During the space race of the 1960s, NASA spent millions developing a pen that could write in space while the Soviets just gave their astronauts pencils. Or so the urban legend goes…

Aug 16 · 4 min read

Despite being a great anecdote around thriftiness and simplicity, unfortunately, it isn’t true. Both space agencies originally used pencils but soon moved on to using a patented pen designed by the Fisher Pen Company.

The pen was amazing. It could write upside-down, in freezing or roasting conditions and even submerged in water or other liquids. And it wasn’t governments that developed it but a private company with a smart patented design.

Due to the Fisher Pen Company’s patent, space agencies couldn’t just copy the design making the inventor, Paul C. Fisher a very wealthy man. This is one of the reasons why patents are so valuable. They keep incredible ideas safe from copycats and allow you to license them out to anyone who might benefit in the future.

After 4 years, we recently had a patent for the BuffaloGrid Power Distribution system granted and we sat down with Founder and Innovations Lead Daniel Becerra to learn more.

#1 Focus your patent on something protectable

This one seems obvious but the amount of pointless patents out there highlights how this can happen. Patents protect the way you do something but at the same time they communicate the particular way you’re doing it. When you create a patent you’re telling the world how you’re thinking of solving a particular problem.

Patent Lawyers are only there to fulfil your request rather than advising on whether it’s sensible to patent something or not. This is down to you.

You need to focus on distilling down the problem you’re solving into its purest form. It’s how we reached a decision to secure the core essence of our service — the unlocking of a charging port through a telecommunications message from a server, rather than something broader that would be harder to protect.

#2 Don’t stop — keep finding ways to protect the top of the hill

If you want to call yourself a tech innovator you have to continue developing ideas. You might have protected one element of your business but that’s just the start. Every patent adds another line of defence around your position in the market.

Now you start looking at other patent applications to add as many defences as possible. It’s a constant exercise to create innovation and protect it. Consult the technical team regularly to identify new opportunities.

#3 — If you have a patent, consider ways to commercialise in line with your strategy

Getting a patent granted can be a very costly process so once you have it you should look at ways to start recouping some of the costs. Selling is a very simple way of doing this but it might not be in line with your business model. Alternatively, you can license it out as Fisher Space Pens did or, in BuffaloGrid’s case, use it yourself.

#4 — The world isn’t yours… just yet

Patents don’t cover everywhere they are regional and specific. So you should protect the regions where your service or innovation is viable and where there’s a market. Protect against where people are making things and where people are using them, or even where your competitors may be located.

#5 — Pick your battles

Fighting a patent infringement can be incredibly costly and time-consuming. Take Raspberry Pi as an example, there are hundreds of copycats in China but they don’t bother to fight them. They know people buy the brand.

A plethora of single board computers, many taking inspiration from the Raspberry Pi

Even if you have a patent for your technology don’t try to chase down every Tom, Dick and Harry that you think is infringing on it. Only consider releasing the lawyers if you think another business poses a serious risk to your market share.

#6 — Years in the making

Patents take a long time to get granted. We applied for a patent back in 2014 and it was only granted in 2019.

You need to ensure you’re designing for the future so your patent isn’t out of date by the time it is granted. Amazon is notorious for doing this with patents for delivery drones and other futuristic concepts.

One of the original diagrams from BuffaloGrid’s Power Patent

As soon as you’ve identified the core part of the tech you want to protect, you should get started. Find a good patent lawyer and go, go, go!

#7 — Legalese is important

There’s a lot of technical language in a patent, its not an easy read. But that’s kind of the point. The language you use must be watertight in terms of protecting the innovation you’ve created. It shouldn’t be written in the same way you would marketing material.

Good patent lawyers will be the ones to advise on the language used and the protection it offers. Don’t risk trying to do it yourself because by the time you find out you’ve made a mistake it’ll already be too late.

So, there you have it. A whirlwind tour through how to get a patent granted, and why you might want to do it in the first place.

If you have any questions or would like to hear more about the patent process, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Inside BuffaloGrid

Creating a culture to connect the next billion


Written by

We believe life is better on the internet. It’s why we’re on a mission to connect the next billion

Inside BuffaloGrid

Creating a culture to connect the next billion

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade