We’re into the new season on Shark Tank, but not too many patent issues have come up. Most of the ideas I’ve seen so far really don’t have any patent implications—clothing stores, female golf caddies, etc. But, the Jungle Jumparoo segment last night caught my attention—mostly for the blatant misconceptions about patent law. I always laugh when business people spout off about the importance of their patent and nobody knows enough to call them to the table.
For example, the Jungle Jumparoo folks told this heartwarming story about how they came up with their idea from an old farmer (that has since passed away) who had one in his yard for 30 years. When the Sharks asked about whether they had obtained rights to use it, they quickly said they had been granted exclusive rights and that they even had a patent–well sort of. They said they’d filed for a patent application, then back peddled some more and said it was just a provisional. Any patent attorney listening would know this was all a bunch of nonsense.
First, the exclusive rights to use the Jumparoo. What rights would those have been? It had been sitting out in the open for 30 years. Any patents would have long since expired. The idea was pretty much free for the taking.
Second, the bit about patents. If Jumparoo copied the old farmers design, what was there to patent? Once an idea has been shown to the public, patent rights are barred. If otherwise, people could perpetually patent any idea. Just see an old car sitting around and file a patent application on it. Clearly, Jumparoo can’t patent what’s already in the public domain. Also problematic is that Jumparoo has to swear an oath saying they invented the idea. This would be difficult since they admitted on TV that they copied the old farmer’s design. Of course, they could have come up with some improvements and tried to patent those ideas, but they didn’t mention that on the show.
What Jumparoo is doing appears to be nothing new. Even so, people love to say they have a patent or have a patent pending just for the marketing value. However, don’t be fooled by that. In this case, I would put little, if any, value on their patent application.