The patent process can seem daunting to the unskilled, but this month we’ll be exploring some of the basic steps in obtaining a United States patent through the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


General Patent
So you’ve got a great idea
for a new guitar, or a guitar component, and you’re dreaming of getting yourself a patent – but where do you go from there? The patent process can seem daunting to the unskilled, but this month we’ll be exploring some of the basic steps in obtaining a United States patent through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), along with discussing things to think about before jumping into the deep end.


General Patent Preparing to Apply
You might begin by asking, “Why a patent?” The basic concept of the patent is to protect your invention from being used by others without your permission. There may be many reasons to try to obtain a patent, but often it revolves around economic protection of your invention. You can usually do three things to generate a financial reward for your creation:
  1. You can sell parts or the whole patent outright, which is called “assignment.” This may seem like good and quick upfront money, but the risk is that you may be selling your invention too soon, before its value matures through market awareness and demand.
  2. You can license the use of your patent to others in exchange for royalties. Royalties can be anything that you stipulate and agree on with your licensee; money, land or even livestock! A royalty is usually paid to you as a percentage of each item produced or sold using your invention. This is potentially a good stream of revenue, but it may take years for that stream to turn into a river.
  3. You can do it yourself, meaning producing and bringing your invention to market on your own. Often, to prove the usefulness of your gadget, the market demand has to be proven by you. Who better to prove this than the inventor? You hold the total destiny of your invention in your own hands, giving yourself overall freedom – the downside is that you’ll bear the total expense and risk of the entire venture.
Marketing also plays a big part in the patent equation. Having a patent holds a lot more validation weight than saying your patent is “pending.” In a simple sense, it is easy to get a pending patent – just submit an application and you are pending. In many respects this really means that you have a very good chance of having your invention declined by the USPTO. When you have been granted a patent by the USPTO, you them have a document of original invention which is protected by law. You own it, and this allows you to utilize your patent as a full-fledged marketing tool through brochures, videos, ads, seminars, etc., to demonstrate and promote the usefulness and uniqueness of your device.

The only other reason for obtaining a patent may be completely self-motivated – just to say, “I have a patent … I’m an inventor!” No matter what the motivation, these are all valid reasons for taking the time to apply.

For you, a patent provides the exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling your invention for a limited period of time. Utility patents protect your invention for 20 years starting from the original filing date. This boils down to giving you the exclusive opportunity to help your invention prosper, and to realize its full potential as a novel item. The patent system also spurs new creativity for future technology by offering protection to the inventor.

But before you rush to apply for a patent, you should first assess the potential of your own invention. Ask yourself, along with some trusted friends (yes, everybody signs a non-disclosure … even Mom) whether or not this is a cool and catchy idea, or, at the end of the day, if it is simply quirky. As tough as it may be, be honest with yourself and your invention.

If everybody flips over it and agrees that it may be an original idea, then you will want to take the next step and retain the services of a professional patent attorney. Stay away from the “all-in-one” patent/ marketing firms that promise to take your idea into the stratosphere and make you an instant millionaire. Many times they have ulterior motives which don’t involve you. During your hunt for the right patent attorney, do not be afraid to ask a plethora of questions, and be firm on seeing references of other patents they’ve been involved with.


General Patent The Patent Search
The next step is performing a “patent search” on your idea, which more than likely would be sourced out to a professional patent searching firm for a minimal fee. The search involves looking for pre-existing patents on file at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) which may be in conflict with your invention. A good search might discover that your idea has already patented by another inventor, or it could find material within a similar patent which may be close to your design in some way. Fundamentally this exercise is to unearth as much preexisting patent material that relates to your invention.

However, you don’t necessarily have to outsource the search stage of the patent process; you can do a lot of patent searching yourself, if you have the drive and patience to do so. The USPTO provides a free online search service which is open to the world. Simply go to uspto.gov/patft/. Here you can do a quick or detailed search for any issued or publicly posted pending patents on your own. 

If you and your patent attorney agree that the search was favorable on your part, meaning that no matching or similar patents have appeared, then the next step is to create a “disclosure” document. This can be a fairly simple text document with some drawings or sketches that best describe your idea, how it works and why it’s original. This is submitted to the USPTO, and simply kept on file. The disclosure is not examined in any way … just filed. This provides proof of your invention, tied to a specific date. If someone else surfaces claiming to be the inventor of your idea, this document will allow you to compare dates and see who was first.


The Patent Application
After the disclosure is filed then you can proceed with creating the actual patent application document. This is most often segmented into six parts: the abstract, background of the invention, brief description of the invention, drawing summary, drawing details, and patent claims.

I would highly recommend getting yourself familiar with patent lingo, mainly by studying a few semi-related patents found online. You’ll start to get a sense of how to structure your work for your own application. To the beginner or outsider, this can be a tedious experience, but it’s a necessary step in getting the most out of your case. Remember, the application process tries to prove that your invention is worthy of the prestigious USPTO seal, and it may be examined alongside hundreds of similar patents, by several patent examiners. Your case must be airtight.

General Patent Nobody knows your invention as well as you do, so it’s your job to convey the nuances of your design and function to your patent attorney in the clearest way possible. Try writing the entire patent yourself in everyday terms, providing sketches of your item with different object views. Don’t worry about grammar or the patent structures; just get the design and concept facts dead on. Your patent attorney will take what you have laid out, dress it up and prepare it in the proper patent jargon – drawings and all.

A word to the wise; don’t take anything as gospel, just because your attorney “told you so.” Ultimately, it is your responsibility that the facts within the application are 100% accurate, and that you are comfortable with all the application’s parts. If you are not happy with certain details of the application, get it fixed. It is your dollar and your name on the patent. Remember, the beauty of a first-rate patent application lies within the accuracy of the details.


The Examination Process
After your attorney files your application get ready to wait. The first examination process can take as long as 12-24 months. There are no guarantees regarding the first examination time line – you may get lucky and get a faster response, but remember, this is a tedious process. No matter how long it takes to get your first examination, you should receive written confirmation of receipt of your application from the USPTO within a few weeks after filing.

General Patent Eventually you will receive notice from your attorney that your invention has been evaluated by an assigned patent examiner from the USPTO. When the written examination arrives, be expected to answer many questions, keeping in mind that your patent claims may be severely challenged – if not flat out denied by the examiner. Get ready to argue every point of dispute in detail, proving that your invention is original. Your patent attorney and you have the right to speak with the examiner directly over the phone, or you can request a direct, faceto- face interview with the examiner at the USPTO, located in Alexandria, Virginia. Here you have the opportunity to present a working example of your invention to the examiner if he or she is “stuck” on a specific point of your application.

Whether you request an interview or not, the examination process can ping-pong back and forth many times between your patent attorney and the USPTO examiner, potentially making it a costly process. Be prepared for this, because it’s difficult to determine how long the application examination process can take, and every tick on the clock is another dollar. Don’t underestimate how much a patent can cost. Very rough estimates can range from $10,000 to $30,000 or more, depending on the complexity of your invention. This does not include overseas coverage, which in itself can add up to a fortune just in translation fees alone.

If all goes well, you’ll receive notification that your patent application has been accepted by the USPTO. You should feel good (and slightly relieved), as this is a major accomplishment of which you should be proud of, joining an elite class of inventors. You have struggled through the trials and tribulations of legally protecting your ideas through the U.S. patent process, and you’ve worked hard for your patent. Now it’s time to unleash the hounds and let your patent work hard for you.


Interested in patenting a new guitar design or part you’ve invented? Here’s a few sites that can help you along the way:

The USPTO
For over 200 years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has been granting inventors peace of mind and keeping the process of invention rolling. If you are serious about patenting one of your inventions, spend a few hours (at least) reading through all the information here: uspto.gov

Google Patent Search
For those who like the simplicity of Google, you can now search the entire U.S. patent database at your leisure. With approximately seven million searchable U.S. patents, you should be able to find what you’re looking for. You can even download a PDF of any patent you’ve located. google.com/patents

Invent Now
Invent Now is a non-profit organization encouraging and helping inventors of all stripes. You can find a wealth of information to help prep you for your patent application, as well as a variety of inventor resources, such as workshops and continuing education. invent.org


If there was another tonewood that does it all for me, and (dare I say) almost better than any other, it would have to be koa (Acacia koa).


Acoustic Guitar Honduras mahogany has been considered a standard guitar tonewood for generations, known for its warmth and fullness. American and European maples have made the grade with all the flame and quilt. Indian rosewood and other more modern, exotic woods have hit the scene over the last 30-40 years, including ebony, lacewood, ziricote, cocobolo, walnut, cypress, and even mango wood!

Yes, the common belief is that the ultimate, Holy Grail of tonewoods is Brazilian rosewood, which toils with tenor and marketing. This makes it difficult distinguishing the two at times, and I do agree that Brazilian is wonderful. Cut from the stump, it can possess the most striking, dark, shimmery ripples that look as three-dimensional as it sounds (More on the Brazilian in future articles).

If there was another tonewood that does it all for me, and (dare I say) almost better than any other, it would have to be koa (Acacia koa).

