In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with John Rizvi, also known as the Patent Professor. Not only is John a patent attorney with over 20 years of experience, but he’s also a two-time bestselling author of Think and Grow Rich for Inventors and Escaping the Gray. Listen in to learn why he became a patent lawyer, the process to receive a patent and tips for aspiring inventors.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • The story behind John Rizvi’s path to becoming a patent attorney and opening his own practice
    • The most common pitfall he sees when inventors come to him
    • An overview of the patent process from initial idea to obtaining rights
    • How things have changed in this industry over the last twenty years
    • The influxes in certain patent types due to media-covered events such as the current Coronavirus pandemic

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

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Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now, let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today we are talking with The Patent Professor, John Rizvi. John, thank you so much for joining us today.
John Rizvi:
Yep. Thank you, Roy, my pleasure.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, no, I’m excited for our conversation today. It’s not often we get too many authors on the side, and especially in the category that you work in, given that you’re a two-time bestselling author on Amazon for patent law, your books Think and Grow Rich for Inventors, and your most recent one, Escaping the Gray. Really excited to dive into your 20 plus years of experience in terms of helping clients start with nothing but an idea and take their invention all the way through to successfully launch their product and generate revenue and potentially license out their patents and their ideas. I know a lot of the audience that we work with specifically really is going to find a lot of value out of this conversation. I’m really excited to dive into, where did this all start for you and what inspired you to become a patent attorney?
John Rizvi:
Okay, well, my journey started early. At 12, my dream and sole ambition in life was to create a round Rubik’s Cube. If you know what that is, it’s that puzzle with, I guess, 16 squares and you try to get all the colors to match up. Then one day my mom took me to the mall and what I saw on the store shelf just crushed me. Somebody already had a round Rubik’s Cube and they had a better name than round Rubik’s Cube. They called it The Impossiball. I never did move forward with the round Rubik’s Cube, but I ended up becoming an engineer and eventually that led me to patent law. I certainly, over the years, I never forgot that lesson of being second with an idea and how that feels for an inventor.
Roy Morejon:
When you did that, after law school, did you open up your own practice or you started getting inquiries from other folks that were running into problems with their ideas out there?
John Rizvi:
Yeah, so I started out my practice at … My dream was to work at the law firm of Fish & Neave. Now these are the lawyers that patented Thomas Edison’s light bulb, Henry Ford’s ideas, Alexander Graham Bell. This firm was basically to patents what Muhammad Ali is to boxing, the greatest of all time. When I got there, what was really disappointing for me, I mean, I was working with the best patent attorneys in the world and making more money than I had ever dreamed of, but it was five years that I was there and I had yet to have met with a single inventor. The clients of this firm of today … I mean, gone were the days of the Wright brothers or Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. The clients today were huge multinational corporations like Exxon or Motorola. My entire days were spent with lawyers just moving paper around in meeting after meeting with MBAs. It was frustrating not to have once met with an inventor. That’s when I started my own practice.
Roy Morejon:
I love one of the topics you have on your website in terms of the power of simple ideas. They can make you millions in terms of these simple ideas that revolutionize entire industries. I recently just spent the weekend with Josh Malone, the creator of Bunch O’ Balloons. That is such a simple innovation that’s changing the world of water balloons and how they get made. I’m really interested to hear about some of the inventors that have come to you over the years in terms of some of their product ideas and some of the pitfalls that inventors may fall into.
John Rizvi:
Okay. Yeah. Well, a big myth that’s out there is that if you see a patent attorney … Even the term inventor, I mean, I like to use entrepreneurs more than inventor because the term inventor conjures up images of a crazy professor or the guy in Back to the Future and the flux capacitor is what people think of when they think inventor. They think sometimes they need to have invented the flux capacitor or a time machine or a cure for cancer, and nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the most simplest ideas are incredibly successful. I mean, on my firm’s Facebook page, just this past week, March 5th was the birthday of the invention of the hula hoop, a patented product that essentially is a round hoop that you can swing around your waist. This toy made over $45 million in profits. It’s not complexity. We have the coffee cup sleeve, which is just this cardboard sleeve that you’ll find around a cup of coffee at the finer coffee shops. This thing has been licensed by Jay Sorensen, the inventor, for over a million dollars in royalty payments for 20 years.
