Wow! 20 years as a practicing Florida board certified patent attorney has flown by yet I vividly recall just about every inventor who has walked into my patent law firm over the past two decades.
While I have been involved in over 1,200 patent filings, several Floridian inventor success stories stand out offering enticing nuggets of wisdom for those entrepreneurs who follow in their footsteps.
I share some of their stories below, including additional famous Floridian inventors who used the Sunshine state to launch million dollar brands.
#1: David Coggswell: Inventor of the Toilet Purifier®
When I watched David launch his product, the Toilet Air Purifier on the Home Shopping Network, I had to admire the wit, savvy, perseverance and intelligence of this inventor who used his engineering and marketing knowledge to craft a simple, powerful product that quite simply “smells of success”. On the initial patent consult for the Toilet Air Purifier, he shared with me how he had become increasingly annoyed at the odor present in bathroom toilets and the off-putting and noisy fans that were touted as solutions. As his patent attorney, David gave me his prototype to test at home. His product is pure genius: It has successfully stood up to rigid testing in my household of five kids. Like the other inventors below, David understood the importance of following through with his invention and taking tiny, measurable steps towards reaching his goal. His product is now on the store shelves of Walmart and Costco and he has a winner on his hands. But it all started with solving a small, annoying problem that the rest of the world had missed!
#2: Troy Faletra: Inventor of the ThrowRaft®
This man – this inventor – is not only my client but a friend of mine who inspired me to write my Amazon best-selling book, Escaping The Gray. When Troy’s boat sank miles offshore from Fort Lauderdale he faced a life-threatening decision: Wait for help or risk swimming back to shore. After several hours of swimming, he crawled his way onto the sand and pictured a new portable marine device that could save the lives of people who found themselves in a similar predicament. When he approached me for a patent he still had many oceans to cross in order to get his device workable and accepted in the highly-regulated marine industry. Troy poured his heart and soul into perfecting ThrowRaft®, a throwable self-inflation device that weighed just three pounds. Along the way, he had to overcome the terrible loss of his dad and wife, which like Marguerite further below, tested his resolve and willpower to stay the course of being an inventor. When the U.S. Coast Guard approved his device, a staggering endorsement, the floodgates opened, and Troy has never looked back. After winning awards at the Miami Boat Show, Troy’s company has gone global, a remarkable success story that shows us that no idea is too small or any dream too big to pursue.
#3: Sara Blakely: Inventor of Spanx®
This billionaire titan barely needs an introduction, but we often forget that Sara Blakely, inventor of Spanx® undergarments for women, was born and bred in Florida. She had a spotty and underwhelming career after graduating from Florida State University, but the lessons she learned while working at Disney World for three months, followed by a grueling period selling fax machines door-to-door, gave her the foundation to win the hard yards. Creative sparks struck her while getting ready for a party when she cut the bottoms off her pantyhose to feel more comfortable wearing a new dress she planned to wear later that evening. In that instant, Spanx® was born, which would later attract the attention of Oprah Winfrey and make her the world’s first female self-made billionaire. Her inventing story is riddled with lessons for entrepreneurs which I share on The Patent Professor®.
#4: Marguerite Spagnuolo: Inventor of Grandmas2Share dolls®
Sometimes the hardest part of the inventing journey is overcoming self-doubt. My client Marguerite experienced a painful and crushing setback when her dad died while she was helping a retailer restock inventory for her patented Grandmas2Share dolls that she crafted in the likeness of her two grandmothers. Understandably, she blamed herself for not being at her father’s side and for a long period relinquished her dream of becoming a successful and profitable inventor. During this period of introspection, she remembered her dad’s support and enthusiasm for her product line that at one point earned her an appearance on ABC’S hit show, Toy Box®. With renewed focus and energy, she bounced back to continue building her brand that continues to win affection from families across the United States. It’s worth mentioning that Marguerite is the holder of three poker championships, showing her versatility and coolness under pressure as she drives Grandmas2Share into the winner’s circle.
