Bill remains a busy boy
According to Todd Bishop’s Microsoft Blog, Bill Gates has been named as at least co-inventor in over twenty recently published Microsoft patent applications. Is that news? I mean Bill is the captain of the ship. Didn’t he simply tell the Borg to put his name on those patent applications? No, he couldn’t, at least not without making every single one of the patents invalid. You see time, money and even omnipotence are simply not enough to qualify someone to be listed as an inventor under United States patent law.
What is an “Inventor”
Identifying a problem, say for instance low gas mileage, or even identifying a solution, say a car that gets 200 miles per gallon, still does not make you an inventor. To be listed as an inventor on a United States patent application, you have to conceive of a definite and permanent idea of a complete and operative invention.
Hard work is not enough
Strangely, the inventor need not actually create a prototype, or even put in the majority of work reducing the invention to practice. As long as the inventor can convey to someone of ordinary skill in the art enough information to replicate the invention, the inventor has done enough. Even if it took the creator an hour to conceive of the invention and it takes the person of ordinary skill a year to produce a prototype, at a cost of millions of dollars, the creator is the inventor and the reducer to practice is not.
The Right Stuff
Only if the reducer to practice contributes to the conceptualization of a definite and permanent, complete and operative embodiment of the idea is the reducer to practice a co-inventor. The reducer to practice has to contribute more than sweat, even if that sweat involves highly technical skills. If another similarly positioned highly skilled professional would have accomplished the same reduction to practice of the creator’s conception, the reducer to practice is likely not an inventor. Conversely, if the reduction to practice required extensive research or experimentation to derive a working embodiment, the reducer to practice is likely a co-inventor.
Why the big deal about determining inventorship? Well, under United States Patent Law, if you name someone as an inventor on your patent application that is not an inventor, or you leave a co-inventor off the patent application, any patent issuing from the application is invalid. Knowing this, infringers often attack the inventorship issue when defending themselves against accusations of patent infringement. Given infringers are likely going to spend at least tens of thousands of dollars investigating and taking depositions regarding a questionsble issue of inventorship, it is critical that YOU accurately resolve the issue of inventorship BEFORE you file your patent application. You can ASSIGN the patent application to any business or person you want, but the inventor(s) has to be the inventor(s).
Bill Gates – Captain AND Number One
In light of the foregoing, it is clear that Bill Gates is still in the thick of things, at least when it comes to transforming ideas into products. I am not saying that the internal Microsoft patent jury meetings probably do not defer to the big guy more than Stan the Intern when it comes to whose ideas to pursue, but it is notable that big Bill continues to do more than simply throw out ideas and order others to “Make it so.”