Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ric is on Australian Story - Mon 24th August at 8pm

By Site Admin - 19th August 2009. After two months in the making, one of the most reputable programs on Australian television, Australian Story, has featured Ric Richardson and a company he founded called Uniloc that received a jury verdict of $388 million US dollars.

The Australian Story episode couches the jury win in the context of Ric's life, his 16 year journey of building the business that is based on the invention he patented back in 1992 and how it has affected him since he decided to make his main base of operation back in Australia.

Some links you may enjoy include:
  1. Background info on the people in the Australian Story such as IBM US Corporate veteran Ravi Marwaha and surfing legend Bob McTavish and even Ric's physical trainer.
  2. Stories from Behind-the-scenes of this episode.
  3. What it's like to be interviewed by Australian Story.
  4. Answers to Questions many people have asked Ric about the show. Many people have asked why there is little mention of the Uniloc company or its people in the episode. This is an example of some of the questions you will find answered on this page.
Other pages you may find interesting include a list of Ric's inventions, more in depth background on Ric, a listing of places that Ric has appeared in the media, a page outlining in simple terms his ideas on how to get your idea patented and into the market place, and a page talking about Ric's next big thing called Logarex.

Australian Story - what it's like to be interviewed

By Ric Richardson. Wed Aug 16th- 5 days before the show airs.
Being interviewed by Australian Story is not like any other interview experience I have ever had.

When the news of the Microsoft court case win first hit Australia I was inundated with requests for interviews by everyone from the news programs to “A current affair”. My initial reaction was to try and make something more constructive out of all the attention than simply being the guy who invented the thing that ended up winning a court case against Microsoft for $388 million.

A decent message takes more than a 5 minute snippet to communicate… so I bided my time, until my good friend Jim Revitt convinced me that a request from Australian Story should be taken seriously.

Having been away in the States for the last decade meant that I didn’t have any idea what Australian Story was like, but having a glowing reference from Jim (who I hold as one of Australia’s most valuable behind-the-scenes television people) meant it was well worth looking into. The clincher was that as soon as I mentioned the show to Kaz (Karen my wife) she said “ooohhhhh yes”. She had fallen in love with the show in the short time we had been back from the US. A couple of phone calls later and an Australian Story researcher named Kristine Taylor (her credits are half way down the link) was traveling down to northern NSW to have a coffee with me.

She was smart, charming and genuine in her interest in the story and it’s possible positive angles that may be of value to the many hundreds of thousands of Australian Story viewers. I felt privileged that the story was worthy of their consideration.

While it was clear that the court win was the hook that got the initial interest for the viewer, it was also clear that the meat of the story was going to be about Aussie persistence, being willing to “have a go” and about being willing to stick your neck out a bit to see how far an idea can go even if it means leaving your home and mixing it up with the big boys overseas.

Soon I was handed over to the producer that was going to bring the story to fruition. His name is Kent Gordon, a dichotomy of congeniality and persistent investigation.

It may compromise the independence of the show, and him as a member of the press, but I can’t help but admit that we became friends. It’s really hard to talk about and explore things that are really close to the heart, and also open up some relatively private areas of your life and not develop the kind of trust that ends up in friendship.

Initially I was waiting for the “digging for dirt” to begin, but it never eventuated. That’s not to say he didn’t ask hard questions and make me think long and hard about some of my answers to his questions.

This is where I think Australian Story really stands separate from any other TV program I’ve ever watched or been interviewed for. A major intrinsic difference is that the reporter’s questions are never included in the program.

The show has to use ONLY the things you say.

They could edit “out of context” which would be out of character for them, from what I can tell, but generally you, as the interviewee get to control what is said.

When you think about that, this is amazing… also it is really hard for the shows producers since they really have to build a story around what you say… not what they want you to say… if you have had anything to do with television or script writing then you know this could be a real can of worms to do once, let alone every show.

Another special thing is the way the cameraman Anthony Sines and sound guy Marc Smith capture the moment without getting in the way of the natural flow of the story. There is one moment where I just parked my van at an angle to the beach and for some reason the shot lined up perfectly... the shot was over my shoulder working in the van, out to the beach and the lineup of the surf with my mate Bob McTavish catching waves in silhouette to a rising sun. Moments like that take an impossible amount of work to do when intentionally sought, but a filming team who are intuitive and adaptable catch those moments. Plus the three of them (Kent, Anthony and Marc) were just good guys... affable, easy going yet totally professional.

It took a few months to complete the episode and all the interviews but in the end I thoroughly recommend working with the show if you ever have the opportunity.

As I write this I am yet to see the story as it is still in the hands of the editor but I feel my story is in good hands and hope it’s worthy of a half hour investment next Monday night for lot of fellow Australians.

Exporting Ideas

At the outset please let me invite anyone who sees an opportunity with one of my inventions to email me... if you are an entrepreneur that would like the opportunity to run with one of these inventions, just say the word... I'm up for anything.

That said I am also looking to set up a professional pipeline that takes patented technologies and ideas from Australia to the US in the most efficient way.

The normal path to international success is to build your business here, and then once the product is proving itself, set sights on the US. Unfortunately in my mind this is like committing corporate suicide.

