Inventing in the Pursuit of Happiness
Updated: May 2
March 1, 2022
By Robert Cantrell - Registered Patent Agent
The US Constitution grants citizens of the United States the right to pursue happiness. Understanding how you can aid people in this pursuit can help you to conceive better inventions.
Most products and their associated inventions serve as a bridge along a pathway toward happiness. More often than not, however, the benefits people receive from this bridge is indirect. For example, the preponderance of inventions within patent applications filed by the giant retailer Walmart goes toward raising the efficiency of moving goods through a supply chain and into the hands of individual customers. Many of these inventions involve complex uses of data. Customers choose to shop on the Walmart platform when they believe they will find the right products, delivered in the right way, and in the right quality and quantity in the right place at the right time, and for the right cost over other shopping options. Success when shopping can lead toward happiness, with the probability of their success bolstered by inventions far removed from the products each customer actually purchased.
You can expect people to prefer spending more of their time on their pursuit of happiness than less, meaning your products and associated inventions should minimize the intrusiveness of use or maximize the contribution to happiness, or both. For example, a sports car can contribute to happiness by conferring status and delivering a fun drive while minimizing the downside of owning a car by being reliable enough to keep its owner away from repair shops. For another example, one shown to contribute to both happiness and unhappiness, is a smartphone which, on the one hand, can offer unprecedented connectivity and access to people and information, but on the other, can be excessively intrusive.
A good question, therefore, when planning innovation, is to ask how your solution can aid your customers, and the customers of your customers, in their pursuit of happiness. More often than not, your answer will fall on an indirect benefit, such as using data to provide a superior shopping experience that gives your typical customer time, money, and tools to spend on higher priorities. Your invention contributes to their pursuit of happiness, delivering more while demanding less.
By Jose W. Jimenez, Esq – Former Chief Patent Counsel & Registered Patent Attorney
Retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have spent millions improving the online shopping experience for consumers by continuing to speed up the process and accuracy of online shopping thereby supporting the consumer’s desire to be doing other things that are much more enjoyable. However, the return on investment on their software improvements in the short term is hard to quantify let alone protect from copying from a competitor, the first mover quickly losing the competitive advantage they had established in the first place.
Amazon initially solved this challenge by securing their now famous “One-Click” patent (US 5,960,411), which protected their solution to shopping cart abandonment experienced by shoppers in the early days of online shopping. Although this was the primary reason for Amazon’s rapid growth, the time to patent issuance from the date of filing along with challenges to patentability thereafter made it harder for Amazon to keep its early gained market share growth. Subsequent royalty income from their competitors generally helped company profitability but market share dominance is always best.
So how can you speed up the patent process? Fortunately, the US Patent Office has the Track One program which allows any applicant to reduce the time to potential patent allowance to about 18 months, simply with the payment of an additional PTO fee and some additional attorney time in preparing the appropriate documents. Any good news from the patent office can quickly be “shared” with your competitors so that they can stop squatting on your rights. Now it’s time for you to pursue your happiness, as your customers pursue theirs!
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