Inventor Grandiosity: Dealing with the Kitchen Sink Invention

This post is part of a series of posts relating to inventor interviews. Other posts include The Art of the Disclosure Meeting, Doing the Disclosure Meeting, Setting the Stage and Issuing Warnings, and Inventor Myopia.

During the invention disclosure meeting, I can count on running into the Kitchen Sink Invention at least once in five inventions. The Kitchen Sink Invention is the result of grandiose expectations of the invention or extremely overbroad view of the invention. The Kitchen Sink problem is the inverse of the myopic inventor.

The Kitchen Sink Invention is the one that is so broadly defined that it does everything. Interestingly, I run into the Kitchen Sink Invention occasionally with software engineers, people with marketing perspectives, early stage entrepreneurs, and independent inventors.

The telltale sign of the Kitchen Sink Invention is the inventor’s statement: “It can do anything”.

A hallmark of a good software engineer is the ability to generalize a routine, feature, application, or other element so that it may be reused. This characteristic may take some work on my part to determine the actual invention.

Marketing people tend to go on and on about the virtues of the invention without giving much meat or structure of the invention. Early stage entrepreneurs and independent inventors also tend to fall into this category.

The disclosure meeting will go along and the inventor will state “it can do anything”. Tongue in cheek, I ask, “Can it give me a haircut?” Then, the inventor says “No, it can process any type of encrypted file system command applicable to CP/M operating systems.” “Oh, I see that now.” I write that down furiously because that statement is usually the heart of the invention very succinctly and precisely.

With brand new inventors, I often get a statement like: “There is nothing like it on the market.” I sometimes hear this when we are talking in generalities about the invention and even before we sign an engagement letter.

The reality is that there is always something like your invention. There is something the same size, same weight, and probably made from the same material. Maybe your invention does something different or unique in a way no other device has done, but I guarantee I can find something like you invention in some way.

I get tipped off to the Kitchen Sink Invention when I feel like I am getting a sell job, or when the invention just seems way too good to be true.

I handle this situation by exploring the prior art. I ask if anyone else has addressed this problem, and ask what was done to respond. What was done by all those billions of people who didn’t have your invention? I want to know how well those solutions worked and what the inventor did differently from those solutions. Sometimes, I will ask about how the market has accepted the other solutions and what the inventor’s experience with the other solutions was like.

This line of questioning is directed at getting some context for the wonderful and broad capabilities that the inventor was pitching.

From my standpoint as a practitioner, I need to understand the structure of the invention. I want to know that the lever attaches to the fulcrum, which is supported by the foundation, not that it promises to feed the world. I cannot get you a patent on feeding the world, but I can get you a patent on a mechanism used to plant corn.

After I get the inventor to focus on the specific elements that make up their invention, I can gently focus on each element. For each element, I want to gage how important the element is from a business standpoint and from a technology standpoint.

From a business standpoint, does the feature differentiate it in the marketplace or make it more appealing from a cost, function, design, or competitive reason. From a technology standpoint, I need to know if the feature is essential for the invention to function and if there are other ways to accomplish the same feature.

Part of the problem with the grandiose invention is cutting through the marketing fluff and identifying the elements that make up the invention. Once we can identify the various elements of the invention, I try to cover each element in the interview and discuss its necessity and different ways to perform the element. By the end of that discussion, I have most of the information I need to write a good, solid patent application.