You can only raise money and you only have so much equity to trade for funding and before you know it you've used all your money and all your equity before you even get to the market that really matters.

The approach I am developing and hope to set up for others to use is a strategy where Australia is only used for initial development and some limited market testing, with the main market entry occurring in the US.


Because any success you get in Australia will only amount to a fraction of the potential success of the US. So sales success in Australia is no indicator for the people you need to help fund you in the States. In fact they will probably use the sales figures against you asking much larger equity positions based on not wanting to fund your team while they learn to deal with and sell to the US market. Its just not worth the blood and sweat.

This is what I propose:

Think about US market entry from the inception of your business. After you know your technology works and can be scaled up for production, immediately start to look for Australian businessmen who have some experience in the US and who can help you vet the team that you eventually choose to do your market entry. However, only use their experience to help you choose the right team in the US. You may get out of having to spend as nuch of your life as I have overseas!

In my case I am exploring a business structure where an Australian holding company is 51% owned by the inventor/ founder and 49% by the management team and investors who supply enough funding to allow a US based market entry team to produce a business plan that in turn can attract 1st round funding from the US.

If everyone does their job you end up with a successful US business that is more than 51% owned by the Australian Holding company which in turn you retain majority control. The American team get's a fair share of equity at 49% or less of the of the successful US entity.

If you like the idea of what you see here please feel free to speak to me via email at .

Australian Story - the people from the episode

This article is a quick introduction to the people interviewed in the Australian Story episode featuring Ric: Karen (Ric's wife), Jim Revitt, Steve Cox, Ravi Marwaha, Bob McTavish, Jim FitzSimons, Francois Naef

Also we will introduce you to the team from Australian Story who made the episode possible: Kent Gordon (Producer), Kristine Taylor (Researcher), Anthony Sines (Cameraman), Marc Smith (Sound)

And some people who should have been mentioned: Fred and Helen Richardson (Ric's Mum and Dad), Sky Richardson (Ric's brother and business manager), Lily Richardson (daughter), Craig Etchegoyen (business partner and good deeply trusted friend), Brad Davis (Exec at Uniloc and friend), The Uniloc team.


Karen Richardson
(Ric's Wife)- Karen is Ric's wife and dearest friend who faithfully followed him as the journey took them to the States and back. In the episode Karen features strongly as a grounding influence that gives Ric relief from the intense rarefied air of high technology, invention and the high stakes business activity that comes part in parcel. Recently Ric was in an important conference call with executives and lawyers in the States when the line seemed to go dead. "Hello, is anyone there?" Ric said. The executive on the other end of the phone asked "do you have a chicken in your office?"! Ric had got so used to having Karen's chooks around his office that he did not notice them. "No matter how big the business I do becomes, I can always walk out of my home office to be brought right down to earth" says Ric. Karen is also mother to their daughter Lily and a hoard of other family members. Max a red nose staffy, 3 cats and 7 chooks Bev, Dot, Edie, Poppy, Blanch, Vi and Noddy (who is really Liy's chook). Messages to Karen can be relayed via Ric at email

Jim Revitt (Life long friend and media mentor) - As a kid working with his Dad doing contract jobs for ABCTV program Weekend Magazine, Ric first met Jim who was then the head of the program. In a relationship that has lasted most of Ric's life, he would pop in to see what Uncle Jim would think about the latest goings on or i/deas. Jim has been a keen supporter of Ric and the Uniloc story. Whenever Ric came back from the States he would drop in for a cuppa and to catch up. Jim and Ric even collaborated on some of the breakthroughs of the internet age that have only recently become popular. Ric and Jim worked on one of the first ever digital editions of a book for electronic distribution for which Jim supplied the text. Jim comes from a generation that prefers to let what they did shine brighter than who they are. As a result Jim is widely known amongst TV professionals and only fleetingly as the editor for his nieces books. Jim is the Uncle of Australia's most popular female novelist Di Morrissey. For more background on Jim have a look here.

Steve Cox (Life long friend and early coworker) - Ric first met Steve as teenagers. Steve is a drummer and Ric is a guitarist and they spent most of their weekends learning to play Yes and Rush songs note for note while becoming life long friends. Steve was working with Ric on the music sequencing software called TrueTime when Ric invented Uniloc and subsequently followed Ric into Uniloc as a trusted workmate. By the time Ric made the decision to go to the States Steve had had enough of corporate life and decided to go back to his first love of playing music. Steve currently lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales and makes his crust in a musical duet.

Ravi Marwaha (corporate mentor and good friend) - Ric met Ravi when he was a General Manager for IBM in Australia. Ric counts Ravi's support amongst some of his most precious resources of the Uniloc journey. After Ravi set the wheels in motion for Ric's relationship with IBM in the US and Europe, their paths would separate and converge over the years. As Ric's relationship with IBM flourished and then dwindled, his subsequent move to the US and over multiple mini projects with IBM over the years, Ric and Ravi would connect and reconnect. Ravi went on to head up IBM India, then IBM Pacific and ultimately heading up worldwide sales for PC's for IBM before going to Lenovo for a short while during its acquisition and handover. "The last time we met in New York we hugged like old friends who had conquered Everest together... only I felt like he had done it legitimately and I had got dropped off by a helicopter" Ric recalls. "It feels really funny to have real achievers like Ravi vouch for me in the Australian Story episode, when it seems they are much more worthy of that kind of recognition than me." Ravi has subsequently retired to Sydney with his wife Alka where he enjoys his gold, mentors some old friends and gets harassed to make appearances in television shows by a pesky inventor he met 16 years ago.

