Three Things Mom & Daughter Can Teach You About Patents
Tess Mellinger was 8 when she got her first pair of prescription glasses and by her 10th birthday she had her first patent.
Tess wanted to make that first pair of glasses more fun. Using some rubber bands she had around her house she decorated her glasses, shaping the rubber bands into a flower. Other kids took notice and liked how it looked so she built on this idea. Her creation is a way to add personality to glasses by embellishing them with everything from hearts and peace signs to sports team logos.
Tess’s mom Wendy Mellinger, an architect by trade, spearheaded the patent process for Tess’s unique idea. I spoke with Wendy to get information that could help other girlpreneurs who want to protect their ideas through a patent.
Your first step was to apply for a provisional patent. What were the key parts of that applications process?
WM: Well, the most important thing to understand about a provisional patent is that it starts the clock ticking. Once you submit it you have one year within which to submit your utility patent (the real thing) or you lose the opportunity altogether. It also gives you time to really vet your idea, and your protection from others using your idea begins.
This application is far less expensive than submitting the utility patent. It does require as detailed a description of the product and its qualities as possible, including drawings. With any patent the key is to find the right balance between getting as much protection as possible without stepping on the toes of other patent holders.
Have you gone forward to apply for a full utility patent application? If so what was involved in going from provisional patent to utility patent?
WM: Yes, not only have we applied for a utility patent, but we were granted one in October of 2013. You begin by writing a set of claims (accompanied by drawings if possible) that describe the invention. It can take years before a reviewer even picks up your application. The reviewer has the ability to eliminate some (or all) of claims or require that they be rewritten and you must respond to all the comments that the review raises. We did receive a set of comments and our patent attorney decided to go spend a little time face to face with the reviewer to understand exactly what they were looking to have us amend. This proved most helpful and our first set of responses was approved. You have two opportunities to respond to a reviewer, but if you have not satisfied their concerns at that point you lose the option to have that invention patented . I’m sure I am simplifying this as I am not a patent attorney, but this is my understanding in basic layman’s terms.
Do you feel it was necessary to work with a lawyer on the provisional patent?
WM: I suppose if you really cannot spend anything at all you could do some research and submit an application on your own. But we were willing and able to utilize an attorney to help us get started and I think that it was money well spent. This is not something I had ever done before. I am a licensed architect and had no previous experience with patenting. Though, as an architect, I was able to save some money by drafting all of the drawings we needed for our patent myself.
What advice would you give to other girls and their parents interested in pursuing a patent?
WM: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. This has all taken a tremendous amount of time and quite honestly a significant sum of money, so it’s not for everyone and I get that. There certainly are endless great ideas out there that never get followed up with because people don’t have the time, inclination or money to do it. But I really thought my daughter’s idea warranted some real follow through. Quite honestly, we really began this process because we wanted to show our daughter that we believe in her ideas, and that she should as well, and that this would be a great learning experience for her. Turns out, it has been even more of one for me. Because of the time and money involved I would recommend that any family discuss whether they think it’s worth pursuing before jumping in. But we have no regrets.
Tess, what is the most interesting thing you learned from the patent process?
TM: Well, I was only in second grade so I didn’t know anything about patents. I learned that they protect your ideas from other people and that if they try to use your ideas you can sue them. I also learned that patents can take a long time to get. Ours went through really fast, we were lucky.
Tess’s mom successfully navigated their product through the patent process and now I-Wear Charmz fashion accessories are sold at select Claire’s stores and also can be ordered online from Claires. Maybe wearing glasses, especially fun ones, do make you smarter!
Patents are a very important part of commercializing an invention. Whether you take an idea all the way to utility patent or just through the provisional stage, it’s a great learning experience. You can read more about patents here United States Patent and Trademark Office.