Breakthrough ideas are often not embraced by large companies – particularly if they are not core business. So stated Charles Hull the inventor of 3D printing in the inventor’s session at the recent IP Global Business Congress in San Francisco.


As a consequence, breakthrough ideas are often under- resourced in terms of money, skills and people. Many do not make it.

Fortunately we can learn from those who have succeeded despite the odds.

Charles Hull was obsessed with how to speed up product design time and worked on the genesis of 3D printing at night while still doing his day job as an engineer. Remarkably this work started in the 1980s with his first patent granted in 1986.

Significant progress was made when he set up on his own coupled with an experienced business partner and a serious investor. Following that, many technological breakthroughs occurred with accompanying patents. The importance of having a significant patent portfolio was endorsed by all of the inventors that spoke – not just Charles Hull.

Carlos Puente also spoke at the same session. He invented a fractal antenna – the technology that enabled us to have small cell phones. For him to start on his journey, he needed patents first to attract investors. He also stated that for respect you needed a strong patent portfolio. He also recommended against drafting your own patent specifications.

Patent licensing was essential for their company to scale up and be able to supply the world with the billions of units required.

Likewise Jean Christophe Geron had a similar story. He invented electrochromic glass and found it critical to have multiple inventions protected and have an extensive licensing model.

Jean Christophe recommended also that it is very important to see a patent attorney early on to be sure that patents are drafted as broadly as possible.

Laura Van T Veer echoed the above sentiments. She invented a breast cancer test and stated that patents gave validity to their company and this enabled them to attract investors.

Similar messages came through in a later session with Gerard Eldering of Innovate Techventions who commented on his experience with start-ups. His recommendation is that at an early stage about 10% of investor funds should be spent on patent drafting and filing.

Finally, there was a common theme which also ran through all of the sessions. That old chestnut, IP strategy must be aligned with business strategy and must be thought of carefully at the start.

So to sum up to be a successful entrepreneurial inventor you need:

  • To be clever
  • To be diligent
  • To build up a patent portfolio to protect your ingenuity
  • To attract investors and use your IP portfolio as leverage for that
  • To recognise when it is smart to license out
  • To acquire business expertise either through your own study or bringing in others.