Bob McTavish (surf legend and friend)- Bob met Ric and Ric's second brother Raece back in the beginning of the 80's when they were traveling the Australian eastern seaboard selling ShadeSaver sun glass cords. They did so well that they could afford to get Bob to make them a couple of surfboards and have been friends ever since. Ric now lives in the same town as Bob and they have become good friends. Recently Bob came up with a new idea for surfboards that helps surfers turn faster and have more buoyancy in their boards by allowing the surfboards tail to remain wider. A few days later Ric had helped Bob file his first surfboard patent after being

Jim FitzSimons (Top flight Lawyer and friend) - Ric met Jim very early in the Uniloc journey. Ric was getting into some business negotiations that were a bit over his head and needed some really good practical and legal advice. Jim and his partner wrote a book about Intellectual Property which was the state of the art at the time. I though Uniloc was going to go all the way so I decided to get the best lawyer I could possibly find. I met Jim and then coerced him into missing tickets for the Australian Open to come solve a problem for me... (I still owe him a trip to the US Open in compensation!)... after that Jim nursed me through the decision to patent and became corporate counsel for Uniloc during the IBM days. Jim has since become a senior partner at Sydney firm Clayton Utz and remains a good friend.

Francois Naef (personal trainer) - Francois (said Franswa) can be seen taking me through a training session as part of the Australian Story episode. Francois was referred to me from my chiropractor after I fell down some stairs and hurt my back... he is a specialist at finding alternatives to normal exercises due to a persons unusual body shape. He is also a muscular specialist and will do things like walk along with you and tell you how to hold your pelvis and why your feet splay out if you don't hold your abdominal muscles a certain way. He is expensive but his expertise means that I get help that does the job without stressing my body too much due to my unusual body shape. Francois works in the Byron Shire and can be reached at his email (this is a Swiss site)


Kent Gordon (Producer) - Kent was the producer of my episode. A real professional with a gentle manner but still gets to the meat of matters. He took over my story when the researcher Kristine Taylor completed due diligence and concluded that a good story was possible. Kent acted as interviewer during my to-camera sequences and gave overall direction and support to the crew. He is also the one that collects all the photos and videos and news items that flesh out the video segments shot by the Austory crew. On top of this he is the one who writes a script from the initial video and outline and then crafts the story into the final product. From where I sit, this task is stupendous as it is so much harder to write a script that has been dictated by the subjects own dialogue. This is real artistic stuff. After shooting is complete Kent will sit with the editor and gently guide them through the subtleties of the story so that a smooth flowing, informative and satisfying story with integrity is delivered. It was a real delight to watch him work.

Kristine Taylor (Researcher) - Kristine was the researcher for my episode. She came down to Byron and sat with me for an hour to explore a possible story. She then starts talking to people related to the episode to see if a complete story can be delivered. Kristine did a lot of work. Discussing with me who may be central to the story and seeing how they fit and then talking to them and fleshing out a story line and angles to explore once the executive producers decide to give the episode the go ahead.

Anthony Sines (Cameraman) - As of this moment I have only seen the promo on the ABC site but the film work is beautiful... in fact it looks cinematic. You have no idea as he is taking shots what he sees, but when the editor crafts his shots the results are very picturesque. I really felt privileged to warrant such hard work to make the episode look so good. On top of this, both Anthony and Marc the sound man never seemed to get in the way of the story. Whenever we did segments we never lost momentum. There was no retakes as far as I can remember and the directions were always easy to work with... it is truly amazing that such a polished package was delivered.

Marc Smith (Sound) - the quiet achiever of the team. Marc was always on the ball. It seemed like half the time he was anticipating Anthony's shots so as to get the best quality sound while staying just out of shot. Even though sound men are artists in their own right, the way they work in with everyone and support them makes a good soundy indispensable and the whole project run so much smoother. Marc also happens to be a desert dirt bike rider so we didn't get to rave on about bikes until the last day since he really kept a low key over the two months.


Fred and Helen Richardson (Ric's parents)
Sky Richardson (Ric's 2nd brother and manager of his incubation company)
Lily Richardson (Ric and Karen's daughter)
Craig Etchegoyen (Ric's business partner and good friend in the states who represents Ric's interests)
Brad Davis (CEO of Uniloc and friend)
The Uniloc team

Australian Story - Answers to viewers questions

Questions answered so far:

  • Why hasn’t anyone from Uniloc featured in the Australian Story episode?
  • What about your parents, Ric? Did they not have a part in your success? Why weren’t they interviewed for the story?
  • Your business partner Craig Etchegoyen is mentioned but is not interviewed in the story. Is there something missing there?
  • The case must have cost millions. How did Uniloc pay for it?
  • The case must have been a big thing for you. Why didn’t you go over there for the proceedings?