#5: Valerie Carbone: Inventor of EyeBandz®
Whenever I hear the words “grit” or “determination”, my thoughts immediately drift to an early client of mine, Valerie Carbone, who invented the dual-purpose EyeBandz®. She grasped the power and relevance of a small, tiny idea that solves a common problem, in this case using reading glasses without the torment of frames getting stuck in hair or easily misplaced. By combining the best attributes of reading glasses with the common hair-holding characteristics of a hairband (or “Alice Band”), Valerie created a novel new product that appealed to women leading busy lives. She immediately sought me out for a patent before approaching Chinese manufacturers and touching base with major retailers at trade shows. In a long-winding journey, fraught with technical challenges, Valerie established herself as startup determined to overcome any obstacle in her path. On The Patent Professor website, I deep dive into her inventor journey that includes a fascinating look into her prototyping process which required some painful decision-making along the way. Valerie showed “true grit” to reach a point where a major TV retailer is on the cusp of profiling her EyeBandz on an upcoming segment.
#6: Alan Amron: Inventor of the Press-on Memo Sticky Note
It’s often the case that two people – or companies – come up with a similar idea at more or less the same time. When this happens disputes arise over who was the rightful inventor. This occurred in the 1970s when Alan Amron, a prolific inventor and “ideas man” stumbled upon an idea for a new product that resembled the legendary Post-it® Note I recently chronicled on The Patent Professor. The idea came to him while MacGyvering a quick and dirty way to leave a note on the refrigerator for his wife. Using some of the residual stickiness from gum he was chewing at the time, he realized he had found a new approach to gently bonding paper notes to any surface. His big mistake was not following through with a patent for his idea which he called Press On Memo. Upon developing a basic prototype, he shared his idea with visitors and companies at a trade show. He claimed that one of these companies was 3M which would later release their best-selling Post-it Note to worldwide acclaim. While Amron would go on to patent 40 other products and earn good financial returns from his entrepreneurial output but he would always hold deep regret for not patenting this tiny winner and receiving recognition as the rightful holder of the invention. He would later sue 3M and win a settlement, but it has remained a contentious issue for this plucky inventor to this very day. He still believes that 3M stole his intellectual property and considers his Press-on Memo as one of his finest inventions. His story reminds us once again of the importance of keeping your idea a secret until you have bulletproof patent protection place. Keep watching this inventor who has built, patented and marketed some nifty products including a battery-powered squirt gun and a digital photo frame. I’m sure more ideas (and patents) are on their way!
#7: Donal Inman: Inventor of the Inman Dental Aligners®
How many dental inventors would love to claim that over 4 million Americans use their invention? This achievement belongs to one of my enterprising clients, Donal. P. Inman who found a clever way to help dentists fix crossbites and overcrowded teeth with his Inman Aligners®. Even as major titans entered the marketplace including Invisalign and Six Month Smiles, the Inman Dental Aligner continues to be the go-to orthodontic teeth straightener of choice for many dentists across America. His braces work quickly to straighten teeth, endearing them to “impatient” dental patients reared in the social media age. Within several weeks they see results which have earned his product several kudos in a competitive marketplace. You can read the full Inman Aligner story on my parent site, The Patent Professor.com, which includes some novel enhancements to his product line including custom-colored aligners that typify the age of personalization we all live in.
The preceding examples show the remarkable value of small, tiny ideas that solve common problems in our lives. In some cases, the ideas have medical advantages but are still marvelously simple and elegant. Other products save lives while still occupying a tiny physical footprint. Others have a family appeal or solve two problems at once. They may be items you wear or make you look good; or both. In all cases, the inventors did not let the idea slip through their fingers. They fell in love with their ideas and inched their way towards a patent and product commercialization. In nearly all the examples above, a patent was used to launch the inventor to the next level. In the solitary case where a patent was NOT pursued the inventor lost millions (maybe billions) in potential annual royalties along with the recognition that comes with inventing a product that disrupts an industry. All these inventors had a footprint in Florida and in some way will mirror your dreams, ambitions, and the self-doubts that invariably arise as an inventor.
Yet all of them became successful despite the roadblocks and obstacles in their way.
Now, it’s your turn to overcome the odds and join these tenacious inventors in what I call The Golden Age of Inventing.
