For years I have been a big fan of the clever writing on The Big Bang Theory. We tease various family members about sharing Sheldon’s outlandish tendencies or making the same faces as Penny. However, a recent episode had me laughing for a different reason: patent mistakes!
In the episode, Wolowitz, Leonard, and Sheldon created the infinite persistence gyroscope, something I won't pretend to understand. It was a true collaboration of Leonard’s remarkable helium research with Howard’s gyroscope and Sheldon’s math. There was some mention of quantum vortices and guidance systems, but that was all over my head.
The scene moves to the three sitting outside the patent office at the university where Sheldon and Leonard are employees and Wolowitz is on loan from NASA. As they talk about patenting their new invention, I am wondering about whether they had an entity formed yet, eventually deciding no, as Sheldon is more concerned about wearing a bowtie for his first patent.
They lead off their meeting by informing the licensing officer that they do not need the Caltech patent search to avoid overlap, as they have done their own. I hold my breath, and then it comes: the three inventors are asked to sign a document that the university owns 75% of the patent.
I do find it ironic that Sheldon, the most fastidious character on television, has not read the university policy on inventions. However, much like our e-book on Silicon Valley, it’s all in the name of laughter.
Leonard’s reaction is the common “it’s not fair” that they only get 25% of the revenue. The Caltech licensing officer explains that their salary has been paid for over 10 years for the research! I do find it amazing that people do not read the policy or their employment agreement and think that any revenue sharing is unjust.
The real heartbreaker can be when an inventor gets nothing because of contractual terms. That applies to Wolowitz because as a federal employee on loan from NASA, he is not entitled to any revenue share.
They do agree to cut Wolowitz in by forming a partnership to share any profits equally, but then each guy’s significant other has something to say. That serves as a helpful reminder that any startup or small business can impact your personal life. Make sure your family is on board with your project.
Sheldon’s specialty is contracts: the roommate agreement with Leonard and relationship agreement with Amy are legendary. Contracts are also Sheldon’s pornography, with Leonard joking that he once found a stash of contracts under the bed. Sheldon even has his own proprietary font and has been drafting since kindergarten. How did he miss that important step of reading his contract and the Caltech policy?!
Remember to preserve the relationship amongst partners and with the licensing agency, in this case the university. Wolowitz was concerned that Sheldon is not respectful of his contributions so there was an addendum requiring respect by Sheldon. It is only enforceable by Sheldon’s OCD and ethics. Since Sheldon also put in a clause to share part of his profits with Wolowitz’s unborn baby, we think that the new partnership is off to a good start
It brings us back to one of the first questions that we ask in our free business risk assessment – who are you when you came up with your big idea – were you an employee? And if yes, then read your agreement or any policy in detail before investing time in your invention or business.