Andrew Morris had a problem with a small rotary tool built in China. The tool fit nicely in the hand and was useful for precision cutting, drilling, and polishing. Yet for delicate work, the tool was in bad need of a speed regulator.
Andrew had developed an analog motor speed regulator back in the mid-1990s, but this time, he wanted the benefits of a digital regulator. The digital version was just as efficient, but it was less expensive to build and easier to assemble. The digital circuit also provided more torque.
Andrew Morris' microcontroller-based DC motor speed regulator brings control for delicate work.
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.
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.
It's a shame to have to say it, but IMO, patents are no longer a viable option for the individual, except in rare cases. I just wanted to stir up some conversation on the subject and see what came out of it. I also wanted to tell my story about what happened to the patent on my invention, which is being used in this gadget.
I looked into it with my portable trail obstacle small business (no one makes portable trail obstacles and hubby and I do all of the design work). We ended up just using a trade mark symbol for the phrase "portable trail obstacles" which would give us some ownership rights depending on what state you are in...and we could have done a patent pending for a small fee without actually going through the trouble of getting a patent - but as you said, it would be whoever had the deepest pockets would have control. Just not worth pursuing for a business run out of a tiny home office. Also, people can tweak their design enough for a patent to be issued to their design even if it was originally copied from yours...
One of the things we did at the R&D center was break other people's patents. We worked with the lawyers to find loopholes to use ideas that we wanted. This was not the fault of my former employer, but is common practice in big business.
So, yes Nancy, we did exactly what you're talking about. We would make some small change to get around the patent.
This discussion of the patent process is remarkably similar to what I experienced while doing engineering technical consulting for large corporations.....right down to the description of the witnesses and the many co-inventors.
I was routinely asked to evaluate patents for useful information. Often this evolved into equally simple ways in which the whole patent could be subverted.
Without offering any moral judgment, I'll simply note that my engineering career spanned enough years to see what was once ethically questionable becoming a common and valued engineering practice.
It may be at a patent was never as much of a strong protection in reality as it was in folklore. How could it be wit such a low level of international support?
My advice to startups is not to assign too much importance to patents. Lack of a patent should not be the deciding factor. It may be that more businesses failed to get started from fear of not having a patent than ever failed from patent challenges. In my opinion, the real value of the patent process is in the way that it promotes education and advances knowledge.
I would like to see the patent process continue evolving away from it's legal and protective roll and more towards becoming a vehicle for recognizing unique achievement and distributing new ideas.
Nancy, I agree PIC projects are really cool and fun to build. In reading Andrew's Build document, the assembly language code used to monitor and control the motor is quite typical of Microchip. All of their microcontroller software reference design documents illustrates the target application with assembly code. Here's a link for a cool PIC Lab Development kit including the PIC10F microcontroller.
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