Why hasn’t anyone from Uniloc featured in the Australian Story episode?
The people of Uniloc are a good and competent team and they should get credit for their part in the jury decision. However the enforcement of the patent only really involved a few members of the team and me as the inventor since its really about the patent and some of the facts surrounding our relationship with Microsoft over the years.

There is also the fact that the judge has not as yet ruled on damages and there is a very real likelihood of an appeal which means that all the Uniloc team including me are still under scrutiny by Microsoft and the court for possible future legal activities so discretion is in order.

I for my part completely understand Uniloc’s reticence to be too involved with stories surrounding an active court case. Since I am no longer at the company, I can make independent decisions although obviously feel it is important to take the interests of the company into account whenever I do anything related to Uniloc or the 216 patent.

But I also have a life outside of Uniloc and a deep interest in encouraging fellow inventors and Aussies who may want to give their idea a go, so I thought the time was right to do something of the depth and integrity of Australian Story.

What about your parents, Ric? Did they not have a part in your success? Why weren’t they interviewed for the story?
Yes they most certainly did have a major part in my success. The initial support, confidence despite not really understanding the technology, and their willingness to put valuable family financial resources behind me are priceless.

I cannot speak for them but I do know that my father has dealt with and been a part of the media for nearly 50 years and while I do not think that Dad or Mum questions the quality of the Australian Story people, Dad has had a policy of staying away from the media and for good reason given some of the things he has seen happen over the years.

I think this is also part of the reason that my youngest brother Sky who runs my incubation company R2 Labs also declined to be interviewed. He has the added burden of also having been deposed in the Microsoft court case which was enough to scare anyone from speaking publicly about anything to do with such a big case while it is still active.

Your business partner Craig Etchegoyen is mentioned but is not interviewed in the story. Is there something missing there?
Craig is a close friend and I have complete trust in him as he represents my interests in Uniloc. He, like my parents and my brother Sky is very circumspect when it comes to commenting publicly during an active court action.

For some reason I just feel that I do not want to live my life in the shadow of constant legal scrutiny. During filming for the story I did my best to keep away from what I felt were touchy or controversial subjects and to avoid adding to the already large burden of our legal team at Mintz Levin in Boston.

I would of liked to have heaped praise on Craig for his part in helping me find the right legal team and having the right strategy with them but there will be time for that later when things settle down.

The case must have cost millions. How did Uniloc pay for it?
The key guys at Uniloc are very smart. So the resources to fight this legal battle came together fairly smoothly. Mintz Levin are pretty much the best there is in terms of patent litigation so things really came together once they were confident that the patent was substantial and the possibility of infringement was high.

The case must have been a big thing for you. Why didn’t you go over there for the proceedings?
To give you an idea, over the last 6 years since the suit was filed, dates for various hearings and court milestones changed time and again.. sometimes moving out by weeks and months. It’s a very hard way to plan your life. In 2007 when I made the decision to start to head back to Australia the date for the trial was a distant amorphous thing.

Then when my health seriously declined after having kidney stones, I felt it was time to bite the bullet and just get back to Australia, get to the country for a period and rebuild my health. After the stress of moving and even because of the stress of the impending case, health naturally became a very real issue in not allowing me to get back to the US.

In fact the stress was so bad that even when Karen told me that we had won, I almost immediately went into a depression with physical reactions. As soon as my head knew it was ok to stop worrying my body went on and had a wind down that completely over-ruled the rush that would normally happen to most people after winning a court case like that. Things soon started to regulate but I can tell you that normal people like me are not designed to handle stuff like $300 million dollar court cases.

It was satisfying to be supported by a jury of peers but the intensity of situations like that is just not much fun to deal with especially when it is your invention that is being attacked.

For more answers why don’t you add your comments below and I will do my best to answer them there or here with future edits.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Australian Story - behind the scenes

The following are some little stories and background that may be of interest to you if have seen Ric’s episode of Australian Story. These notes are from Ric’s recollections:

Link to some behind the scene photos (shooting on location in Byron)

The McTavish surfing shot
The episode opens with a sequence of shots featuring surf legend Bob McTavish while he is surfing. The idea is to demonstrate how I was able to help Bob patent his ideas which would be worth millions if he had done this in the past with inventions such as his short surfboard.

When we first checked out the surf for the day of the shoot the beach we chose was in an out of the way place just north of Byron Bay. Within moments the police turned up doing their normal rounds and I thought we’d get in trouble parking the truck at a funny angle in the beach car park. As soon as they saw Bob they said a cheerful hello, asked the crew in a friendly way what they were doing, and looked on for a few moments. They were really cool about it.

Next thing you know the park rangers turn up as my dog Max was frolicking around off his leash and generally making friends with everyone in the near vicinity including the film crew. Again, the rangers say hi toBob and the crew, then they had a play with Max!, had a chuckle and went off down the beach to do whatever it is they do…. So laid back… sooo easy going… its great to be back in Aus.

When it came time to shoot Bob coming out of the surf and approaching the van, they wanted me to jump out of the truck, meet Bob and head off to his surf shop together. The sight of him bounding out of the surf in his mid 60’s and me struggling to get out of the back of the van made me feel like an 80 year old. He is so unbelievably spirited, dynamic and healthy… and a real inspiration to get my health back under control.

