This video is an excerpt from Anton Hopen’s live-stream CLE program on patent law for business attorneys.

Innovation and inventions are exciting…so why would I recommend you patent the boring stuff?  It all has to do with understanding the value of your invention.  Often times it has nothing to do with functionality.  The underrated patent candidates include improvements in:

  1. Cost of manufacture
  2. Ease of assembly
  3. Using more accessible/renewable materials
  4. Reliability

All these features may have nothing to do with what the consumer experiences. However, if you can make a product for half of your competitor’s cost, you will achieve market dominance. Furthermore, if a patented technology gives you that advantage, you may have a 20-year exclusive monopoly. 

Know your Vertical Market

Some inventors step into a complex market unaware of the constraints that exist.  For example, in the ammunition industry there is a different need for ammunition used by snipers. A single misfire may give away their position (and likely their life). Therefore, one patent issued through our firm that particularly valuable had nothing to do with how the projectile traveled.   The ammunition impacted with the same force and same effect on its target. However, what was patented is the way it was manufactured and assembled. The new and non-obvious system drastically reduced (practically eliminated) any bad rounds from being produced. Therefore, for the solider using ammunition made by this method, it was far more reliable.  We got a patent on the boring stuff.

The same company earlier had to deal with an executive order by President Clinton calling for the prohibition of lead-based ammunition on the battlefield. Lead was a very good component for ammunition as it was dense and malleable. Replacing lead was a constraint that the market required and therefore needed a solution to accommodate it (which they patented in 2010).

Space and Vehicles

For satellites, manned missions and supply runs, any rockets or shuttle carries a payload from sea level to Earth orbit.  It was an amazing feat of human engineering to accomplish this decades ago at any cost. However, where innovation can reduce the cost to lift objects into orbit and provide reusability of rockets for future missions, such innovation is highly disruptive (aka “valuable”).  Note that no ultimate functionality has changed. 

Forging new grounds and making new discoveries is an exciting aspect of innovation.   However, the stuff that should be patented is often considered boring…new efficiencies, lesser costs, easier manufacture.  Commercialization means taking the new ideas and making them economically available for use and enjoyment.   In conclusion, never discount the boring stuff….it may be the best thing to patent. 

Anton Hopen

U.S. Patent Attorney with