In October 2017, the Patent and Trademark Resource Center at New Mexico State University’s Zuhl Library hosted a United States Patent and Trademark Office training event. Members of the campus and community attended to learn more about the patent process.
Established at NMSU in October 2016, the PTRC is the only such office in New Mexico and the surrounding region, and is officially affiliated with the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia.
“At the NMSU PTRC we really only help folks with their initial patent or trademark search,” said David Irvin, NMSU business and government documents librarian and PTRC representative. “It’s the logical first step: You have to find out if your invention was already invented. I receive training at the USPTO every year to make sure I can help inventors do their own a deep dive into the patent databases, so they come away with a really good sense of whether they should proceed. This kind of work performed by a patent attorney would potentially cost thousands of dollars. Our program is free.”
At the 2017 event, Santa Teresa, New Mexico, resident Charlie Thompson approached Irvin, and three years later Thompson has received three patents. His patents for a mountable elevator, assistance tilt vehicle lift and continuing application on the assistance vehicle tilt lift, stemmed from a travel experience and are designed to help his wife.
While visiting Nacogdoches, Texas, to see one of their grandsons play football at Stephen F. Austin State University, the Thompsons met a man at an RV park who shared details of an experience when his wife slipped, fell and severely injured her shin on manual RV steps. She received temporary help but never recovered.
“That story haunted me,” Thompson said. “We had those same manually operated steps. Further, my wife has a very dysfunctional back. I wanted to find a lift to get her up and down into and from the trailer. Everything I discovered wouldn’t work if she was alone. If the steps were down, she had to store them which she was physically unable to do and vice versa. I decided to design a platform that would go up and down from the ground to the RV and when needed would convert to steps all controlled by a remote control.”
Thompson knew he wanted to patent the innovation but thought it was too expensive until his wife saw the event at NMSU’s PTRC. He said he learned about new options and discounts available since he was older than 65. Irvin introduced Thompson to the ProBoPat program, which connects individuals to pro bono intellectual property attorneys. He was accepted and has worked with Rick Holzer of Holzer Patel Drennan in Denver, Colorado, throughout the process.
For Robin Benson, an electrical and computer engineering student at NMSU, inspiration struck while volunteering and working as a licensed emergency medical technician.
“It was during that time when I was caring for patients who complained of their pain not due to their injury but due to the spinal immobilization techniques and protocols required,” she said. “I thought, there must be a better way, especially since my first responsibility was to do no harm. Plus, the device we used was invented back in the 1950s, and doesn’t immobilize the spine, simply immobilizes the entire patient, and was intended as an extrication device.”
Benson’s invention, a spinal immobilization device called TrueSpine, will not cause harm or pain while immobilizing a patient’s spine. Benson received a patented for TrueSpine after a nearly two-year process, which started with a prior art search at the PTRC. Irvin also helped Benson with ProBoPat, which connected her with a medical device patent attorney from Polsinelli PC.
Benson, who owns RB Designs LLC, said the events hosted at PTRC saved her time and money and she encourages other students to use local programs.
“I would take advantage of all the resources available on campus, or throughout the community,” she said. “If you’re an undergrad student, look into the opportunities available through the PTRC, Studio G and Arrowhead Center on campus. These resources have helped me in ways I can’t even describe. But as a small example, I estimate that because of the PTRC if my invention would have come up on that initial search, I would have known and pivoted or stopped right away. Because of the PTRC and having access to ProBoPat I have saved approximately $15,000 in legal fees.”