Monday, September 10, 2012
Help Me Howard: Patent Problem
If you owe a bill, you expect to be notified, right? But what happens if the U.S. Patent office sends your renewal notice to the wrong company? Can you then lose your patent? It's why one man who lost his patent for a machine called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Some people learn to invent, and some are just born with that skill.
Audley Brown: "It's just something I always wanted to do when I was coming up, it was like a hobby."
Audley has 8 current inventions including this one that he got patented in 1999.
Audley Brown: "It's an energy system, it's a back up energy system."
Audley calls it an affordable battery charger. In theory, it uses a little gas to start and then can run forever.
Audley Brown: "Once you get this turning, you no longer need the gas portion of it because the magnets inside the motor actually turns by itself."
Audley had one day hoped to sell his invention, but then he lost his patent.
Audley Brown: "I was angry."
When you patent a product you have to pay whats called a maintenace fee every three and a half or four years. For some reason, Audleys 2011 renewal notice got sent to Microsoft.Yep, that Mcrosoft. So Audley called the U.S. Patent Office.
Audley Brown: "And when I called them the U.S. Patent Office told me that how do you know William Gates? Who is William Gates? I know him by Bill Gates."
The U.S. Patent Office told Audley his patent had expired because he didn't pay the $2,300 maintenace fee. But if he paid that, plus a $1,600 late fee, he could get his patent restored.
Audley Brown: "And I asked the patent office, "Why do I have to pay a late fee when the error was made on the U.S. Patent's Office part?"
Audley says he is happy to pay the maintenance fee, but not the late fee.
Audley Brown: "It's frustrating, it's unfair and it's not right at all. I would like the fee to be waived."
Well Howard, the U.S. Patent Office sent the renewal notice to Microsoft instead of Audley. So does he have pay the late fee?
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, Audley still has to pay both the maintenance fee and the late fee because the law does not require the patent office to even send reminder notices and it puts the responsibility on the patent holder to pay all fees on time."
We then talked to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A spokesman told us their records do not show why Audley's letter got sent to the wrong address. Because of their error, we asked if they could waive the $1,600 late fee.
A spokesman said they could not because they would have to do it for everyone else. They now have Audley's correct address in their system and once he pays all the fees, his patent will be re-instated.
Most companies are not required to send you a payment reminder but you should always check your contract to make sure what your rights and responsibilities are as a customer.
Audley is working to pay the fees and still hopes to one day sell this product to investors. But he is not happy with the patent office.
To allow an error like that to happen and go with no accountability speaks volumes of the parent office.
While most companies dont have to notify you that a bill is due. If they forget and hit you with a late fee, complain. In some cases, they will waive the late fee if they make a mistake, but not the U.S. government.
A product left you charged up? Hoping someone can invent a solution for you? Contact us, we dont have a patented formula, we are just stubborn and refuse to take no for an answer.
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at email@example.com