Code Name: Inventors

Go from golden idea to agent of invention

(Photo by: Lonnie C. Major)

Andrè Woolery is no “Mr. Fix It.” When it comes to doing odd jobs at home, Woolery admits to having a clumsy nature. But it was his fumbling fingers that led the 34-year-old to discover a different side of himself—latent inventor.

In 2005, Woolery created a magnetic wristband to hold small nails, screws, drill bits, and even smaller tools such as mini wrenches. Made out of Velcro and nylon, the adjustable wristband is embedded with strong but small magnets, allowing handymen to keep essential tools close while working.

“I’m awkward when it comes to fixing things around a house,” says Woolery, who was a software engineer turned restaurateur turned inventor. “I thought this would be a clever way to keep everything easy to access.”

Today, Woolery’s MagnoGrip Magnetic Wristband is sold at more than 1,700 Lowe’s locations across the country as well as online at Walmart.com and Amazon.com. Woolery estimates he’s sold 400,000 units to date and earned revenues of more than $1 million.

For most inventors, bringing their brainchild to market is a rewarding yet taxing process. From patent, design, prototype, to eventually piquing the interest of buyers, the mission isn’t impossible but it is a feat seldom accomplished. Less than 5% of all U.S. patents have ever been successfully commercialized, according to the United Inventors Association. When starting out, understanding the costs—time and money—is as important as managing expectations, identifying the tools and resources needed, and planning the execution of truly bringing a creation to the masses. For most inventors, the trickiest part is getting started.

Patent Royale
While Woolery knew he had a hit product on his hands, the Jamaican-born businessman needed to know if the marketplace felt the same, and to secure his idea against copycats and scam artists. He enlisted intellectual property attorney Jonathan O. Owens, a 17-year veteran.

Owens says he suggested his client file a “provisional patent” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which serves as a placeholder and gave Woolery a year to convert his filing to a regular pending patent application.

“In the right circumstances, especially for a startup, a provisional patent is good because it gives you a year to figure out if there is a market for your product and it requires fewer resources,” explains Owens, a partner with Haverstock & Owens L.L.P. in Sunnyvale, California.

Hiring an intellectual property attorney can cost between $8,000 and $12,000 depending on the complexity of the invention, says Owens. But money is only part of the cost. The average response time regarding a patent application is more than two years, according to the USPTO. Most experts recommend retaining an intellectual property attorney to navigate the process, but with or without legal help, don’t expect your patent to be approved on the first try. Although nearly 483,000 patent applications were filed in 2009, only 192,000 patents were granted that same year. Thanks to a backlog, there are nearly 1.2 million patents pending.

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