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This paper presents a cautionary tale to all inventors who surrender their patents in return for funding. The paper relates the experience of Corliss Orville Burandt, who claims to have invented a method called variable valve timing. Burandt discovered that Honda's intelligent VTEC engine used a technique that he believes is identical to his patent. He also claims that four other major auto companies have recently filed for patents on concepts that would infringe his patents. Unfortunately, Burandt found out that he didn't own the patents and that Investment Rarities Inc., which had initially provided funds to develop his inventions, had failed to pay the US Patent and Trademark Office in maintenance fees that were due on the 12 patents Burandt had assigned to the company in exchange for funding. This case should serve as a lesson to all inventors not to assign the patent to their development partners, but instead to give them an exclusive license. That way, the inventor maintains control over the invention, can monitor and ensure payment of maintenance fees, and can work language into the contract that stipulates that the exclusive license can be terminated if the licensee does not make a reasonable effort to commercialize the technology.
Date of Publication: May 2005