Kaz’s interview
My wife Karen’s interview was a show stealer… these are not only my words but Kent the producers words. She was really natural and confident with an infectious humor that permeated even the crew… For example they were calling my truck the Dick van which is really irritating since I am Frederick Richardson, NOT Richard Richardson. But she calls me Dick anyway just to get a rise out of me… and somehow she convinces everyone to get in on the gag. One thing that really came across strongly in her interview was how hard going to the states was for her… she doesn’t really hold any regrets but when she said that the US was “not her cup of tea” in her interview, you know she was really being low key about it. We made a lot of good friends there and made a good living from that country… its just sooo good to be home. For us, Aus is where the heart is… Australia is home.

70 x 40 minute tapes to do half an hour
Early in our work together Kent mentioned to me that an average Australian Story takes 70 forty minute video tapes of footage to compile one half hour episode… amazing! This was in my mind when we started interviews and encouraged me to be as succinct and interesting as possible.

After 3 tapes my interviews were complete and I was pretty sure that we were doing better than normal... then Kaz did her interviews… somehow Kent and Kaz had become so comfortable that her interview went even smoother than mine.. she was natural, open, honest and fun in a situation where most people clam up. Kent was really good at making her comfortable but I think I agree with him when he said that Karen was a natural and possibly a show stealer. She did her interview in 1 tape!

Playing guitar – Smoke on the Water
The sequence showing me playing guitar is of me playing to a professional backing track that has all the instruments and vocals EXCEPT the guitar. These tracks really sound great and can be a real excellent way to relax between business sessions. Other songs that I use to have a musical break include ACDC’s Back in Black, Queens “Tie your mother down”, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and Van Halen’s “Panama”, all of which I have learned to play pretty much note for note.

Dirt bike riding
Just before shooting the dirt bike sequence I was warming up in my back yard and did one of the longest wheelies I’ve ever done there… it didn’t feel dangerous but wheelies always have a way of going sideways on you so it was a bit risky.

The sequence shot in the field with cows was really unusual in that the cows are never usually that close to the track through the field. Out of consideration to the cows and their sensitive natures I traveled through the field at a third of the speed I would normally be going… that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it :-)

When we got back from shooting that sequence Kent came up to me as I was putting my bike away and told me cheekily to “grow up” obviously having a go at my riding antics. My retort? “I did grow up… I went from a Yamaha 175 to a KTM 450!”.

On the next day which was also the last day of shooting, Marc Smith the sound recordist finally starting talking about himself a bit.. he’s a real quiet affable type. He really warmed to the whole dirt bike thing and told me he was a desert rider and really loved it.

He made a comment that he knew the guys at Trailzone Magazine and asked him if he knew Clubby (Andrew Clubb) the publisher and editor of the magazine. He said he knew him pretty well.

So here’s a strange coincidence. He looked pretty amazed when I explained that I used to do the computer work back in the 80’s for Australian Dirt Bike Magazine (a magazine where Clubby was a writer) and that I was good mates and a riding buddy to the publisher of that magazine, Geoff Eldridge. Geoff died in 1993 in a bike race in Nevada. His missus sold me his backup 4 day enduro KTM so that one of his mates got it rather than a stranger. Next thing you know my first wife and I were divorced and she ended up marrying Clubby! How about that for a twist of circumstances.

Francois (the Trainer) and his danger money
The physical training I did for the story was only a fraction of a normal session in length. To be honest things can get pretty ugly after an hour of panting, struggling and grunting. Such things should be kept off national television… at least in my case. On top of that while I’m sure the exercises Francois makes me do are in my best interest, I think very few of them are photogenic or flattering in any way.

While the session on film looked quite congenial, usually Francois has me stressed enough to damage our working relationship. One day we were scrambling up sand hills while he sailed up and down light on his feet and I asked him how much would his hourly rate be for me to give him a good thumping! Being Swiss, it took him a good 10 minutes to work out what this expression thumping meant. He coolly replied his hourly rate was $1000 per hour for that service but it was limited to guys at least half my size so I was out of luck. Francois is an expert at helping people with special needs. He is not cheap but he is studying physiotherapy so he knows the medical side of things.

Ric’s US Home
In the prep for the show I know that Kent tried to get some pictures of our home in the US that may not get into the show… But one of the reason’s Kent may have shown interest in it was because of how we tried to make it a little slice of Australia in the middle of a gated community in Huntington Beach, California.

Whenever the self appointed watchdog of the community went past our place to ensure the communities landscaping standards were being kept they didn’t know what to do about our garden. They could tell it was being looked after, but could not make head nor tail of the wierd (to them)Australian natives that graced our minimal front and back yards. Kaz used to call them the garden Nazi’s.

On the other hand nobody could argue with the success of the garden. Kaz had planted native Australian Grevillea’s that seemed to attract every bird and bug in the complex… especially lovely little Hummingbirds, one of the most delightful memories we have of living in that area.

