Sedona Conference | 7/1/2013 - 6/30/2014

The Independent Inventor

Independent inventors identify problems and dedicate their lives to finding solutions for these problems. As a reward for the enormous investment of time, money, and effort an inventor expends in creating a new invention, he or she is awarded a patent by the USPTO. Although a patent grants its holder the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling its patented invention, in practice this right is difficult to enforce. Often, inventors lack the capital required to enforce their patents against companies that are infringing the patents, and these companies are unwilling to pay to license the patent.

We recently worked with a husband-wife inventor team who devoted a great deal of their lives to developing and patenting a new generation extended wear contact lens, only to later find that contact lens manufacturers were utilizing their invention without their permission.

The couple grew up in Taiwan, where the husband attended college and obtained a degree in chemistry. The two then moved to the United States in 1968, where the husband pursued a Ph.D. at Texas A&M, and performed post-doctoral research at Columbia University and Rutgers University.

In 1975, the inventors conceived the idea of a new generation contact lens that would be highly permeable to oxygen and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. In order to develop their idea, the two worked nights and weekends for the next year until they made the breakthrough discovery we know to be the silicon hydrogel contact lens.

Over the next several years, the inventors dedicated their lives to refining their invention and solving the remaining hurdles that prevented their invention from being put into use. They risked their life savings to set up contact lens fabrication and testing labs in their basement and garage, and even tested prototype lenses on their own eyes.

Recognizing the enormous market for high-oxygen, tear-wettable contact lenses, the major contact lens manufacturers simultaneously tried to solve the technical problems surrounding the use of this type of contact lens, but all failed in their attempts.

In 1988, the inventors' dream came to fruition. They successfully developed a contact lens that was both highly permeable to oxygen and comfortable. The inventors were granted a patent on their invention by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1998.

The inventors attempted to license their patent to the major contact lens manufacturers, but were ignored. Despite their failed licensing attempts, the inventors watched numerous companies introduce contact lenses that utilized their invention and achieve huge commercial success. At that point, the inventors had devoted their lives to patenting their invention and had nothing to show for their efforts.

Left with no other choice, the inventors considered their legal options. Without the resources or specialized expertise to enforce their patent against large, well-capitalized companies, the inventors needed assistance.

One of the law firms the inventors met with to discuss their dilemma was a major IP litigation firm. The firm agreed that the inventors' patent was being infringed and introduced the inventors to Rembrandt IP Management. Rembrandt Vision Technologies, an entity affiliated with Rembrandt IP Management, acquired the inventors' patent. Pursuant to their agreement, Rembrandt Vision Technologies would develop and execute an enforcement strategy, and the inventors were to receive a portion of any proceeds Rembrandt Vision Technologies was able to obtain through its efforts. Rembrandt Vision Technologies also retained the law firm that introduced the inventors to it, when it filed a patent infringement lawsuit asserting the patent.

In 2009, Rembrandt Vision Technologies obtained a $47 million judgment (for back damages) in a patent infringement case involving extended wear contact lenses. The matter subsequently settled, resolving all claims. Rembrandt IP Management's involvement allowed the patent owners to commercialize their intellectual property in a way that would never have been possible if they acted alone.

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