John Thomson: How to market an invention

This video was developed to provide students with notions around intellectual property (patents, trade secrets, confidentiality, etc) in a fun and entertaining way.

HTML5 Transcript/Captions

Meet John Thomson - small town farm boy with BIG IDEAS.

John could fix anything - tractors, chain saws, ATVs - you name it. In fact, he spent so much time fixing things that he wanted to design new things that didn't break. He wanted to become an engineer.

At college one of his professors, Ben Adams, encouraged him to take part in green innovations competitions. John caught green innovation fever, and "John Thomson, entrepreneur" was born. He studied everything he could about business and getting goods to market. "John Thomson, entrepreneur" wanted to be ready.

In third year he went to work for his Uncle Frank, purveyor of fine crushed glass. That was when OPPORTUNITY arrived. Frank's Hauling Inc. collected glass from around the neighbourhood and brought it back to a warehouse. Once there, l-o-o-n-g boring work began. Workers sorted the glass into colours by hand, because sorted glass is much more valuable. Once sorted, the glass was crushed by EcoCrusher - a Danish machine sold in many countries. Uncle Frank had a great reputation with the municipality and his customers, but he was ready to retire. This was John's OPPORTUNITY. He developed a business plan, took out a loan, and bought the business.

Soon John realized that the labour costs of the lo-o-o-n-g boring sorting process were high. How could he save money? Or make more money? After many sleepless nights he came up with a BIG IDEA - an automated machine that used lasers to sort the glass. Less time sorting glass left more time for collecting glass which meant more money. Back on the farm John dug old toy laser guns out of his garage and got to work.

After many days of trial and error, he had a prototype - one that would work well with EcoCrusher and other similar machines. John's BIG IDEA was becoming a reality. It was uniquely his - he'd checked online. (Canada: Canadian Patents Database) He liked his idea so much he wanted to protect it. Did it qualify for a patent? What if he needed patent protection for lots of countries? How would he do that?

He called it SuperSorter. He liked the name so much he wondered if there was any way to protect the name. How much that would cost and would it even be worth it? And how would he go about doing that anyway?

He knew his old instructor at college would be able to help. Ben Adams was excited that John had a BIG IDEA, (the instructor covers his ears not to hear John's idea) but he wouldn't let him tell him any details yet. He sent him to the College's Office of Applied Research.

Ms Jeffries at the Office of Applied Research was excited that John had a BIG IDEA, too, but she wouldn't hear any details either. (Ms Jeffries covers her ears not to hear John's idea) First John had to enter into a confidentiality agreement. And she warned John not to speak openly about his invention and not to show the design plans to anyone yet. John wondered, "Why?" Even though John had not used college resources to develop his invention, the college would still help him to pursue commercialization, for a fee, because he was a local small business owner. (A member of the College and John shake hands to confirm their agreement.)

Mrs. Jeffries also referred him to an intellectual property professional to discuss (title on the door: Intellectual Property Expert) how best to protect his invention. And Ben, with the help of the team of students and faculty, offered to finalize John's prototype and to discuss business strategies. What about manufacturing and distributing SuperSorters? Would John pursue his venture alone or in partnership with other companies? What other options does he have?

John can't play with his old toy laser guns anymore - they are forever part of his prototype. But that's OK. These days, John is very busy building a prototype for his latest invention, but shush... it's a secret... for now!

Discover useful resources

A production of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, an agency of Industry Canada. Government of Canada.