Only found in, and native to the Hawaiian Islands, this beautiful, fast growing hardwood forest tree has an amazing history. It was prized by early settlers for canoe carving, being fairly light and buoyant, and it was “the” wood for the famous Ukulele craze in the teens and twenties. It wasn’t long before word got out (mostly after WWII), that fine crafted koa instruments were popping up all around the world.

There are three main things that many builders look for in a great tonewood: workability, resonance, and appearance. In my opinion, koa has it all.

Though its density can vary, I find koa to be fairly lightweight with excellent rigidity. It sands well without gumming up or leaving any oily residues. It bends well, and finish adhesion is never a problem.

Acoustic Guitar When paired with a nice soundboard, koa has the crispness and clarity of the finest rosewood, but with all the warmth, thick tone, and airiness that mahogany possesses. Its individual note definition has magnificent separation, with power and projection that is almost self-generating. Adding to this is koa’s ability to be boisterous and brash, or soft and smooth if you so choose. Koa is also one of the few tonewoods that can literally take on a “two sided” role; as a back and side wood, and as a soundboard … making one dazzling piece of instrument!

Its beauty can be breathtaking. koa’s color spectrum and swirling grain pattern is as wide as they come; from mild ambers to brick reds, cinnamon browns and bold charcoal streaks. When figured with curly tight flame, koa possesses a depth and allure that is truly from Kane. I’ve seen people so struck with the beauty of koa that they practically fall off their chairs as the guitar is removed from its case.

With all the koa hoopla, there is bad with the good here. The koa forests have been drastically depleted over the years, which explain the soaring prices: $300-$500 a set, and declining quality. Wide board sets for guitars are becoming more difficult to get no matter how fast the tree grows. This is why koa is rarely found on the modern production guitars of today. It’s just too expensive.

The great debate of the best tonewood for steel string guitars will go on forever, and rightfully so. Everybody has different ears, and everybody has different tastes in tone and beauty. So I say, whatever floats your boat – or canoe.

Photo Credits:
Koa Tree in Hawaii: Forest Starr & Kim Starr
Babicz Signature Koa Guitar: Jeff Babicz





Jeff Babicz, founder of Babicz Design Ltd., builds his acoustic and electric guitars using his patented, and award winning Lateral Compression string anchored Soundboard, Torque Reducing Split Bridge, and Continually Adjustable Neck designs.

www.babiczguitars.com
Questions? email me at: babicz@babiczguitars.com

Ever wonder how they bend all those sides, making all those shapes for all those acoustic guitars?


Acoustic Guitar Ever wonder how they bend all those sides, making all those shapes for all those acoustic guitars? Some of you may have some idea how this is accomplished, and some of you may have actually attempted this while building a handmade musical instrument. Big factories have expensive, customized, steam-forced molds that produce guitar sides with ease, uniformly and consistently without warps or cracks. Even higher volume factories use laminated sides, which are the easiest to bend because they are not prone to cracking like solid wood. These processes are well established, so the focus this month is bending sides of solid wood – one-at-a-time, by hand.

For hundreds of years, the shapes of many stringed musical instruments have been defined by their sides, made from very thin (.060”-.095”) pieces of tone wood, often bent on a hot iron of sorts. Bending irons vary in size and shape, some fueled by flame, some by electricity. The sides are typically half as long around the guitar with a seam at the very butt end.

For sonic and visual purposes, the sides are normally “book matched,” meaning they are sliced from the same piece of wood, side-by-side, and butterflied open. This repeats the grain pattern on the top and bottom sides of the instrument and it also ensures similar sonic qualities within both pieces of wood. Hint: if you see a certain grain pattern on the top side of your guitar, then you should see the same pattern, in the same place, on the bottom side, proving it’s a genuine book matched side set.

To bend a side with a hot iron one must know the shape of the guitar and have a template to compare your progress. Soaking the side in distilled water (to prevent mineral staining), the sides are slowly moved along the hot iron, steam rising, rocking back and forth, and applying minimal pressure to shape the waist and upper and lower bouts. The trick is how much pressure to apply to get good bending results without cracking your beautiful $1,000 Brazilian rosewood sides! This is the age old question, without a great answer. That is until I found Irving Slone’s book on guitar construction in the late ‘70s.

Irving teaches us how to build a guitarshaped mold-bending fixture – heated with embedded high-powered lamps. This was magic, and it seemed like the final solution for unwanted side bending blunders. Truth be told, this was a huge step for the small shop builder, and for years it offered consistency in shape, and it took a little risk and anxiety out of the bending iron. But it wasn’t fail-safe. The heat source was often not enough, particularly at the waist and around cutaways, leaving potential side cracking and splitting in the loom.