If you are an inventor interested in protecting your idea outside the United States or mitigating foreign imports from China that impact your market share & profit margins, then my number 1 suggestion is to ask yourself this question:
How ambitious are your commercial expansion goals outside the United States?
Once you pose this question, it helps formulate a strategy for foreign filings, since you could choose to target ONE country or multiple nations in the initial application. This of course causes some anxiety for inventors since it can be an overwhelming thought.
However, there is a simple way to approach this dilemma: I suggest filing the initial patent in the United States since this automatically protects you from foreign imports, including those from China. The inventor then has a full 12 months to consider additional countries that he may wish to file patent protection for his idea or product.
Your patent attorney can help you with this selection process and also explain the benefits of the “highway patent system” for getting sister and brother patents fast-tracked abroad using the American filing as a launch pad.
Officially known as the Patent Prosecution Highway, it speeds up the examination process for corresponding applications filed in foreign participating IP offices. Some of the participating countries are listed below.
I also remind inventors that the core value of most businesses and startups up today is not the land, equipment, manufacturing facilities or other physical property. In fact, the most valuable assets are knowledge-based intangibles such as Intellectual Property, Ideas and Patents.
As such, understanding the risks and rewards of foreign patent filings under International Patent Law will be a key ingredient in building a million-dollar brand – something we all dream off. With increasing concern about copycats in China and the threat of cheaper imports, inventors need to act decisively to protect and profit from their idea and I can certainly help in this endeavor!
My recent keynote address to the Inventor Society of South Florida (ISSF) always came back to one word: Courage. While many entrepreneurs and inventors agonize over the cost-benefits calculus of patents and the likelihood their idea can be successfully manufactured, licensed and marketed, I have found the biggest obstacle centers around fear of the unknown.
I know this as a fact since I have spent the last 20 years as a Patent Attorney working with some of America’s brightest minds and startups who in many instances waited years before coming to see me to get their idea protected and ready for commercial success. Their failure to act quickly and decisively can often mean a fortune in lost annual royalties and a deep regret over making a late dash for the finish line.
On a deeper level, I have faced their same fears, frustrations, and doubts, as I contemplated opening my own patent law practice decades ago. It took a life-changing moment to spur me into action which I divulged to that room full of inventors at the ISSF meeting. I think they appreciated my honesty and personal feedback that helped confirm that the only thing holding them back from commercial success was a failure to act NOW.
I invite all interested inventors and entrepreneurs to watch the video of the ISSF event and discover why unleashing their idea full throttle is the only option in what I call the Golden Age of Inventing.
Since 1982, The Inventors Society of South Florida has boldly promoted innovation and provided education on the patenting process! It’s thus with great pleasure I confirm I will be delivering my inaugural address to this well-known inventor institution in the Sunshine State on June 9th, 2018.
The focus of my lecture will be on how everyday inventors can strike it rich with their idea by thinking BIG. Using the power of observation and a curiosity to solve everyday problems, entrepreneurs can take advantage of the new golden age of inventing built upon the Internet and low startup costs!
Up to 100 guests may be in attendance and I invite you to RSVP at your earliest convenience. Admission is free, but seats may fill up quickly so please click the link below for more information.
Startups and entrepreneurs both chuckled and nodded gravely when John Oliver used his comedic hour on “Last Week Tonight” to satirize Intellectual Property and the growing threat of Patent Trolls, warning that “arriving on the set of Shark Tank without a patent is like turning up to America’s Next Top Model without knowing how to smize or booty tooch!”
Patents: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) - YouTube
However, he reserved the bulk of his biting humor for the one issue that keeps Inventors up at night: Patent Trolls.
These unsavory characters, said Oliver, typically don’t invent anything or sell anything of value. They simply exist to buy patents and make their money threatening lawsuits in what many call the ultimate “shakedown.”
“Calling them trolls is a little misleading: At least trolls actually do something: They control bridge access for goats and ask people fun riddles.”
Oliver recognized the massive problem this posed to entrepreneurs across America stating that at least 3000 out of 4,700 lawsuits in 2013 were initiated by trolls.
