I thought it was funny that none of the Sharks knew anything about “Bubba” Baker, about how he was a really good football player. But they revealed that they know even less about patents, and I feel it my duty to set the record straight.
During last week’s episode, Bubba presented his “de-boned” ribs. While there are a million places that sell ribs, Bubba’s claim to fame is that he has a “proprietary” process to remove the ribs without disturbing the meat. Based on the ribs I eat, that would be no small task, especially since the ribs usually take up much more volume than the meat.
The Sharks weren’t too impressed with Bubba’s pitch until he pulled out the ribbon copy of his U.S. patent. When Kevin O’Leary saw it, he got a googly-eyed over it. He said in all his years he’d never seen a food patent and that must be worth a fortune. I hate to tell Kevin, but the patent office issues these patents all the time. In fact, they are one of my specialties. And there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a food processing patent.
But Bubba raised the stakes (no pun intended) by saying that he not only had a patent, but he’d kept some of his process as a trade secret, and he would never tell anyone the real way he can get the bones out. Kevin was ecstatic. A patent and a trade secret on the same idea. Now that was valuable.
Bubba didn’t realize it (and neither did Kevin), but if his patent was worth anything before the show, it may not be worth much after, not since he admitted on national television that he kept part of the process a trade secret. The problem is that the patent statute requires you to cough up the whole idea when you file your patent application. In other words, you can’t patent a piece and keep the rest a trade secret. There’s this little requirement called the “best mode” where you have to tell the world the best way you know how to practice your invention. By failing to tell the patent office exactly how he gets the bones out, he opened himself up to this attack if he ever tried to enforce his patent. It is a very common misconception by many inventors.
But was his patent that good anyway? Kevin certainly thought so. I suppose Kevin already looked at it before the show; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so excited. But I was interested to see how he gets those bones out. I did a little digging and found it on the patent office web site. It’s U.S. Patent No. 7,959,500. After reading it, I too was quite surprised. It contains claims covering a process for removing a bone from a piece of meat after cooking the meat long enough the enable the bone to be removed. It appears that the great secret to de-boning is just to cook the meat at low heat for a long time.
A patent on cooking meat until the bone slips out? That appears to be the case. How the patent office granted this patent is anyone’s guess. Last week when I pulled my ribs out of the crockpot, the bones slid right off before I could even get them onto the plate.
In any event, it is a granted patent, and Kevin really wanted a piece of it. Kevin offered a pretty lame deal for a piece of the action. Yes, he put up a bunch of cash, but only if Bubba could get someone to license his patent and Kevin could be guaranteed a nice royalty stream. It was basically a no-lose offer without any risk. It’s a deal I would do. Not to be outdone, Daymond offered the same deal but took a lower stake in the company. Bubba took the second offer. I would have walked and done my own licensing deal.
I have my doubts that he will ever get a license deal from a meat processor. Maybe a big meat packer will want the patent to harass the little players that try to sell meat without bones, but I’d hate to be the attorney trying to litigate a patent that is so vulnerable on many fronts.
Only time will tell whether Bubba’s venture into the patent game will be successful.