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Gadget Freak Case #226: Speed Regulator for Rotary Tool
9/20/2012

Andrew Morris' microcontroller-based DC motor speed regulator brings control for delicate work.
Andrew Morris' microcontroller-based DC motor speed regulator brings control for delicate work.

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Rob Spiegel
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Re: Handy project!
Rob Spiegel   9/20/2012 3:13:54 PM
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I agree about patent suits, Nancy. Usually those with the deepest pockets maintain control. 

Nancy Golden
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Platinum
Handy project!
Nancy Golden   9/20/2012 12:05:33 PM
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Gotta love those PIC projects that you can not only build at home - but are extremely useful in day to day applications. I really like your project - the improved torque with lower speed capability makes it very versatile. Cool gadget!

Regarding your patent discussion- I have found that every time I thought about patenting something (personally, not as part of a corporate patent) it simply wasn't worth it. The burden of prosecution if someone infringes on your patent falls on the patent holder and there is no way I could go against a team of corporate lawyers if someone stole my design.

armorris
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Invention disclosure form
armorris   9/20/2012 9:07:43 AM
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The invention disclosure form is a document produced by my former employer's legal department to meet the requirements of the patent office. Besides the signatures of the inventors, the document requires the signatures of two "witnesses" to whom the invention is disclosed. Since I was already laid off when the form was emailed to me, I was unable to find qualified witnesses to sign it. I still have the pre-filled, confidential document on my hard drive.

 

I've signed many such witness forms for co-workers. I would have been given a copy of the related patent application to read and understand. My name would not have been on any of those patent applications, as a witness may not be a co-inventor. I am a co-inventor in 12 patents. The patent for the motor speed regulator would have been the second one, of which I would be the sole inventor. My co-workers were all mechanical engineers.

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Company confidential information
armorris   9/20/2012 9:06:33 AM
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I did not give out the name of my former employer, or what the invention was that employed my speed regulator algorithm, in order to avoid potential problems from them for publicly disclosing "company confidential information". Instead, I made reference to a public document that contains that information. The patent application also supports my claim that I invented the speed regulator algorithm. The patent lawyers did a "prior-art" search and would have discovered if someone had patented or tried to patent it before me. For those not familiar with patent searches, here is the link to the aforementioned document:

 http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220030107341%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20030107341&RS=DN/20030107341

 

BTW, you need a TIFF viewer to view patent images (but not needed for text). Here's what I use and it's free. http://www.alternatiff.com/

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Floor sweeper information
armorris   9/20/2012 9:05:18 AM
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The make and model number of the floor sweeper that I believe uses my speed regulator algorithm was not given out in order to avoid potential problems from the manufacturer for publicly disclosing details of their design. Anyone interested can contact me individually for that information. If you like, I'll send you a JPG copy of the hand-drawn schematic and a PDF copy of the user manual (or the link to it). It's a good example of another use of the speed regulator algorithm, and how to interface with it. For example, the floor sweeper uses a pushbutton to sequentially select one of three fixed speeds and has three speed-indicating LEDs, using just an 8-pin PIC.  I don't have access to the sweeper's code-protected software, but I used a digital oscilloscope to observe its operation.

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Just sit on it
armorris   9/20/2012 9:04:00 AM
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I'm glad the patent application failed. I wouldn't have gotten any money from it anyway, but at least now, people are able to use my idea. My former employer would have used it in a very limited application, if at all.  It's common practice for big companies to patent ideas that they're not going to use and then sit on them to prevent competitors from using them. That's probably why they tried to patent my invention, even though they didn't really want or understand it. If they really wanted it, they would have assisted me somehow in getting witness signatures on the disclosure form (explained later) when I couldn't find someone, rather than let it become public domain a year later. The purpose of the invention was to replace a piece of mechanical hardware with software, saving some recurring cost in a mass-produced product. This proved to be much more complex than just the speed regulator.

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Silver platter
armorris   9/20/2012 9:02:40 AM
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I believe that when my former employer closed the facility where I worked before the final step in the patent process could be completed, they effectively served my invention to the sweeper manufacturer on a silver platter. The timing is right and the patent office is the first place someone would look, who was looking for a cheap motor speed regulator for a consumer product. Even if the sweeper manufacturer intended to develop their own motor control, they almost certainly would have done a patent search first in order to avoid creating a costly patent infringement. But then, something like this probably happened: "Hey, check this out! Here's just what we need, and for some reason it didn't get patented. It's now in the public domain and a prior-art search has already been done. Wow! Let's grab it!"

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Patent issues
armorris   9/20/2012 9:01:25 AM
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This gadget is not just about motor speed regulators, it's also about patents. I worked for 5 years in a R&D (research and development) center, where I developed the motor control algorithm and where we worked with patents every day. I had been a member of an inventor's club for about 15 years before that. There may be a lesson here for other gadget makers who hope to patent their inventions. I hope to spark some conversation on the subject of patents, as well as the gadget itself.

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Gadget inspiration
armorris   9/20/2012 9:00:06 AM
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My lifelong interest in motor speed regulators (also called governors) began in high school in the 60's, when I had a cassette recorder, a portable record player and later, an 8-track tape player, all with faulty mechanical governors. I eventually figured out how the cleverly designed Philips (Norelco) governor circuit worked. Most manufacturers wouldn't pay Philips for the rights to use their patented circuit. I repaired cassette recorders and 8-track tape players for other people by bypassing the mechanical governor and adding my version of the Philips governor circuit. The simple two-transistor circuit was easy to build and tuck away inside the set. Nowadays, cassette recorder motors have built-in governor chips.

 

 Back in 1987, I designed a "bang-bang" motor speed regulator using a 555 timer and was disappointed to discover that it was no more efficient than a linear regulator.  For a fixed speed and load, the current draw remained constant with changes in the power supply voltage. The motor got warm instead of the output transistor. The 555 timer turned the motor on for a fixed period of time whenever the motor's BEMF dropped below a certain level. The hardware configuration was very similar to that used in this gadget. The patent application referenced in this article explains "bang-bang" motor control in much more detail. BTW, the aforementioned mechanical governors are examples of "bang-bang" motor control.

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
If you need a PIC
armorris   9/20/2012 8:58:46 AM
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Please email me if you want to build this gadget and don't have the means to program a microcontroller. If you live in the US, I'll send you a programmed PIC for the cost of the blank PIC and estimated postage (unless that practice gets out of hand). Just let me know whether you intend to build the full-sized or the in-line version of the control, so I know whether or not to disable the overload timer. I'm sorry that I have no PCB (printed circuit board) artwork to give to you for either version. Due to the circuit's simplicity, a PCB layout should be very easy to do. I find it easier to hand-wire something than to make a PCB if I'm only making one copy of it. Hand wiring also gives me more packaging flexibility. If you create a PCB layout for it, please share it.

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