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Patents and the big co.'s

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by dpmasunder, Aug 20, 2005.

  1. dpmasunder


    Apr 30, 2005
    The fanned fret situation reminded me of this.
    It's worthwhile taking a look at the US patent office site www.uspto.gov/ to see what the big boys are up to, and what they have the rights to.
    G***** in particular own many patents that they wouldnever use commercially, I can only see them as being a deliberate attempt to keep the guitar industry stagnant. We're talking microtonal fretboards and things like that.
    Ralph Novak made a very good decision in patenting his fanned-frets and allowing us to licence the system for a small fee :bassist:
  2. Here's something to think about - Ralph Novak "patents" a f*nned fret system and prevents ALL others from using ANY f*nned fret system on their instruments citing protection granted by this patent, yet there is ample, clear, and undeniable evidence that the multiple scale fretboard was and has been in use in the public domain for at least 400 years prior to his filing. How can someone patent the use of a system that has had such a long prior use in the public domain?

    Mr. Novak has turned down repeated requests to come on the MIMF to explain how his patent is different from these historical uses.

    One thing to note about the Novak patent application as was determined by some of the minds over on the MIMF. It's supposed to be the rule that patent documents are to be written in a way that one could clearly and completely duplicate the process or make the product that has been granted the patent by simply reading and following the documentation. What was discovered by the "researchers" is that if one were to precisely follow the outline set forth in the documentation of the "f*nned fret" system, one wouldn't be able to make a working version of the patented system. The documentation is flawed and the results from using it don't do what they are intended to do. The conclusion drawn from this was that since the documentation doesn't meet the criteria set forth by the Patent Office, the patent itself is suspect. Of course this isn't a legal opinion but merely a lay opinion drawn from common sense and some strong science that proved the documentation was wrong in the first place. A case of subterfuge where a system previously in the public domain couldn't be patented but was only given the appearance of being patented by filing documentation that was so confusing no one would figure it out? who knows?

    This just shows how twisted this can get.
  3. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    Have you seen any of these old fanned fret instruments? Are there pictures anywhere?
  4. Correct
  5. That sucks... I love the idea, but I'm not going to pay someone else 75$ so that I can do the work on it.
  6. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    Kinda reaks of Kenny G and his patent on a drag triplet, eh?

  7. mheintz


    Nov 18, 2004
    Mr. Novak has a U.S. patent, so this gives him the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States, its territories and possessions.

    So if you make a bass in Germany and sell it in Germany, you would not infringe his U.S patent (although there may be other patents of which I am not aware that you could be infringing).

    He filed in 1988 (see patent #4,852,450 at www.uspto.gov). The term of a utility patent is 20 years from filing, so after 2008, the f*nned fret will be back in the public domain in the U.S. Hmm... some waiting lists are 2 years long...

    If you make, use, offer for sale or sell the invention, you could infringe the patent. Novak could then sue for damages and/or injunctive relief for infringement. He would probably have to hire legal counsel and pay court fees. Query whether he would like to pay such fees and be faced with Hambone on the stand. From Hambone's posts, I would not want to face him on the stand (or in a dark alley).

    As a question of ethics, you may want to pay Mr. Novak, because you feel he deserves it for all of the research and work that he has done over the years.

    Or you may want to pay because he offers service and support to license holders.

    Small builders may also contact him to see if they can get a reduced rate.

    There are, of course, many issues that you would want to consider. This messaqe is not intended as legal advice and anyone wanting to engage in such activities should consult with a lawyer.
  8. Zetora


    Aug 16, 2004
    This has interested me, mainly the f*nned fret system, how can he patent such an idea, ok yes fine I can understand why and how but its just like the principle of using different length strings, to get different frequencies (Harp for example) its just you've fretted them, ok yes he's done his work with physics, experimenting which strings would be able to be used in such intervils but I can't see why someone else couldn't do it themselves, its not fair, but then again I know I wouldn't like someone copying mine.