Contemplative shots driving van
On the second last day of shooting the team had me driving along a lovely country road near our house. It runs across a ridge between lovely open pastures of rich green grass and sprawling native trees. It’s one of my favorite THINK SPOTS and is also the same location for the photo shoot I did for the “Man in the Van” story for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Ric, his brother Raece and Rock and Roller Johnny O'Keefe!
Something that is sure to turn up in the show is a snippet from a music video (film as it was before video) my Dad did with famous early Rock and Roller Johnny O'Keefe. The film was shot in Hyde Park in the Sydney CBD and featured a small segment where my brother Raece and I are playing with a little wooden plane. We must have been around 6 or seven years old. Johnny includes us with the words of his song.

I must ask Dad where it was broadcast. It’s pretty much a sure thing that Dad has the only print of the film and would love to have a few people join me in trying to convince him to publish it somewhere… so if you have interest in seeing the video published digitally online or in some forum such as the Australian Federal Archives then give me an email note at and I’ll try and get him to do something about it.

Want to read more?
Read about the people from the show.
Read about what it’s like to be interviewed by Australian Story.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Making your ideas fly

By Ric Richardson 19th August 2009. Expanded and updated 29th August.
A lot of people I meet are desperate to try and see their ideas and inventions come to life. My heart goes out to you. Unfortunately I can’t help everyone and the fact is that I’m an inventor. Being an entrepreneur is only a necessary evil in my book since I’d prefer to invent something, make sure it works, and hand it off to someone so I can get on with the next thing.
Most people that meet me, need me to be an entrepreneur… to evaluate their idea or invention, to mentor them. Some people even privately or overtly ask me to invest. Unfortunately that person is not me for the most part. However I love sharing information and things I’ve learned about inventing. What follows is some things I’ve learnt over the years that may be of help:

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and the following advice is only based on my experience so please consult professionals before making important legal decisions.

This is usually the easiest part of being an inventor… usually you see something you know other people don’t see. A way of solving a problem… or a new technology with interesting possibilities. Usually you see this idea in your minds eye long before you see it in reality. So how to get from mind to real? There are four stages of invention development I use:
  1. Virtual proof of concept
  2. Proof of concept
  3. Prototype
  4. Production proof
Virtual proof of concept is useful when the components of what I want to invent are already existing with specifications and dimensions I can use to do a virtual or projected proof of concept. For example I did this with the automotive carbon scrubber where I could take the performance data of submarine based carbon scrubbers for cleaning air and apply the specs to an automotive engine exhaust to simulate the possible advantages. This approach enabled me to get a long way in assessing the invention before incurring the cost and the possible damage to my Lincoln Navigator before actually doing a live proof of concept.

A proof of concept is a working model of an invention that only has to work in a controlled environment such as when you are handy to keep things from falling apart during a demo. It can be used as proof that the invention works but does not need to be so robust as to work unattended or in the hands of someone else.

A prototype is a more robust version of your invention that can be given out for basic testing. It does not need to be able to handle use by hundreds or even dozens of users but should withstand non attended use by a small group of targeted people. Prototypes are handy for evaluation by Angel investors or early management prospects. Prototypes also generate confidence in that they are robust enough to be independently tested and verified. This is really essential if you are expecting people to invest in your product.

A production proof is a pre-production version of your invention. It may not withstand industrial use but the whole product will be present and easily used to produce the full production version of your invention. For example, I use a web enabled database program called Filemaker for fast prototyping. It is very quick to use for web based technologies or inventions but can also be made to look and behave like a production quality internet database. Even though the software will start to run into trouble with more than 1000 visitors in a day it is possible to build a complete web solution in a fraction of the time it takes to do a full production version. More importantly it can be used by the production team as a fully operational model for a hi capacity hi performance website built using cloud computing and much more complex and powerful web technologies. This approach completely does away with specifications and documentation… the coders can look directly at the prototype and know exactly what is expected of them. Plus you can start making money while your customer base ramps up.
When to patent? The time to write your patent is as soon as you have something real... even a virtual proof of concept is enough to be sure you have something to patent... of course there is strategic advantage in waiting if you don't think you can get your product selling and some income before the mandatory one year when you have to start spending money on your patent... but to me time is of the essence.. the first person IN with the best idea wins.

It's important to remember that your patent will have to use the best example (called the example embodiment) of the patented invention as the basis for your application so you do need to take some time to put your best foot forward. For me I keep working on my invention until I see something that clearly separates it from anything I know is out there. Then I know I have a good shot at getting something that is patentable.

What to patent? There are two schools of thought regarding writing patents.. the long stroke and the short stroke methods. The long stroke method involves including every feature you could possibly think of in your patent and having your lawyer write as many claims as possible. The strategy here is that when you come to enforce it in the future, the opponents attorneys will have to spend so much time and money just to understand your patent that most small to medium size companies just give in and pay for a license rather than fight you. This seems to be a strategy of many corporate generated patents and to me is not in the real spirit of what the patent laws are made for.

I prefer the short stroke method, where the patent is as short, as direct and as simple as legally possible with a very specific focus on the most important feature of your invention rather than try to include every aspect of your invention... I frequently ask myself "What is the part of my invention that everyone will have to copy to duplicate it with any success?". For example I recently helped a young lady who was patenting a portable baby bottle cleaner and warmer. She could have patented lots of features of what she had done but it was the portable water supply and cleaning method that stood out as essential to the success of the invention. In a way this feature is the boom gate that stops competitors from quickly duplicating her invention so I suggested that she make sure it is included and featured in her patent application.

