When I was first married I went to work for – with – my dad. We were patent draftsmen, well, he was the real deal. Kind of a genius really. I was … I could draw and take orders but I could almost feel his hand on mine as I ran my pencil around the paper.
These were very detailed, technical drawings that were eventually registered in the patent Office in D.C. They showed exactly how the invention worked and how it was intended to be used.
That was a long time ago and though things have changed in the world of patents, one thing hasn’t :
So this guy in Pennsylvania comes up with a pretty cool idea for a wrench. He makes a prototype, applies for a patent and then goes into production. The thing really takes off. So much so that he is approached my Sears.
“Hey, Little Guy, that’s a real nice tool y’ got there”
“Thanks, Mr. Sears”
“How would you like it if we put them in our stores? You’d triple your sales!”
“Gee, that sounds awesome, Mr. Sears!”
“But, of course, it would have to be an exclusive deal?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’d deal strictly with us. You can’t make any other deals with say … Home Depot or Lowes or Ace”
The Little Guy jumps at the deal. And for the first two years things are going great. He hires over fifty people in his shop. But the third year? No deal from Mr. Sears.
Seems while restricting Little Guy’s market for two years, Mr. Sears has let loose an army of scum sucking lawyers to ravage the archives of the Patent Office for anything that even looks like the cool new wrench. And when they hit pay dirt, they set up operations in China and come out with their cool new wrench.
After thirty years of drawing those drawings, meeting with all those Little Guy inventors, listening to their ‘grand’ ideas, watching them crank up their better mousetraps and anxiously waiting for the world to beat a path to their door I never saw one inventor make a nickel from his idea.
The key is not in the invention but the production. That’s where the money is. And Mr. Sears knows that. If you have enough money you can convince a jury that every invention is merely an ‘attachment’ to one of the seven basic machines we all learned about in physics class – OR, that your client is, indeed, the inventor of the wheel!
Why? Because … both of those notions are true.
Look, I’m pretty sure Mr. Sears will win this one in court, but is that the real issue here? It just doesn’t pass the smell test. Little Guy made a deal, in good faith, with this corporate anaconda. Little Guy could have sold a trillion of these things if he had entertained offers from Home Depot and Lowes but he made a deal, shook on it … with Mr. Sears. And now he has to lay off 31 of his workers!
Mr. Sears’ reply?
“How dare you! We employ thousands of American workers! No one is more pro American worker than Sears!”
My question : How many of those American workers you employ are actual workers and how many are legal hyenas trying to figure out how to fire workers who don’t work for you?
And … if I’m not mistaken, Sears pulled the same crap a few years back with another clever young man who invented a … wrench! On the job, while working for … Sears! We all know that while you’re at work, your mind, and everything that’s in it belongs to the company.
I was going to end this piece by asking you to boycott Sears this Christmas season but, let’s face it : Sears has been dying on the retail vine for years. Can you say Target? Wal-Mart? Dollar Store?
I haven’t shopped at Sears since I bought that cool pair of Roebuck’s jeans in the late ‘70s.
Here’s hoping they win their case and, subsequently, lose their desperate, pathetic, corporate soul.
Where America used to shop!