Friday, May 19, 2006

Northanger Productions New And Improved Website!

In an effort to get something else besides American Inventor on this Blog - I wanted to update a post I made a while back about one of our clients - Northanger Productions, LLC. They recently wrapped shooting on their independant film Zorg and Andy. For more details please see my previous post. Anyway I was surfing the web the other day and revisited their site, which was completely redone and had a bunchof info and cool pictures of the cast and crew. Click here to see their website.

American Inventor Season 1 Final Post

Well it’s all over. Congratulations to Erik Thompson, Francisco Patino, Ed Hall and the winner of the whole enchilada - Janusz Liberkowski. The host seemed to hint that there was going to be a next season. Hopefully, in the down time they will make some improvements to make it a show of more substance and potentially tap into the great learning tool the show could be for the American public. As for Janusz and the spherical safety seat we will see what happens. As previously discussed, I still have serious doubts as to whether the product will ever make it to market due to the web of government regulation and laws surrounding child safety – but I have been know to be wrong on an occasion. Maybe I will be wrong and it will be the next great American Invention.

So if you found our little blog due to your interest in American Inventor, please check out the other articles – they are packed with a lot of useful information and interesting topics. Also you can follow the links to our website where we have a ton more information on things ranging from patents, trademarks, copyrights, entertainment law and business matters. And by all means if the entrepreneurial spirit takes a hold of you – give us a call and we can help you on the legal end of things.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

My Final American Inventor Post

I hate to say it but our Blog might as well be entitled the American Inventor blog. It seems that Pete and I have written about nothing else for the past two months. We have to dispense words of wisdom to our readers in our posts but nonetheless I will be glad to get back to other topics.

In some respects I feel dirty: we let ourselves be dragged into commenting on what has to be one of the worst shows on TV today: I really do not expect to to be back. Peter Jones and Simon Crowell wouldn't have even made it past the first round of "American TV Producer" if a similar show existed concerning television shows. Perhaps the problem is both of these gentlemen are not from this country and they have sorely underestimated the sophistication of the natural target audience for this show.

Instead of making a show that was both entertaining and informative they decided to pander to the low common denominators: emotion and poverty. What does it matter how good the inventor feels his/her invention is or the financial difficulties that the inventor has suffered. For one to be named the American Inventor, the quality of the invention is all that matters.

We have talked to two American Inventors as chronicled here. I will tell you that the show does not do them justice. They are much more complex, savvy and intelligent then the show makes them out to be. They actually told the contestants to play up their poor financial situations. At least one we know of was not comfortable doing so.

Anyhow, tonight is the finale and I like all four finalists. Truly the show does them a disservice. Anyhow, may the best man win!

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

American Inventor Heard From Again !

Lo and behold I arrived to my office yesterday morning and had a message from American Inventor Eric Thompson – the inventor of the receivers vest. From the beginning I thought he has a great combination of the inventor spirit and pure passion and confidence that it takes to win the competition.

Anyway, he was calling to encourage people to vote for him on thursday and to offer to talk about his experience thus far on the show. We were able to connect later in the day Monday and were able to speak Erik for a few minutes about his experience so far with the show and what's going on with him in general.

One of the most interesting aspects of the conversation was how much of a business sense that Erik has about him as well as a keen awareness of the other issues out there surrounding inventors and bringing a product to market. As with our discussions with Mark Martinez, it was apparent that the ABC show doesn’t really start to scratch the surface as to the real qualifications and personalities of the featured inventors. I learned that Erik has actually invented at least eight other products prior to the receivers training vest. As with Mark Martinez, the exposure has apparently been good and Erik is receiving a lot of interest in his other products. Additionally, the conversation seemed to support our theory that ABC doesn’t seem to be doing much in the way of patent searching to screen out the candidates. While, as we have previously discussed on the blog, you don’t need a patent to make and sell a product in certain circumstances, such as the case of an individual inventor, they certainly can be a valuable asset. However, with the name recognition of American Inventor and the supposed resources they will be throwing at the chosen product, they could probably do a successful first to market strategy - we'll have to stay tuned to see how it goes. More than likely, the scenario that could actually play a factor in the American Inventor contest is whether or not the product actually infringes on a patent that already exists. Erik seemed to have a good grasp of the different aspects of patenting and while he said that the decision as to whether the receiver’s vest will ultimately be patented us unknown (as is up to the show), he personally takes a strategic view and often chooses for a first to market strategy. I definitely think that the First to Market vs. Patent debate would have been a very beneficial topic for ABC to have at least minimally addressed and the pro’s and con’s of each.