John Rizvi:
There are simple, everyday ideas that are not … The Snuggie, the blanket with holds for your arms is another example. I mean, there’s just so many. If you’ve ever been at a restaurant and you had to hit the back of the ketchup bottle to get the ketchup out, you’ll appreciate that now there is a container by, Heinz uses it, and it’s licensed to others as well, with the label reversed so that when you store the ketchup, it’s stored upside down. That’s not rocket science. I mean, you don’t need a PhD in product design to come up with some of these ideas. They are simple but they solve an everyday problem and a problem that’s widespread, and that’s the key.
Roy Morejon:
Speaking of sauces, I’m really excited down here in the South that Chick-fil-A is finally coming out with Polynesian sauce in a bottle that you can buy in a store.
John Rizvi:
Yeah. Sometimes for ideas, it’s taking an old product and repackaging it in a different way. The younger people might forget that well before the Post-it note, people would use a piece of paper and a small piece of tape. Sometimes it’s that little additional convenience that makes all of the difference. I mean, today you wouldn’t imagine doing that, but that was how things were done. A rubber seal on the bottom of a can of shaving cream so you don’t get rust stains on your countertop, I mean, these are real … They say necessity is the mother of invention. These are inventors that faced an issue themselves. Instead of assuming that it was just them, they realized that they were onto something, that if it’s something that’s bothering them, there very well might be millions of other potential customers out there that would be willing to pay for that solution.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Let’s talk about the process then for these entrepreneurs that are coming up with new ideas. When do you typically like to start talking with them in terms of the process and how that will flow through and timing and cost around getting patents for their innovations?
John Rizvi:
Okay. Some things have changed over time, and there are good aspects of that and there are bad aspects. I believe that this is now the golden age for inventors. I mean, when I became a patent attorney over 20 years ago, it was a completely different scene for inventors. There were no shows like Shark Tank on TV. I had to explain what I did to family and friends. Inventors really didn’t have a way to bring their product to market directly, so they were forced to pitch directly to manufacturers. There was no Amazon, there was no eBay, there was no Kickstarter to raise funds. None of this existed. This is all good. It is the golden age for inventors. Unfortunately, being able to make the prototype today is easier than it’s ever been because you can easily find and source prototype manufacturers, but it’s a double-edged sword because a lot of inventors will jump to making the product as the first step.
John Rizvi:
The first step I recommend is let’s find out if your idea is unique before you spend any time or money on making it, because if it’s not unique, you’re essentially reinventing the wheel and you’re going to spend a lot of time and money, perhaps to find out that somebody else already owns rights to that. That’s the downside of product commercialization today is it’s so easy to go straight to the prototype stage. This used to not be the case. It used to be much more common for us to see inventors early in the process speaking with a patent attorney before they went to product development. That’s the right approach.
John Rizvi:
The other risk is that temptation to search online for your product could be a huge pitfall because if you search in the wrong forums, you could be giving away your idea. I mean, there are marketing companies that track search terms. If the search terms you use reveal your idea … An example I use in my book is the mythical glow in the dark kite. If your idea is a kite that you can fly at night and it glows in the dark, if you type those search terms in, then you are essentially revealing the idea to others. You don’t have any protection. You don’t have the patent filed. That’s the other downside of today, plus not to mention YouTube. I’ve seen clients come to my office, inventors that have a new idea, and I ask them for their prototype and they say they don’t have it but they can show it to me on YouTube. Sometimes it’s not a password-protected channel. It’s not private. It’s just publicly disclosed.