The age of “silicone heating blankets” is upon us. This is the new revolution in small and medium scale side bending. A silicone heating blanket is simply a highpowered “electric heating pad,” long in shape like a guitar side. They are thin, flexible, hard silicone with electric elements embedded inside that can reach temperatures up to 450 degrees in a few minutes. To use them, you still use Irving’s mold, but omit the lamps and replace the heat source with the silicon blankets. You can get them from most lutherie supply houses, and I recommend getting the on/off timer control to prevent over scorching.

For the process, I use two blankets, one on the top and one below, bending both sides at the same time. I also use two 6”x36” pieces of thin and flexible stainless steel between the wood and silicone blankets, making a side sandwich with a total of six layers.

I turn on the heat and start bending when I see nice flow of steam rising. When done I leave the sides in the mold until I see no more vapor. All this ensures perfect heat and pressure distribution, almost guaranteeing a successful side bending experience every time; it’s really fantastic. If you are bending with a hot iron or hot lamps, I highly recommend you checking out silicon blankets … they’re even hotter!



Jeff Babicz
founder of Babicz Design Ltd., builds acoustic and electric guitars using his award winning Lateral Compression string anchored Soundboard, Torque Reducing Split Bridge, and Continually Adjustable Neck designs.

www.babiczguitars.com

Killer Body

At some point early in an aspiring guitar builder’s years, he or she is faced with the challenge of what shape their guitar body should be.

Acoustic Guitar At some point early in an aspiring guitar builder’s years, he or she is faced with the challenge of what shape their guitar body should be. Go with the tried and true – a Martin Dreadnaught, or a Gibson Jumbo – or venture out and let your creative juices flow with your own unique design? For this discussion, we are forgoing tenor variables derived from tone wood, and focusing only on the guitar box itself.

One of the biggest considerations has nothing to do with a guitar at all; it has to do with the guitar case. Most case manufactures produce standard guitar shaped cases, making them readily available, and affordable. This makes a great argument for using standard body shapes, especially with high costs of custom cases and lead times of 6 to 20 weeks from some suppliers. Another advantage of using existing standard guitar shapes is that these shapes are usually accepted in the market and that equates to a lot less explaining to do down the road.

If you decide that you can’t live with your guitar looking like somebody else’s, then you have no choice but to take the deep custom plunge. But where does one start?

Define your sound. I would suggest you focus on a guitar that in the past has sonically influenced you. If you have an ideal guitar in mind, then you have a good refrence to work with. If at all possible, get your hands on that guitar, be it a small punchy Parlor, or a bassy Super Jumbo.

The general rule is the bigger the guitar, the more bass-heavy it will sound. A deeper box will accentuate bass frequencies with a heightened level of reverberation. Smaller guitars lean towards brighter, crisp mids and trebles, and a shallow box will improve sound projection with good individual note clarity.

Define your shape. One good method is, on a poster board, trace an existing guitar shape using a pencil and modify the shape based on your improved personal preferences. This gives you a good framework to expand or subtract from. Remember, there are five basic dimensions to consider when designing your new shape: upper bout and lower bout width, waist tightness, body length and body depth. There is no doubt you’ll need the eye of an artist here, so look for help if you don’t possess the chops to pull this off. The contour lines must be perfectly graceful with a high level of fluidity. Our goal here is to make a master template, which is used to produce patterns and molds, so there is no room for error. Once you’ve established a shape that you like, then you can proceed to cut it out with a pair of scissors. Note that only half the guitar shape is necessary, as you would flip your template to produce an exact left and right mirror image, guaranteeing perfect symmetry to your new guitar shape.

Make some test tracings with your poster board template, study the overall appearance and ask yourself plenty of questions. Is the lower bout round or flat at the bottom? Is the waist tight enough for comfortable playing in the sitting position? Will you be producing cutaway versions?

Once you are totally satisfied with your new creation, using spray adhesive, you can proceed to attach your poster board template to a sub straight panel, such as 1/8” Plexiglas or Masonite to produce your master template. Carefully cut out your template on a band saw then meticulously sand-in the final contours.

Chances are that you’ll be doing a little shape refining once you’ve produced your first new custom designed guitar, so I would suggest not getting discouraged if your first attempt does not work out as planned. Remember it gets easier with your second or third attempt!




Jeff Babicz, founder of Babicz Design Ltd., builds his acoustic and electric guitars using his patented, and award winning Lateral Compression string anchored Soundboard, Torque Reducing Split Bridge, and Continually Adjustable Neck designs.

www.babiczguitars.com
Questions? email me at: babicz@babiczguitars.com
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