REELING IN RECOGNITION: The patent process is where inventions sink or swim.
Seven years ago, Tom Brandt’s buddy caught a fish hook under his left eye. The friend had been out on a boat fishing with friends when a stray cast snagged him. He was all right in the end, but it was a near miss.
“I’d seen other people with hooks stuck in their hands, clothing, on stuff in tackle boxes and in boat seats and gear,” Brandt, 74, says. “After hearing the story from my buddy, I knew there had to be a better way.”
Brandt, a retired sales and marketing professional with a lifelong penchant for inventing, set out to create that better way. Five years later, he produced a prototype for his Point*Guard fishing lures, a new-to-market lure with a shielded-point design. Prototype in hand, Brandt set out to accomplish what many inventors only dream of: He applied for a patent.
In 2018, more than half a million utility patent applications were made to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Slightly more than 300,000 were granted. The number of both patent applications made and patents awarded has been rising steadily over the last 50 years, and it’s doubled in the last 20. Yet independent inventors such as Brandt make up only a small percentage of patent seekers. Just 18,703 utility patents were awarded to independent inventors in 2018. That’s around 16 percent of total utility patents granted. Compare that to IBM, which has occupied the top spot for patent earners 26 years in a row, and which accounted for 6 percent of all utility patents granted in 2018. It received an impressive 9,100 patents that year. Other top-10 patent awardees for 2018 included Samsung, Canon, Intel, LG Electronics, Microsoft and Apple.
Why do independent inventors occupy such a small slice of the total patent pie? Money, usually. A provisional patent application typically runs between $2,000 and $4,000. A full patent application costs between $7,500 and $10,000, depending on the level of complexity. Brandt began the patenting process for his shielded-point lure by hiring a patent agent in Fort Myers, whom he found through a list provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. The agent helped Brandt file a provisional patent application, a lighter version of the regular patent application that allowed Brandt to claim “patent pending” status on his invention for 12 months while he gathered material for the final application.
But soon after his provisional patent was granted, Brandt ran into a setback: After a routine colonoscopy, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent a series of treatments while time ran out on his final patent application. From his hospital bed after surgery, Brandt reached out to his patent agent to let him know his status. The agent responded that he’d retired from the business and wouldn’t be able to help Brandt see the patent through. Up against his deadline, Brandt reached out to patent attorney Luca Hickman, then at Grimes LLC in Bonita Springs, and together they filed the final application. In May 2019, Brandt’s patent for his Point*Guard lures was awarded.
“The stars must have been aligned for me, as my health is excellent and I am now actively seeking a licensee or investor,” Brandt says. He’s reached out to major retailers including Bass Pro Shops and Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well as companies that manufacture artificial fishing lures.
When it comes to potential investors, Brandt has his own directed strategy: He talks to everybody. “I even talked to my doctor,” he says.