Another advantage of the short stroke method is that it reduces costs and can be a lot more handy for you during business building. For example a simpler patent means the professional prior art search (the search for any pre-existing invention of your type) is much easier, faster and cheaper (especially if you are using a professional search company). Next it is much easier for investors, business partners and customers to understand if you feel it is strategically important to let them see your provisional patent. Oh, and of course it is much easier for your lawyer to grasp in order to write the claims for you (more on that later).

A word on software patents. There has been much discussion about the validity of software patents. From what I can tell the big problem is when people try to patent a process that can be run on one processor and looks more like a math's calculation than a patentable process. Its important here to show diagrams of how your software process includes multiple computers or multiple types of computer hardware. This area obviously deserves a lawyers advice but it is not as scary as you may think from the way it is being talked about in the technical press.

Example case: Bob McTavish and his foot fin system. A good friend of mine also featured on Australian Story started talking to me about his latest idea. As he explained the principle I could see it was patentable. Would you believe he actually argued with me that it wasn't! But he saw patents as a way of protecting a manufactured thing rather than a process or a method of manufacture... after discussing the principles of his invention I helped him come up with the scientific basis for his invention and the relationship between a surfers back foot and where the fin should be placed. Before we knew it we had a filed patent for him in the USPTO.

Subsequently we have also filed a patent for his idea of a lateral fin plug, but the basic principle about the new way to place fins on a surfboard are far more important, and simple to understand. A more strategic conceptual patent is far more effective in blocking someone who wants to copy or steal the idea. Looking at his plug idea (which he originally wanted to patent) I can see 3 or 4 ways of working around it instantly, but that's the difference between an inventor and a business man, the ability to see the core reason why things are successful rather than simply trying to protect the thingy that gets sold.

  Patent strategy. I almost always do a provisional patent and almost always file in the US first. The reason? A provisional is simple to do, its optional to have a lawyer check it... so its fast. Also in the states I get a presumption that the invention date was actually 12 months before my provisional file date. Filing a provisional means I get 12 months to see if the invention is viable and enables me to talk to people openly without NDA's (non disclosure agreements) and all that hoo ha. If it all works out and the invention is worth going to full application, then I proceed and if protection outside the US is needed I file a PCT application, but even then I get another 12 months after filing my full application to file my PCT with all its additional costs. Here is an example of the advantages of my approach.
  • File my invention as provisional in US (<$200 electronic filing): I get a file date that works for any PCT country including Australia. 
  • I get 12 months before I have to do a full application. This delays lawyers costs and search fees for 12 months and allows me to make some money from the invention before my costs start.
  • I get another 12 months before I have to file my PCT and its extra $5-10k of expense.
  • Plus I get a presumption of inventorship that predates my US filing date by 12 months if I am contested in the States.
Why not patent in Australian first? If your invention is of any significance it will be sold in the US and the main licensees or possible infringers will be US based. So focus there first for all your protective measures. The first patent has to be the best written and should be written for the jurisdiction in which it may be contested. If there is going to be prior art it is more likely to be there rather than here. Why go through the hard work of writing a patent and working with a lawyer if you only have to turn around and do it again when you go to the US market? (which is inevitable for any successful invention).

Don’t show anyone key concepts you plan to patent. This is important. The patent laws in the states are different to Australia so don't talk to anyone about your invention until you have filed your provisional in the States. The laws here tend to presume that you give up your rights to patent protection if you don't make a reasonable effort to keep the invention secret until a patent (either provisional or full) is filed.

How to write your patent? Would you believe I used a book to help me learn who to write patents? Its called "Patent Pending in 24 hours" by Nolo Press and can be downloaded here as an ebook if you want to get going immediately. It's really excellent but I have sped up some sections and simplified my process to suit my circumstances, but if you want to get the low down on patent writing this is the best place to start in my mind.