The other interesting aspect seemed to be that the producers of the show are keeping the contestants in the dark about what is going on. At the time we spoke Erik had no idea what was going to happen on Thursday’s final episode. An interesting aspect of our conversation was the actual camaraderie that seemed to exist between the contestants. Erik mentioned that he really got along with Mark Martinez and Sheryl McDonald and the other people in his “team” as the shows producers called them. It was only later that the contestants found out that they were actually competing with their “team mates”.

Anyway, it was a pleasure to talk to Erik and we wish him the best of luck. He has setup a website for fan registration and a personal video message. As for any of the other contestants on the show - feel free to give us a call and we would be more than happy to discuss your experience.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

How A Product That Could Win American Inventor Could Possibly Never Make It To Market.

Kurt and I were talking the other day about the American Inventor series and how we had hoped that it was going to a bit more of a “how to” or a bit more educational for inventors or at minimum illustrate the types of issues inventors should be looking at when bringing their inventions to market. The reality is that getting a working prototype is merely the beginning – there are issues of intellectual property rights (most likely patent, and trademark), there are market and pricing issues and there are other challenges such as government and/or other sanctioning body regulation. The last issue is the one that I think ultimately dooms one of the final 4 contestants and is a point that has not been brought up on the show.

If you have watched the show, you undoubtedly are familiar with Janusz Liberkowski. His invention is the Spherical Child Safety seat and was inspired by the tragic death of his daughter some 7 years ago. The invention is a personal favorite of Kurt’s and I personally think its pretty cool too – the physics behind it make sense. However, even if he wins, I do not believe that the product will ever make it to market. Why, you may ask? Quite simply it comes down to government regulation.

Automobiles safety systems and child systems in particular are regulated by a huge body of federal and state regulations. 49 CFR 571 governs child safety seats and every state has its own laws concerning the placement and use of child safety seats. The one that jumped out at me first is that the car seat positions the infant in a forward facing manner. If we take Colorado as an example, the use of child safety seats is governed by CRS 42-4-236, which states in part “if a child is less than 1 year and weighs less than 20 pounds, the child shall be properly restrained in a rear facing child restraint system.” The issue here is that Janusz’s car seat has the infant facing forward. Additionally, all of the tests that they conducted concerning the safety of the seat were conducted with the infant facing forward. I assume that the laws of the other 49 states mirror the same conventional wisdom. Mr. Janusz is in the situation that his design, while it may actually be safer than the other products on the market may actually be illegal to sell and use because the states have all codified their own laws requiring an infant to be rear facing. Therefore, he is not only going to have to persuade the public to change their views on child safety, but his is most likely going to have to change 50 state laws and potentially federal government regulations for his product to go to market and be legally used by consumers.

This situation reminded me of a popular science article I read a while back. I was able to find the article from 2002 concerning a radical new style of car seat that was designed to work in the front seat of a car equipped with air bags. The seat was designed by Xportation Safety Concepts, Inc., which also happened to be a Colorado corporation. The company’s rationale was that studies had shown that locating the infant seat in the back seat was distracting to drivers, which may actually increase the risk of an accident. Therefore, they designed a rear facing car seat that will actually work with airbags. Immediately, the product received both support and opposition concerning the concept. Some of the people who didn’t want the laws and regulations changed stated that we have been telling people that kids need to go into the back seat for so long that they didn’t now want to make exceptions to that and possibly send a “mixed message”. This shows the resistance in this area to new or revolutionary product ideas or designs. Xportation petitioned the Department of Transportation to amend the air bag warning requirements, however the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, denied the request. Sadly it seems from the brief amount of research I did, that Xportation has faded into the sunset. Their Colorado corporate filing have lapsed, their web site is gone and I could not find a reference to them on the web any later than 2003. If anybody knows anything else about the company please let me know and I will update the article. Regardless, it is an illustration of how an invention could be revolutionary and potentially beneficial to society, but it never sees the light of day due to a variety of reasons – government red tape being one of them.

If Mr. Janusz does win the competition, he will either need to change the invention to meet current laws and safety standards, if that is even possible, or embark on a nation-wide crusade to change federal law and the laws of all 50 states. Given his deep personal commitment to the design, he may view it as the perfect way to spend his $1 million in royalties. The question is whether the show is willing to wait potentially years to go to market with the product. Only time will tell as to whether his car seat saves the world or is reduced to the long list of other products killed by the bureaucratic machine.

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