In addition to being highly entertaining, ABC’s hit reality show “Shark Tank” is also very educational for inventors. If you haven’t seen the show, each episode presents a number of contestants who pitch their inventions and businesses to a panel of five “sharks” who are all wealthy entrepreneurs. If any of the sharks like a pitch, they offer to purchase (using their own money) a piece of the contestant’s business and agree to become his or her business partner. If they don’t like a pitch, they can be as harsh on the contestants as Simon Cowell was to bad American Idol contestants.
The show provides a fascinating microcosm of the process of pitching an invention or a proprietary business to potential business partners. The sharks’ analysis of the contestants’ business proposals on the show are generally very intelligent and probably not much different than what an inventor would face in “real life.” Thus, studying the successful contestants gives great insight as to how to make a successful pitch to any potential business partner (whether on TV or not) and what qualities potential partners are looking for. Studying the unsuccessful contestants gives great insight as to what not to do, as the bad examples can also be highly educational. As a patent attorney, I see contestants make the same mistakes over and over again regarding their intellectual property rights. Pitching inventions successfully to potential business partners is difficult enough, and it is important for inventors not to make what appear to be common mistakes.
Contestants frequently make the same mistake which annoys me every time. The sharks commonly ask the contestants whether they have a patent on their invention. The contestant frequently replies with, “I have a provisional patent.” To my surprise, the sharks (who are generally very business savvy) typically accept this answer and move on. However, if I were a shark on the show I would immediately respond with “I’m out.” All inventors should know that there is no such thing as a provisional patent.
There is such a thing as a provisional patent application. However, a provisional patent application is never examined and basically serves a “placeholder” for a forthcoming non-provisional application. Anyone can file a provisional application on anything they want and state they have a provisional application. For example, someone can go out and file a provisional application on the same light bulb that Edison invented in 1879 and claim they have a “provisional patent application” on the light bulb. But of course, any forthcoming non-provisional application would be rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and hence the provisional application in this case is completely worthless.
By Jon Muskin
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