Thinking About Creating an AT Device? Then You Should Know This
Are you thinking about creating an Assistive Technology (AT) device? Consider familiarizing yourself with intellectual property rights and the patent process before developing your marketing plan. A patent is a legal protection that grants its holder “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling” the invention. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) determine which inventions become patented. In this blog, Alex Camarota, USPTO employee and president of ResponsAbility, shares his insights with AbleData's Information Specialist, Marleen Gonzalez, on how to get started with this process.
Marleen: After a person has invented a product, what is the first step they should take?
Alex Camarota: This can vary greatly depending on the invention and the market in which they wish to distribute it, but an extremely prudent initial step is to determine if there is anything proprietary in the invention that can be protected with intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks or trade secrets. Patents are granted for inventions that have never existed before, allowing the holder to exclude others from making, using, selling or offering to sell, or importing the invention for a limited time (up to 20 years in most cases). Patents are a powerful business incentive and often integral to the overall goal of commercializing a technology. More information about patents is available at www.uspto.gov/patents.
Marleen: To your knowledge, what resources are available for inventors to market AT?
Alex Camarota: I am not aware of resources meant to help inventors market AT specifically, but there are many resources, public and private, available to entrepreneurs and business owners in general that can certainly encompass AT. I suggest starting with the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA partners with many local, regional and national organizations to help entrepreneurs understand the ins and outs of starting and operating a business and find resources and assistance.
Marleen: Based on your experience, which type AT have more chances of becoming marketable?
Alex Camarota: It would be unwise for me to give advice on specific technologies; however, it seems the biggest commercialization issue facing AT is that most of it is intended for a relatively small user base. The lower the potential for revenue, the harder it can be to commercialize and market a product. AT that has the potential for a broad application and that addresses multiple needs—or even one that can be adapted for mainstream use—would probably have a better chance of succeeding in the marketplace. This type of AT is sometimes hard to spot because it often exists seamlessly in the technological landscape. For example, voice-activation software in most smart phones today evolved from AT originally created to help people with disabilities use computers without tactile input. It is important to keep in mind that many factors determine marketplace success. The product or technology itself is just one aspect.
Marleen: In your opinion, what is an effective way to make an AT product marketable?
Alex Camarota: Any piece of technology should solve a problem or fill a particular need. The more people who face that problem or have a need the technology can provide, the higher the chances are that it will sell. Sometimes people do not realize how a particular technology can benefit them, so being able to articulate clearly and quickly to prospective users the problem the technology solves, and how it solves it, is a main goal of marketing. Inventors should hone their message and reduce materials and pitches to the most necessary and convincing of details.
Marleen: How should an inventor of AT prepare to make their products marketable?
Alex Camarota: If an inventor plans to start a business around a newly invented AT, he or she should be diligent in developing a business and marketing plan. Not only does this help anticipate the next 3-5 years, but it also helps to visualize a clear direction and goals for the product. The SBA has detailed guidelines to help inventors write a business plan, but there are many other resources available online and through local business development organizations, including free classes and seminars. Check the SBA calendar of events to find something near you!
Marleen: What are the current agencies or laws that a person must look into when developing and marketing an AT product?
Alex Camarota: That depends entirely on the type of technology and its intended use, as well as the specific claims that the manufacturer makes. For example, ATs that are considered medical devices may need to be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while a communications device may need to comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. In other cases, there may be no regulations with which to comply. In general, ALL marketing and advertising must comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines to be truthful and evidence-based. While there is a lot of information on these agencies’ websites, the best approach to know for sure is to consult an attorney.
Marleen: Would you also include some details about you?
Alex Camarota: I am a writer-editor in the Office of Innovation Development of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I am deaf, and every day I use advanced communications AT to facilitate my work and communicate with colleagues and customers. Reasonable accommodations and AT allow me to perform my job duties at the highest level I am capable. My office oversees the agency’s efforts to assist independent inventors and small businesses, especially those that are drawn from minority and under-resourced communities. It is an extremely rewarding job where every day I know that my work is having a positive impact on the lives of Americans.
Marleen: What is your current involvement advocating for people with disabilities?
Alex Camarota: I am president of ResponsAbility, a voluntary employee organization at the USPTO that spreads awareness and raises issues regarding disability at the agency. We are a resource for both management and employees, and we collaborate with leadership to help strengthen inclusiveness and recruitment of individuals with disabilities. The USPTO is making impressive progress in these areas and we hope to share our best practices with other federal agencies and beyond in the near future. In 2015, we were named the second best places to work in the federal government for people with disabilities.
I encourage anyone interested in learning more about intellectual property and how the USPTO can help them protect their inventions to visit the Office of Innovation Development Web page, call our toll-free number at 1-866-767-3848, or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.