A penny for your thoughts may be more than they're worth

The SE Texas Record Apr. 9, 2011, 6:00pm

How many times have you had an idea for what you thought would be a terrific new product?

If you're like most people, certainly you have. Maybe it was an idea for something that could fill a void you'd discovered, or maybe it was just an innovative twist that might improve an existing product.

But how many times have you followed through and actually developed a prototype and tried to get it manufactured and marketed?

If you're like most people, never. It takes a lot of time and money to promote an idea, and most people don't want to make that commitment. So they forget about the great idea until one day when they happen upon something similar in the marketplace – and they want to shout out, "Those so-and-sos stole my idea!"

Ideas are stolen from time to time, but the more likely explanation usually is that someone else simply came up with the same idea.
However, that exasperating someone also had the two necessary ingredients to make the idea a reality: determination and persistence.

Some people, genuinely convinced that they've been cheated or just looking to get a piece of a good thing, go to court and try to persuade a judge and jury that they deserve a share of the profit accumulated from the production and marketing of "their idea."

What is at the core of the patent infringement case involving David Gelernter remains unclear. But U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis of Tyler has thrown out a $625.5 million jury award in his suit against Apple Computers, concluding that Gelernter provided insufficient support for his claims.

The complaint, filed in 2008, involved patents that Gelernter obtained in 1999 – which prompts one to ask who had the determination and persistence necessary to make some ideas a reality and give them value. As Edison observed, "The value of an idea lies in the using of it."

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