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CEP: Editorial - The Invention that Wasn't


On the first day of our visit to Walt Disney World, my then-seven-year-old son got lost in the Magic Kingdom. Luckily, he was somewhere on Tom Sawyer Island, so our search area was limited. On the second day, he wandered off in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids attraction (also an enclosed space, thankfully).
Those experiences gave me an idea for what I called Kid LoJack — a biocompatible microchip that parents could inject under a baby’s skin, and later activate to locate the child if he or she got lost or kidnapped (or stayed out past curfew). I’ve often wondered — civil liberties issues aside — whether I could have patented such a device.

I conceived of an invention, but I didn’t record my conception in a laboratory notebook, nor did I file a provisional patent application. The article “Are We Covered? Understand the Strengths and Weaknesses of a Patenting Policy,” by CEP’s Patent Update columnist M. Henry Heines (pp. 44–49), explains these tools and their roles in an effective patenting strategy. For instance, a laboratory notebook establishes a date of invention, which can serve as the cut-off date for prior art against which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office evaluates the invention. In the case of multiple co-inventors, a laboratory notebook provides evidence of where an idea originated and who contributed what.

That trip to Disney World was in 1994. Today, many pet owners equip their dogs and cats with microchips that can be used to reunite a lost pet with its family. The American Veterinary Identification Devices (AVID) system is based on U.S. Patent No. 4,333,072, which was granted in 1982 to Michael Beigel (who assigned it to International Identification, Inc.) for a “closed coupled identification system for verifying the identity of an animal, object or other thing.” Had I tried to patent my Kid LoJack, I suspect I would have been defeated by this prior art.

The theme of invention also surfaces in this issue’s Books section (p. 50). In his new book, Great Inventions that Changed the World, former AIChE President James Wei pays tribute to  innovations ranging from the stone axe to the Internet, and the engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs responsible for them.
The America Invents Act, a major overhaul of U.S. patent law that takes effect in March 2013, changes the eligibility for obtaining a patent from the first to invent to the first to file an application. It also provides new types of prior art to invalidate patents, new ways to challenge patents, and new defenses to patent infringement (among other things).

AIChE offers several ways to learn more about patents. A one-hour webinar available through the ChemE on Demand archive (, Patents and the America Invents Act — Strategies in View of Patent Law Reform, gives an overview of the changes and offers strategies for taking advantage of the new laws. A 10-hour self-paced online eLearning course, Intellectual Property for Chemical Engineers (, provides more in-depth coverage of the basics of patent law and patenting strategies, as well as trade secrets, copyrights, and trademarks.

If you own a patent, you might be interested in a new member benefit, IdeaConnection ( Its Patent Marketplace allows you to list your patented technologies for free. IdeaConnection alerts clients who have signed up to be notified as new technologies become available, and works to make sure listed patents turn up in Google Search. Interested technology buyers can then contact you directly to negotiate a sale or licensing agreement.

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