Here is how I write my patents generally:
  1. I do an internet search for anything that might sound like my invention. I then use terms and words that seem to be used to describe similar inventions in my search of the USPTO database. I do this for two reasons: of course I want to know if someone has done my invention before, but also very importantly, I want to see how others have described or drawn their inventions for ideas on how to do the patent drawings for my invention. I do not include my search results in my provisional but I do keep them to give them to my attorney when it comes time to do my full application.
  2. Drawings: Then I work out how I'd describe my invention to someone if I had to explain it using a whiteboard (ie drawings and diagrams). What drawings would I use? What logic process/ chart? Would their be close-ups of sections of the invention or cutaways to show inner workings etc. Id have a go at a few drafts of this and refine the drawings and minimize the number of them. Some of my patent drawings are hand drawn but most of them are done in MS PowerPoint and Macromedia Fireworks an old drawing program I love. Next I hand draw or sometimes computer draw little squiggly lines from each important part of the drawing and link them to to a unique number. The number is later placed in the text of the patent to help the reader know what you are talking about in the text. Important: make sure the drawings show the best example (embodiment) of the invention that you can think of at the time.
  3. Background: this goes at the front of your provisional. It talks about what is already out there (prior art) and why it all doesn't work or why the invention is needed to solve a specific problem. This does not need to be too detailed, but should include the next closest most popular solution or your next closest competitor and show clearly the failings and what your invention does to address them.
  4. Figures List: This is a list of the figures (drawings) you will be using. Its a simple way to make sure a full list of drawings is included in your filing.
  5. Description and operation: This is where I go thru each figure explaining each part of the drawing and how it works with the other parts to achieve the desired effect of the invention. In the NOLO book they separate these sections out (ie separate Description and Operation sections) but I find it easier to do it all in the same section. For example a surfboard fin patent I wrote recently said something like this "the left most plug slot 10 sits to the right of the multi-slot lateral surfboard plug 15". You have to spell everything out so there is no question about what you are talking about. It's a bit painful but will help you no end later on if your provisional gets contested.
  6. Alternative Embodiments: last thing is to write the alternative ways in which the invention could be made or the same effect achieved. This is where you think like a competitor and try to describe in broad terms what you would change or modify to get around your own patent. For example in the fin system patent Bob McTavish and I said something like "an alternative system would be any plug system that allows a surfboard fin to be placed in two or more positions in a lateral or perpendicular direction from the surfboards center line".
  7. Claims: This is the legal guts of the patent. I never write claims. Claims use technical and legal language and need to be crafted by a professional. The US patent laws allow claims to be left out of provisional filings and that suits me down to the ground. If you are going to pay a lawyer the minimum possible to get filed then it is the best to spend that money later when you are doing your full application.
I then let a trusted confidant (someone who is competent in the chosen field of your invention) check the filing for errors or stuff that makes no sense and file electronically with the USPTO web site as soon as possible. It will cost you less than $200 and a filing date/ confirmation will be emailed to you. You now have 12 months to get your invention up and going!

When it comes time to do full application. I have written a lot of patents so my process is pretty cheap but you can use it as a guide. I usually spend about $5000 for my full applications. This is comprised of a $2500 prior art search by a professional search firm in Washington DC and $2500 for my lawyer to edit my patent and write the claims. I then budget $5k to file a PCT if I think I need protection outside the US .

The prior art search is from a firm that hires former patent examiners who have the latest understanding of the patent laws and also are familiar with the search terms used to find existing or competing patents. When a current examiner at the USPTO sees the prior art search you submit with your full application, they can see that someone very experienced and current has done the search for you and they will be more likely to develop the confidence that your patent is novel/ unique and worthy of a patent grant.

For someone who may not have written the most succinct patent, there may be lots of editing and lots of time explaining things to your attorney so I'd expect to pay up to 10k for my first few full patent applications including a decent patent search.

The beaut thing about patents is that they enable you to talk openly about what you are doing. Sooo, go do it! Write an article about it for a trade magazine, or submit it to an invention TV show or a local newspaper. Make sure to do this is a public way targeting the market you eventually want to sell to... if its going to the US then get US publicity. A popular gizmo site... wherever you can go to make sure people know what you invented and what makes it unique.
This has two important benefits. The most obvious is it starts connecting you with people that may want to use, distribute or buy your product but also it enables you to test the waters to see if anyone out there claims to have done the invention before you... This has a hidden side benefit. You see if someone has had an opportunity to contest your patent but doesn't do so, they give up many of their rights to come after you later. It just clears the air and shows the patent office and prospective licensees that you are trying to do the right thing...

Promotion also helps rally support around the next phase of your invention which is to build a business around it. Prospective investors may see the publicity or even if you approach them directly, the independent promotion gives you credibility with them... its really something you can't ignore doing ...and doing properly.

Once you have something of substance by following the last few steps, it is time to start building a business around your invention.

The problem with the original inventor/ patent protection model. When the patent system was first setup by western governments the idea was to protect inventors from having their ideas stolen from them by predatory people and companies with more resources. The idea being that the inventor could invent the thing, patent it, develop it, learn how to manufacture, sell and market it and then build the company so that they had something to retire with later on in life. This model assumes that an inventor would have skills as an entrepreneur, a manager, a marketer etc etc... or that the inventor has enough time to learn how to do all these things.

There are a handful of people that have done this successfully. Edison, Gates, Jobs. But for most of us the reality is that we will never have the skills or learn fast enough to not seriously hamper the ability of your invention to fly. On this basis I like to use a series of holding companies that allows you to share equity with other people that supply capital or expertise, but you can still retain ultimate control of your invention.

So in my model, you set up a holding company which becomes the owner of the patent. You then sell some stock in the company to angel investors who give you enough money to fund the building of a business plan by a professional management team (ie CEO and key execs) for 6 months to a year to get their own business plan and funding together. They in turn setup a trading company which will will be owned at a minimum of 51% by the parent holding company (in return for the patent rights). The remaining 49% is to be dolled out sparingly as market entry is funded and milestones reached by management. In this model you are balancing the three main components of a successful technology business: a great idea/ founders, money and management. Plus, you as inventor always retain ultimate veto control.

How does this work in Australia? It's basically the same except that the parent company is Australian and the market entry company is in the US. This means you have a special need to find as part of your parent company some management that has experience in starting and running US based companies and are willing to do whatever travel is needed to represent the parent companies interests in ensuring that the US company is a success.

If you would like explanations and expansions on the ideas presented here please make your comments below and I will try and answer your queries. Regards,

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