Astonishingly, this litigation may have cost inventors roughly 500 billion dollars or more since 1990.
Oliver highlighted this abuse by referencing Austin Myers, the inventor of a flight simulator app who one day received a patent infringement letter from a company called Unilock, which declared that it owned the original idea for a computer program calling up a central server for authorization.
The galactic scope and implication of this infringement challenge (which broadly covers ANY android or Apple app ever built) was not lost on Oliver.
“Essentially this means I could show up at the headquarters of Tinder and demand a cut of everything Tinder has created, which I assume would be a pile of STDs, sad orgasms and shards of human self-esteem!”
The absurdity of this infringement landscape also extends to casual users of technology or inventions.
Southeastern Employment Services, which provides job opportunities for Americans with disabilities received an ultimatum: Either fork over $1000 for each employee using the scanned email function on the onsite copy machine or face an expensive lawsuit.”
Folner, the litigant claimed it could enforce this payout since it owns the underlying patents for the software process programmed into the machine.
“Wow,” said Oliver.
“When you are threatening to sue a company which helps people with disabilities find work for using their own photocopier you’re not just on the road to hell you have your own parking spot right next to the devil.”
But what is the underlying cause for the growth of these patent trolls and the consequent infringement lawsuits?
Oliver suggests the The United States Patent Office has become overwhelmed with the surge in patent filings, especially in the technology realm, and the difficult task of ascertaining whether an inventor’s idea “is new, useful,and obvious”.
“Incidentally all the adjectives that Tom Cruise would say he’s seeking in an ideal mate,” said Oliver.
This challenge is especially true for software patent filings which like the growth of railroads a century before, require an exceptional, updated set of research and analytical skills by overloaded patent clerks.
Unlike machine patents, software patents can be so broad and vague that they may give someone later the ability to claim ownership over ideas that were not originally thought of at the time.
This allows Patent Trolls to pursue vaguely defined software patents and later parlay that into expensive lawsuits against unwitting inventors.
“Basically if they thought to ‘patent computer things that never works’ years ago they would currently be getting rich off off Facetime – very, very rich!”
The Patent Trolls usually find a way to get 90% of their lawsuits settled before going to court in what experts call an “extortion game” since it costs on average around $3 million to defend a patent in a courtroom.
Inventors would rather settle earlier than exhaust their capital in a long-running, expensive court battle.
The Patent Trolls, say Oliver, are thus estimating the maximum amount of money inventors would be willing to pay rather than going to court.
“They pick a number the same way airlines pick a cabin temperature: Perfectly calibrated to make you miserable, but not so much that you’d actually do anything about it.”
These sinister trolls often hide behind embellished names which have greek mythological overtones like Pragmatus IP.
“Incidentally pragmatist sounds like the most boring mythological Greek hero of all time. ‘I am pragmatist and I shall not battle the Hydra for it is much larger than me. so I shall go home via the farmers market for the bruised vegetables are cheaper at the end of the day! Pragmatist bids you farewell!’”
Texas bears the unlucky mantle of being a favorite destination for patent trolls, with over 25% of infringement lawsuits filed in the Lone Star State.
In particular, the town of Marshall, home to 24,000 Texans is one epicenter when it comes to Patent Troll activity.
Judges and courtrooms appear to favor trolls, which Oliver said is leading many major tech companies to launch giant PR campaigns to sway public opinion and the makeup of future juries.
For instance, Samsung, on the receiving end of many patent troll cases, has spent millions on community outreach ventures including building a giant skating rink outside the courthouse in Marshall.
“Do you know how hard that is to maintain: it’s like building a bowling alley in space!”
Oliver also lamented the death of the bipartisan bill, The Innovation Act, in the Senate a few years ago which had a few common sense provisions including encouraging judges to make patent trolls pay court costs if they lose, and forcing patent trolls to be more transparent about their identities.
While not perfect, he surmised the patent reform bill would have helped deter patent trolls.
“It’s like when parents, of teenagers lock the liquor cabinet. Look I know this isn’t going to stop you, Rhapsody, but it will make it just a little harder for you to ****up the entire neighborhood!’