John Rizvi:
The major change in the law in 2013 makes that a huge, huge pitfall because it used to be if you were first to invent, you would own rights to the idea, but in 2013 the US Patent Law switched to a first to file system, which is the single biggest change in patent law in this century. First to file means if you don’t file first, it really doesn’t matter that you can show receipts or evidence of inventing first. You could lose out the rights to somebody else.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, which I think is a huge shift that I don’t think a lot of inventors are aware of. I think a lot of them, especially on the Kickstarter side that are launching campaigns and projects out there without patents in place, feel that that’s the first advantage that they have of putting the product out and showing, “Hey, this is my idea. This is my invention.” Then if it gets taken from them that way, obviously the path to ownership rights gets a whole lot longer.
John Rizvi:
Right. It’s one thing that the internet and, I guess, the shrinking world has made just-in-time manufacturing a reality. You can kind of source and try to get sales prior to developing a huge inventory, but it’s very risky to go one step further and look at almost what some would call just-in-time patent protection. There’s no such thing. You have to file the patent prior to any public disclosure would be my recommendation, because once you’ve publicly disclosed it, it’s a race against time. Whoever gets that patent application in first is going to win.
Roy Morejon:
In terms of the search, what resources could you recommend to our audience and listeners to go to initially? I mean, is it USPTO and doing a search query there, or are there other resources that they can find online to safely search and see if their invention is out there or if it’s a piece of it that they need to license from someone else? Where do they begin?
John Rizvi:
Yeah. I mean, it seems counterintuitive, but even in this day and age, if you can find that specialty store, I would absolutely start there first because there’s a zero risk of disclosure there. If your idea, say it has to do with a new camping-related innovation, you would go to Bass Pro Shops perhaps and just check all of their inventory. If it’s something relating to a hardware item, perhaps go to Home Depot first, not the online store, the actual physical location. If you don’t find it there, then the patent office database is the safest because any of these commercial databases, such as Amazon for example, Jeff Bezos would like Amazon to be, and I think that’s their slogan, the everything store. They’re not just books anymore. If their marketing people see a lot of searches for something that they don’t carry, that could trigger them. They’ve become manufacturers now. You can buy Amazon-branded products. What’s to stop them from launching a product if they have sufficient search volume?
John Rizvi:
Same thing with Google or Yahoo, anytime you’re doing searches online, you have those risks, but at the patent office database, at least it’s not a commercial enterprise that’s in the process of selling products that may compete with you. At least at the patent office database you can search by classification instead of keywords. There’s a lot of security in that as well.
Roy Morejon:
Do you think, given the current state of the globe in terms of the coronavirus, is the patent office potentially seeing an increase in coronavirus-type protection products to be that first mover advantage of just filing and then figuring it out after that?
John Rizvi:
Oh, I have no doubt, absolutely. Over time, if you recall when there was the issue of anthrax in powder being put in mailboxes, we had an inflow of potential clients with solutions for that. Anytime something gets this kind of media coverage, it triggers a lot of inventors to start thinking along these lines. Right now the data’s not there, but I’m sure a couple of years from now, if you look at the spike in patent applications, you’ll absolutely see a spike in proposed solutions for the coronavirus. It might not be simply just medical-type cures. It may be new types of masks, for example. It might be a sanitizing wipe systems. It might include all kinds of mechanical, physical components that are not just for curing the patient or treating the patient, but more for prevention to stop the spread of the virus. That you’ll see. Anytime there’s stuff in the news, there’s this fight.
John Rizvi:
After 9/11, there was an absolute spike in patents relating to building evacuation systems, so ways for people who are on the 30th floor of a high rise to quickly get down to the ground level safely if they can’t take the elevator or stairs. That you’ll find. Historically there’s been spikes anytime something has gotten major media coverage, the type that the coronavirus is getting these days.
Roy Morejon:
Can you give me a rough idea of a timeline for inventors? If they’re submitting their patent process with you, what does that timeline look like and what’s a rough estimate of costs for them to get a patent approved here in the United States?
