Patent Lather

When you create a product with broad commercial potential, be sure to protect your interests by patenting the products in a way that keeps the competition at bay.

While a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, 22-year-old Ronald Demon created the technology behind the ThinkShoe, high-tech footwear that adjusts its cushioning to the wearer's activity. If you're playing basketball, for instance, air pressure will push fluid into the cushion to provide extra comfort. "Everybody started calling me when the news of my invention first came out in the media," says Demon. "I was approached by Nike, Adidas and Reebok, among others, to see if I was interested in licensing my technology."

Demon, however, has different ideas-he's decided to introduce the product himself. At press time, the product, named Raven, was scheduled for a 13-city test run this summer. Demon believes the initial success will expedite the final licensing agreements and help him negotiate a better royalty rate.

Essentially, Demon's long-term success depends on his patent, which will prevent competitors from snagging his idea. His original patent offers broad protection, he says, but he's filing additional patents to broaden the claims even further. Any time you have an invention like Demon's with broad commercial potential, you'll want to follow his lead and try to patent the product in a way that keeps the competition at bay. That's easier said than done, especially on a product like Demon's, where similar products-like Reebok's air pump sole-are already on the market. But it can still be done, as long as you're willing to go the extra mile to cover every design variation.

Don Debelak ( is a new-business marketing consultant who has been introducing new products for more than 20 years. He is the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95, 800-225-5945).

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This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Patent Lather.

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