers that would not seem possible in the physical world. This “Spooky” phenomenon in the quantum world is seen inside nuclear fusion and the machinations of our nearest star, the Sun.
While the device is not a time machine as such, it does take us one step closer to building the Quantum Computer, considered the holy grail in next-generation computing. In the short-term it may also lead to improvements in mobile phones, wi fi and radar systems. It will also inspire a whole new cadre of technology inventors who will of course need to patent and protect ideas attached to these related fields.
"The device circuitry could employ quantum 'tubes' of magnetic flux that can move around a central capacitor by a process known as quantum tunneling, where they overcome classically insurmountable obstacles,” said one of the physicists involved with the project.
“Unfortunately, this effect does not allow us to actually travel back in time. Instead, it means that signals circulate around the circuit in only one direction, much like cars on a roundabout.”
This phenomenon is seen in illustration below giving you some idea of how scientists picture the process.
Ultimately, this device would form part of machines that harness the full spectrum of the invisible world, quantum physics, to produce massive amounts of computing power at low energy.
The Stanford Approach
Another Flux Capacitor actually made news way back in 1995, When Stanford researchers patented a computer chip design that (disappointedly) did not allow you travel back in time but instead allowed engineers to store more charge per unit area than traditional approaches to integrated circuit capacitors of that period.
Their approach was described in patent US6028990A as the “lateral flux between the capacitor conductive components in a single metal layer increases the capacitance per unit area and decreases the bottom-plate parasitic capacitance.”
The Quantum Era
These quantum jumps in computer circuitry remind us of the opportunities that lay ahead for inventors and budding scientists in the technology realm, especially as many predict the introduction of full-scale operational quantum computers within the next decade.
These unbelievable machines promise to take the science of mathematical calculation and problem-solving to new levels that will spur the race towards semi-sentient computers.
The opportunities I mentioned earlier are reinforced by the actions of our national government, desperate to keep pace with AI-obsessed nations such as China.
The recent introduction of the National Quantum Initiative Act devotes $400 million from 2019 to 2023 to support quantum research activities in direct bid spark innovation and keep up with up with our Asian rivals. While the above may be motivated by national security it also impacts virtually every industry sector in the United States in some way.
Seen above: Google's experimental Quantum Computer, D-Wave. Several Fortune 500 companies are working on their own versions. This trend will impact just about every problem-solving process on the planet, including future ways inventors collect, research and act upon information in the course of developing their ideas. The flux capacitor mentioned further above could be a key driver in this process.
For instance, advances in quantum computing will accelerate research in the medical arena, including cancer and drug discovery. It will also likely improve radiotherapy treatments and re-invent oncology through individually tailored treatments. We are already seeing advanced machine learning and Artificial Intelligence impacting the MRI and Ultrasound sectors, including new smart portable instruments referenced in this earlier article on one of my medical blogs.
In other areas such as Airplane wing design, it may take up to a decade to test and release wing designs or confirm optimal air flows at various speeds and angles. This leads to savings in fuel and lower carbon emissions. One example of this includes a NASA wing design that is long, thin and cuts fuel costs by 50%. A fully-functioning quantum computer may reduce this complex process to mere weeks.
The Quantum Arms Race
Patents will be a key ingredient in the Quantum arms race, including the real-life flux capacitor (sort of) mentioned above. The patent system will allow scientists and inventors to minimize copycats in China and India from manufacturing, selling or importing the inventions without the patent holder’s permission. It will in some cases also allow them to license their discoveries to larger, more established companies thereby securing annual annuities which may be substantial.
This approach, in particular, is often brought up on the popular Shark Tank Show, which advises technology inventors to partner with larger companies rather than compete directly in the manufacturing and distribution process.
Patent protection gives smaller inventors a wonderful bargaining tool though which to both protect their invention and get larger companies to bite. This was the “Sharks” advice given to Inirv, the inventors of the Stove Safety Device which automatically turns a stove off if excessive heat or smoke is detected.
The sharks ultimately turned down a chance to the invest in the company.
Why Time Machine Patents Keep Getting Rejected!
Getting your provisional or non-provisional patent approved with the USPTO is not a trivial affair, despite articles you may have read to the contrary. This is especially true if you wish to patent a “time machine or flux capacitor” without a working prototype.
Many inventors try to electronically self-file but abandon the process after encountering stiff resistance from patent examiners who require highly specific and often complex information about the uniqueness and operation of the device, software or process.
This was the case for a patent application (US20160079813A) filed by Roland Smith for a Time Propulsion machine or spacecraft which he described as “using gravity to pull space ships through time by accelerating mass and gravity.”
He ultimately abandoned the process after patent examiners - no strangers to oddball applications by time machine enthusiasts - replied to his filing with detailed questions about the propulsion advice.
This can be an intimidating experience especially when it comes to machines that help us travel through time.
I have provided two videos below which outline some common risks, challenges and suggestions when it comes to both provisional and non-provisional patents. It offers some insight into WHY your patents get rejected and the risks of self-filing.
The intimidation factor inherent in the patent filing process is of course not limited to time machines!
It also applies to software patents (and incoming AI, machine learning and related processes), highly influenced by the famous Alice Case, wherein The U.S. supreme court ultimately concluded, unanimously, that abstract ideas or processes were insufficient for transforming an idea into a patentable product.
So while it’s true I have had no clients approach me to patent their time machine or flux capacitor YET, I have worked with hundreds of inventors in the software, medical device and technology arena who continue to innovate their industries, including one amazing young man, Alex Gomez, who at one point dropped out of medical school to pursue his idea and eventually sold his medical startup for $100 million dollars.
In the golden age of inventing it’s never been easier to research, build and launch a product, especially if you have the passion and drive to recognize that your idea solves a big problem. Protecting and profiting your idea, however, is still a huge challenge which is why inventors seek out national patent lawyers such as myself to advise on both the patenting and commercialization aspects.
Understand that only one out of every several products becomes a commercial winner in the United States but often account for more than 30% of company sales. This means you have to get several elements right early on in the process, including patents which offer protection from larger predatory companies. I call this approach stacking the odds in favor of the American inventor and it's a system I have refined over two decades as a board certified patent attorney.
I have worked with industry game-changers like Troy Faletra, whose ThrowRaft® device, won the Consumer Safety Equipment Innovation Award at the Miami Boat Show recently.
After almost drowning at sea, Troy invented the device which has become a runaway commercial success both locally and abroad. Much of this hinged on the initial patent which helped him win U.S Coast Guard Approval for his device which boosted sales significantly. My experience with inventors like Troy puts me in a unique position to help inventors protect and profit from their ideas.
Reaching 88 Miles Per Hour
My final words are for all those inventors across America who fear their idea or invention cannot compete with mystique and power of big inventions like the flux capacitor, or that somebody else has already beaten them to the punch:
This is simply not the case.
99% of the time it’s the small simple ideas that have the greatest capacity for growth and power to the change the world. I can provide dozens of client examples to support this fact.
Your biggest challenge is to bury procrastination and ACT NOW to protect the idea and lay a foundation to financially benefit from your budding invention.
Otherwise, you may well need to build a time machine that reaches 88 miles per hour and allows you to travel back in time and begs your younger self to call The Patent Professor® to get your idea protected and on the road to success.