John Rizvi:
The first step is the patent search. I like to refer to that as the x-ray. If you’re going to see a surgeon for an important operation, the first thing he would do, of course, is do an x-ray to find out if you’re a good candidate. For a patent attorney, the patent search is like an x-ray would be for a doctor. That stage takes about five to seven days. In about five to seven days after our meeting … Most of these meetings, by the way, are online through video conference calls. You no longer even have to physically leave your house to get a consultation with a patent attorney. Five to seven days after we start our research, we’re able to advise an inventor or entrepreneur whether their idea is unique enough. Now, if it is unique, the next step is to … Then the race against time starts to get that patent application in as soon as possible.
John Rizvi:
Depending on the complexity, that could be anywhere from 4 weeks to about 12 weeks to file. Once you’re filed, you are patent pending and you no longer have to keep your idea confidential. Once you’re patent pending, you’ve essentially saved your place in line. At that point, you can start marketing, you can start sales. That’s the right time, if you were going to do a Kickstarter campaign or any kind of crowdfunding campaign, you need to wait until you’re patent pending. Then once you’re patent pending, then you have a green light to start all of that, even before the patent is granted. A lot of inventors don’t realize that. They hear that it takes … It’s true, it can take two to three years to get the patent, but by no means does that mean that you have to sit around for two to three years and wait for the patent to be issued. Once you’ve saved your place in line, all systems should be go. You start your sales, start marketing, speak to investors, start crowdfunding. All of that starts about 4 to 12 weeks after you first meet with a patent attorney.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. Given that you’ve seen so many different entrepreneurs and inventors come through your doors, what’s the number one tip that you could offer to any of these aspiring inventors?
John Rizvi:
Yeah, well, a lot of times, I think it’s more not so much a tip of what to do, it’s what not to do, and that is to not discount yourself because you don’t fit this perfect mold of what you think an inventor in that industry should be. Perhaps you haven’t gone to the right schools or you don’t have the right education or a background in the industry. You might be an outsider to the industry, but you can’t let that prevent you from thinking that you could change the industry. The Wright brothers, after all, were … There was no airline industry. They were bicycle mechanics, neither one of whom even went to college. Only one of the Wright brothers even finished high school. They had no investors and they were in Dayton, Ohio, but they absolutely changed the face of transportation with their idea of human-powered flight.
John Rizvi:
Now, this concept is one that I’ve captured in my book Escaping the Gray, and it comes from President Theodore Roosevelt, who refers to this great twilight that’s the comfort zone that people are afraid to step out of. The world is going to keep you in your comfort zone if you let them. Oprah Winfrey was told that she’s too ugly for television and should stick to the radio. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor for not having enough imagination. The temptation and the ease with which you can get feedback on your concept today is also another double-edged sword. It’s very easy to get feedback, but you have to be extremely careful about who you approach, not only because you might lose rights and they might file the patent first, but you might have well-meaning friends and family that have you questioning yourself on whether you’re the right person to have brought an idea to market.
John Rizvi:
I mean, years before the invention of the pop top soda can, we had these tabs that had to be pulled out. Now, that entire industry was changed by someone who was not even in the beverage bottling industry at all. We see this over and over again, industries being changed by people that are outside the industry. That, I think, is the biggest tip, and one thing that my entire book, Escaping the Gray, that’s the focus of that. I point out several ideas that might never have gone to market had the inventor questioned whether he was the right one to bring it forward.
Roy Morejon:
Interesting. Yeah, they told me I had a face for radio, so that’s why I’m podcasting. Well, listen, John, this is really exciting. This is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?
John Rizvi:
Perfect. Yep.
Roy Morejon:
What inspired you to work with entrepreneurs?
John Rizvi:
I wanted to work with the decision makers. I wanted the spark of ingenuity of the person with the vision, with the idea. Once a company gets to a certain size, that aspect is lost. Then I’m working with lawyers and MBAs and that’s not what inspired me to become a patent attorney in the first place. I think even though I’m pushing 50 now, somewhere inside me is still that 12 year old that wanted to invent the round Rubik’s Cube. I think working with entrepreneurs and small startups … I mean, I prefer clients have … The entire company may have no more than a half dozen people in the company. That, to me, is a kind of adrenaline rush that I can’t get anywhere else.
