If you see an incredible and clever-looking product and the term “Patent Pending” or “Patented” in its description, it might not be all it seems to be. It could only be a paper tiger.

When a patent is awarded, it may only apply to a single original or patentable element within the overall design. Given a little time and some creativity, that small part of the assembly could be science’d out of the device altogether. It gets done all the time, often invalidating years of many inventors’ life-long pursuit.

In my case, I had (what we thought was) a world-beating design with twenty-plus claims of originality. Convinced our new device was original, we spent an enormous amount of money filing patents worldwide. Eventually, the Written Opinion turned up only three worthy, patentable aspects. Of those three, only a fixed aluminium bracelet with a slot cut in it, and a plastic spacer were original in terms of a patent filing. The third was to do with stacking the assembly – that no-one ever would do. The opinion also stated that any competent engineer might have already employed these elements in other designs, but never bothered patenting them, and so could not be guaranteed as original. With that terrible news, any dream of massive investment or shooting the lights out in sales came crashing down.

Years later, I’m grateful I didn’t plough more money into a flimsy patent, or get anyone else to invest too early. Ultimately, our remaining originality was short-lived. The aluminium and plastic bits were reimagined, redesigned, and improved within a few short years.

When someone makes claims of complete originality, ask to see the PCT Written Opinion. If the inventor is honest, they’ll be happy to disclose the strengths AND weaknesses in their design. If not.

Walk away.