Legal question about new harmonica ideas. Spreading freely vs patent?

Anything apart from the two mainstream default harmonicas (Solo-tuned fully-valved chromatic, and un-valved Richter 10-hole diatonic). Alternate tunings, different construction, new functionality, interesting old designs, wishful-thinking... whatever!
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EdvinW
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Legal question about new harmonica ideas. Spreading freely vs patent?

Post by EdvinW » Sat Aug 03, 2019 11:26 am

This is motivated by the discussion by dodtsair.

I don't see myself building a full harmonica like the one we discuss anytime soon, and it doesn't sound like dodtsair is either. I would hope that it could become commercially available, but there are some legal questions to consider.

I would gladly let someone who actually builds this use any ideas I've contributed with, possibly while stating my name somewhere and selling me some instruments at discount. What I'm afraid of though is that all the ideas are too much out in the open now to allow for a patent by anyone, and without a patent the idea might not be as attracting for commercial actors.

So: are we lessening our chances to see an instrument like this in production by talking about it?

I have thought about this problem for other ideas before. For a person who doesn't build harmonicas for a living, what is a wise course of action when one makes an original discovery or invention? What is a good level of secrecy?

The matter is complicated by the fact that we don't know at this stage the full potential of the idea; it's no where near ready for a patent application. I don't want to overly inflate the importance of the idea but at some stage in its development it might turn out to be useful, at which point this becomes an issue. Also, cooperation is often helpful. I wouldn't had started tinkering without the post from dodtsair, and he/she (?) perhaps wouldn't had made the further findings that I did. Ideas grow better in an open environment! A closed world is less productive and more boring.

Some comment from @Brendan or anyone else who's actually in the business would be great, but of course anyone's input is very welcome!

Don't be afraid to say so if you think my worrying is silly, I'm well aware it might be ;)
Edvin Wedin

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triona
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Re: Legal question about new harmonica ideas. Spreading freely vs patent?

Post by triona » Sat Aug 03, 2019 1:17 pm

EdvinW wrote:
Sat Aug 03, 2019 11:26 am
Don't be afraid to say so if you think my worrying is silly, I'm well aware it might be ;)
By no means, not silly at all, regardless how useful or maybe even commercially exploitable this very idea recently discussed here might be or not.

I am working myself on exclusive harmonica ideas with little expectation of big serial production or even hope for commercial success. I will be glad to build the one or the other instrument for my own use one day, or maybe some few for others interested in for a fair price for hand made technical and musical rarities.

But I do not want to have any good ideas stolen by a big player one day, who makes good money with that and eventually nothing at all for me. I know enough about issues like this from former activities in another engineering industry.


dear greetings
triona
Aw, Thou beloved, do hearken to the Banshee's lonely croon!
sinn féin - ça ira !
Cad é sin do'n té sin nach mbaineann sin dó


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Brendan
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Re: Legal question about new harmonica ideas. Spreading freely vs patent?

Post by Brendan » Sun Aug 11, 2019 10:34 pm

Edvin asked a good question:

"For a person who doesn't build harmonicas for a living, what is a wise course of action when one makes an original discovery or invention? What is a good level of secrecy?"

If you believe you have a new idea or method of significance, the first thing is to check that it really is new. You can do that for free with Google searches and consulting trusted, knowledgeable friends in private. Pat Missin is my go-to guy on that score, because he keeps up with the patent literature and knows the history of harmonica development better than anyone else I've met. Plus he's genuine, and will honour your confidence respectfully and and honestly. A great man altogether! If Pat says he thinks your idea seems novel and has merit, you are off to a good start.

Rick Epping is another guru of harmonica design and knowledge I respect hugely and consult often. He has incredible technical understanding of the physics and intricate workings of harmonica reeds, combs, valves and how they all work together. The inventor of the XB40, Rick was also the first to emboss harmonica reed slots, and shared his knowledge generously in the formative years of the custom harmonica scene. Big tech names like Joe Filisko learned a lot from him in their early days - though he is often not credited in the way he deserves, in my opinion. It's great to see younger tech experts like Joel Andersson acknowledge the debt they owe to Rick Epping, and he's someone I regularly consult on the tricky stuff, such as Helmholtz Resonance Coupling.

If you don't know much about Rick, check out his own story of the origins of reed slot embossing (or 'burnishing', as he more accurately terms it):

http://www.brendan-power.com/blogs/HWDecJan13_Rick.pdf

If the preliminary investigation convinces you your idea is new and worthwhile, you should take the step of obtaining a Provisional Patent before sharing it more widely. I normally go for the US Patent Office version, because it is widely respected and America is a major harmonica market. Also it is affordable, under $100 if you do the patent writing/drawings yourself. Anyone can apply, regardless of your nationality. It will establish a priority date for your idea, and give you a year of protection while you shop it around manufacturers or prepare to go for a full patent. That is a much more costly step, many thousands of dollars over a long period, so you should be pretty sure it will be worth the expense before committing yourself.

Hope that helps :)

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