Roy Morejon:
If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
John Rizvi:
Well, I would say the Wright brothers. I mean, it’s easy today for people to say they believe in their idea, but to put yourself into a device that’s untested, doesn’t exist, and have you basically twirling through the air on a tube of sorts, that kind of confidence I think I find inspiring.
Roy Morejon:
What would have been your first question for the Wright brothers?
John Rizvi:
Well, I would have asked, why them? I’m just curious, what in the world would make them think that they would be the ones to develop the airplane? I mean, you can’t think of one factor that’s in their favor objectively. Today, with a lot of startups, you have investors talking about, “Well, show us your management team,” and they’re looking for letters after a name. They’re looking for credentials. They’re looking for resumes. These guys had none of that. They had no investors. They had nothing. I mean, that would be the question, why you? Because that’s a question that’s timeless. Even today with an inventor, why them? Why Jeff Bezos, when he’s … Amazon lost money for 14 years before ever turning a profit. Of course, that’s not going back in time, but where did you get this level of confidence that it’s just a matter of time before you turn the corner and the profits start coming in? Why did they not give up in year two, three, four or six? That, to me, is inspiring.
John Rizvi:
I still find that in vendors today. I mean, I had one client that sold his idea to Medtronics for $100 million. Now this was a person who was in medical school and he dropped out of medical school to pursue this idea for a surgical lens defogger. It’s inspiring. I mean, here he is pitching an idea to doctors that ridiculed him for not having done a residency, not having finished medical school, and his product today has been used in over a million surgeries and basically has changed the way that surgeries are done and cameras are cleaned in the operating room throughout the world. That’s not any different than what the Wright brothers did over a century ago.
Roy Morejon:
Outside of your two bestselling books, what other book might you recommend to our listeners?
John Rizvi:
I would still see, even though one of my books is Think and Grow Rich for Inventors, I still believe that Napoleon Hill’s original Think and Grow Rich is a timeless classic that all inventors should read. Now what my book has done is brought a lot of the doctrines and tied them specifically to inventors, but pretty soon an inventor’s company grows from inventor into an entrepreneur and becomes a business. Some of the other things that I don’t talk about in my book, I think, are very relevant. I would say Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill should be read by all inventors as well.
Roy Morejon:
All right, last question, and I know we didn’t talk about crowdfunding and Kickstarter and Indiegogo too, too much, but I’m interested to see your take on what the future of crowdfunding looks like.
John Rizvi:
Yeah. Oh, it’s incredibly bright. I mean, I think that’s the democratization of investments. You no longer have to have … At one point in time it was the importance of being connected to the right people and having the right introductions made. The beauty of a Kickstarter campaign is it’s your idea is really evaluated on merit. Now you have people basically voting with dollars on the idea. It’s something that would not have been possible without the internet, but now with the internet, the ability to reach that many potential investors without spending a ton of money shipping prototypes all over the country or doing time-consuming one-on-one consults, you simply create a video, create a sell sheet, and you put that online on this forum, it’s only going to increase over time. I’d be surprised if the amount of funding doesn’t double in the next five years through online crowdfunding platforms like those.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, John, this has been awesome. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where they should go and why they should check you out.
John Rizvi:
Okay. Well, as a patent attorney, I mean, patent law is considered one of the most complex and confusing areas of law. I think what sets me apart is I’ve been an adjunct professor teaching patent law for over 20 years. In this process, I’ve learned to simplify the complex doctrines of patents that entrepreneurs need to know. I’ve created, on my YouTube channel, over 40 videos that are animated cartoons explaining difficult patenting concepts in plain English. I think that’s a key. Any inventor that wants to go to YouTube and do a search for The Patent Professor will find my educational video series. In addition to that, I’d like to offer a copy of Escaping the Gray to any of your listeners, that if they want to contact you, and we can put them … We’ll work with you to get you copies. I’d be happy to send copies out to anyone that’s interested.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well, John, thank you so much. Audience, thanks for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to everything Patent Professor related. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and ProductHype. John, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
John Rizvi:
Perfect. Thanks, Roy.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it. Of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at ArtoftheKickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on EnventysPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.