    Hmm would be cool trying to make one, I'm sure I could work out the fret angles, how hard can it be :p

  9. I should have been more clear about this...that the extent of his patent only covered domestic trade use.

    I should also point out that the mere use of the words "Fanned Fret®" without the registered trademark symbol is a violation of trademark law and is compensable. Novak has taken the MIMF to task for it's use so now all references there to a f*nned fret system have the asterisk included. The forum sysops are a little anal about such things but Novak HAS made rumblings. Notice I have gone back and edited my previous references to protect Paul. :rollno:

    Geoff...I have seen pics of these instruments. They were part of the original discussion on the MIMF.
  10. The point is that it ISN'T hard at all. Essentially you "pick" a scale for your bass side - say 35" and a scale for your treb side - say 32" - and then pick the fret number where where the two scales will have the vertical fret - say the 7th. Lay the 35" scale on your E string and the 32" on your G string with the 7 frets lined up and mark the points that each fret make along the string. By drawing a line between the dots representing each fret of the scales, you establish the slanted fretlines. The "inbetween" locations take care of themselves. Then you have to be very careful to place your bridges in exactly the right place for the best intonation and your done.
  11. hmm, interesting. I'm even more intrigued by the fact that the patent documentation can't be followed to replicate the process. Maybe this was intentional to warrant the licensing fee and get 'instructions' directly from Mr. Novak. On the other hand, will he provide them with licensing, or just say 'you got the permission to make one, now go figure it out!'.
  12. mheintz


    Nov 18, 2004
    Hmm.. an asterisk. Well, I suppose it depends on how it is used. There is a fair use concept for trademarks. For instance, nominative fair use, comparison, statutory fair use and parody. Many of the uses that I see are fair use. Then again, why perturb Ralph or get Paul in trouble? Asterisks it is.

    I once met a famous patent litigator who I believed work in Weil Gotshal's Palo Alto office. He used to have a file of silly patents that slipped through the prosecution process. My favorite was a method for box lifting. It covered some very obvious techniques for lifting boxes; stock boys of the world beware. During the litigation, an examiner from the PTO would be put on the stand and if the examiner was a little too sure of the PTO's competence, the litigator would pull those patents out. The jury was suddenly much less impressed with the PTO. The PTO is resource constrained and relies, in part, on other interested parties to participate in the prosecution process.
  13. That's kind of petty... I think I've lost all respect for him now.
  14. dpmasunder


    Apr 30, 2005
    I can't say I saw that MIMF discussion, however I have read statements from Novak stating that his primary reason for patenting was ensure he and others could use the system. Unlike, say, B*zz F he doesn't claim any spectacular secret recipe you need to travel and pay for, it's a simple fee which I can see justified. Patenting is not cheap.
    Hambone, your concern that multiple scale instruments have been around for hundreds of years is really my point, a lot of the patents I've looked at could have prior art claimed if there was someone with the means and will to do so. Hell, I'd love to start an organization dedicated to just that - proving prior art in musical instrument patents. But I can't.
    I can't say I've ever seen anything in R*lph N*v*k's system which would even require contacting him for instruction. It's very simple.
    As far as being able to replicate from patent applications, most range from just non-specific to very vague. The problem is with the USPTO's
    inability or unwillingness to properly research claims, and/or their willingness to grant claims that aren't properly researched.
    My own limited contact with Novax has never been anything but pleasant btw.
  15. I know patenting isn't cheap, but IMO terrorizing people for compensation because they're using a trademark without the "®" definately isn't the way to regain the money.
  16. dpmasunder


    Apr 30, 2005
    I'd have to read what was going on there to be able to make a judgement. If it was all out Novak abuse, I wouldn't really blame him for rattling his sabre. Consider someone Googling the relevant words (N****, F***** Frets, etc) and coming across such negativity, it could potentially damage his reputation and business.

    But this thread wasn't meant to be about multiple scale fretted instruments, more a 'Hey have a look at this, patenting is out of control!'.
  17. About 2/3's of the way down in this current discussion is a reference to what I'm talking about:


    I got in on the earlier Fanned Fret® thread after it was about 50 posts long. It took awhile to digest it totally because it took a lot of turns. When the engineer/mathmetician guitar builders got ahold of the problem that's when the things really got interesting and I believe that's when No*a*'s interest in the MIMF went up.

    I don't believe they archive threads like we do here. They never had the software for it. Unless it was a specific tip, trick, or technique thing that went in the archives, general topics aren't saved.
  18. dpmasunder


    Apr 30, 2005
    Mmm, it's a shame there's no archive for it. Ah well.
  19. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Ehh, not quite ritght, is it?
    Patents don't prohibit making anything for your own use. Nor does it prohibit any 'using' of a patented device.

    It does indeed prohibit any offering for sale, whether made in the US or elsewhere. Which means that it is OK to buy a thing abroad, to import it and use it for yourself. But you are not allowed to sell it on... Watch out for the E-bay! :p