Patents, Clocks, and Surprise

I’ve been working on a project for a client in Manchester, NH, and while talking to one of his team via IM I mentioned I had made this Procrastinator’s Clock a few days ago. To my great surprise, he told me that the client, Jim Logan of Emergent Technologies, had already patented a similar device several years ago! This was entirely too close a coincidence, so I wracked my memory to see if I had somehow been exposed to the idea through him, and sent him an email with a link to see what his take was on it, and wondered what I’d just gotten myself into.

Eep!

Coincidence and Luck

It appears to have been entirely a coincidence that I also came up with a similar clock idea (as have several others on the Internet, I’ve noted in reading the trackbacks to my original posting). Jim and I have similar interests in applying information and technology, and as he is an entrepreneurial business guy it’s not surprising that he’s already done something about it. It’s also incredibly serendipitous that ff all the patents I might have infringed, I happened to collide with the one owned by someone I’ve met recently. This has given rise to an expanded conversation too…it’s great when these kind of random events open doors. For example, I happened to meet Jim at Barcamp Manchester a few months ago because I was helping set up, and he happened to sit next to me in a panel after I had put my card up on the wall. It just goes to show how random encounters tend to organize themselves into meaningful relationships.

Jim didn’t remember disclosing anything about this patent to me in person, but still it is freaky. I know a few other people have also had the same idea as well…it’s pretty amazing that similar ideas can arise spontaneously. Emergent Technology’s patent on The Random Clock is available on their website, and if you’re interested in seeing some kind of physical device come out of this you know who to go talk to :-) I believe they are also looking for talented software developers to work with as well.

Patents and Principle

As a result of this strange encounter, I’ve also become a lot more interested in patent law and the process of invention. There was this line I read on Wikipedia that struck a particular chord (emphasis mine):

These guidelines assert that a process, including a process for doing business, must produce a concrete, useful and tangible result in order to be patentable.

These are all important ideas, and the emphasis on concrete, useful, and tangible results reminds me a lot of The Printable CEO’s Concrete Goal Tracker weighted list. This list is focused on making things that can be shown to people, since I believe that things that you could see and hold are most likely to have a positive affect on the world around you. I suspect that to really understand patent law, one must understand a philosophy of innovation, which is an interesting idea. It would also be very cool to fill out a patent application just to see what it’s like. It has a reputation of being a tedious process, but I like trying to explain process so maybe it will actually be kind of fun to try explaining some of my backburnered ideas. I’m one of those nuts who likes to write documentation and explain stuff, so maybe I’m missing my calling!