Experts say that trial lawyer lobbyists in Washington championed the death of the bill.
“That’s the equivalent of trusting raccoons to make laws about garbage can placements: they should be easy to reach and left slightly open. All in favor say (Aye)!’
Oliver closed his late night routine by confirming the Innovation Act may be making a welcome comeback. But regardless, something must be done soon or else American businesses may have to operate without patents.
Oliver could think of only ONE business that fits this new model, an entrepreneur who appeared briefly on the Shark Tank with a once in a lifetime investment opportunity: I want to Draw a Cat For You!”
I got some fantastic news last night from the organizers of TEDx: They have finally published my recent TEDx Talk on YouTube that had one critical, important message: Launching Your Idea Full Throttle Is The Only Option.
It was a deeply personal journey for me because it focused on key milestones in my life that changed my trajectory as a patent attorney forever and allowed me to meet some of America’s most prolific and innovative inventors. Many of them, just like myself, started out with humble beginnings before making their mark on this nation’s entrepreneurial landscape.
I hope you enjoy the presentation and would sincerely appreciate it if you could share with friends, family, colleagues and any aspiring inventors.
His two latest books Think & Grow Rich For Inventors & Escaping the gray have climbed to the top of the Amazon best seller list and garnered some feedback from famous business moguls including Kevin Harrington, Original “Shark” on the hit TV Series Shark Tank ® and the inventor of the infomercial and As Seen on TV
“If you have an idea and the drive to develop that idea to its limits, you can’t go wrong by getting Think & Grow Rich for Inventors,” said Mr. Harrington.
The book singing event will offer insights into how to bring your idea to market successfully by Mr. Rizvi, who is a registered patent attorney, John Rizvi, Esq, and Adjunct Professor of Patent Law at Nova Southeastern University.
“In his book, Think and Grow Rich for Inventors, John tells the inspiring story of a client of his that dropped out of medical school and launched a new surgical tool, selling his patent for a $100 million dollars,” said Mr. Harrington.
Just because your idea seems simple does not mean it does not have the power to disrupt an entire industry. I come across inventors regularly who tell me they were too embarrassed or afraid to see a patent attorney because they felt their idea did not have the complexity or scale to match those currently on shelves or in production.
When I look around, some of the simplest ideas have revolutionized industries and generated millions of dollars in revenues for the inventor.
The key thing I want you to take away from this video is that to ultimately make money from your idea you have to craft a patent with teeth so rivals cannot make minor modifications to your idea and get around your rights.
If you are an American inventor or entrepreneur with a new idea, you cannot help but relate to the long, exhilarating, and yet sometimes painful journey of creating something new. Follow along and discover the secrets behind doggedly pursuing your dreams and the courage to risk escaping the gray in your life. John Rizvi, Esq., a leading Miami Patent Attorney explores his personal 20 year journey through patent law that encompassed both dark, heartbreaking moments and uplifting triumphs as he sought to help inventors protect and profit from their ideas.
By turns funny and serious, whimsical and straightforward, vulnerable and honest, John Rizvi details his journey from resigning as a patent attorney for one of the most prestigious and revered patent law firms in the world – a firm that counted Bell, Edison, the Wright Brothers and Ford among its distinguished client roster – to going out on his own to represent tomorrow’s leaders in innovation.
The book recently reached best seller status on Amazon and has also won glowing reviews from Shark Tank Founder, Kevin Harrington who stated:
“John has a knack for explaining difficult legal concepts in plain English. In fact, that is why I asked John to write the chapter on patents in my new book. John is the real deal.”
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Versifloat founder and inventor, Gerard D’Offay came up with his idea in 2006 before seeking out my help to protect his intellectual property : “I sought out Prof. John Rizvi to help me patent my inflatable docking system. As I have grown my operations over the years John has helped me obtain four additional annexes to my original patent, giving me powerful, robust intellectual property protection.”
Finding a suitable floating work platform has always been an issue for crew and Gerard’s invention offers an effective solution to just about every marine professional’s needs. You can find out more about the Versifloat story on ThePatentProfessor.com.
Inventor Success Story Gerard D'Offay - Floating Work Stations - YouTube