The global sporting goods market is estimated to be worth about $126 billion, with the United States accounting for almost a third of the global share. Far from being confined to the high-tech and pharmaceutical sectors, patent protection is widely available for hunting and fishing products and can be highly lucrative for their owners. Companies operating in the hunting, fishing, and sporting goods sector would thus be well-served by obtaining hunting and fishing patents on their innovations.
Types of Patents Available for Hunting and Fishing Innovations
Hunting, fishing, and other sporting goods innovations generally are eligible for the full scope of intellectual property protection, including patent protection. In the hunting and fishing space, utility patents and design patents are the most relevant forms of patent protection. Utility patents, as their name would suggest, protect the functional elements of a particular innovation. Design patents, on the other hand, do not protect the way a product functions but the way it looks.
Companies that develop hunting and fishing products may apply for either type of patent — or both. For example, if you have invented a new type of fly fishing line that more efficiently casts the fly through the air, that innovation may qualify for a utility patent. If you have invented a fly that looks more like a fish’s natural prey but that otherwise does not function any differently than any other fly on the market, that innovation may qualify for a design patent.
Advantages of Patent Protection for Hunting and Fishing Products
Obtaining hunting and fishing patents can be a costly and time-consuming process, and obtaining a patent on any innovation is not guaranteed. Why, then, would hunting and fishing companies go through the time and effort to obtain patents? Despite the hurdles involved in obtaining patents, they can be tremendously valuable for their owners and deliver numerous benefits back to the company.
The primary goal for many companies — particularly startups and other early-stage companies — is not necessarily to grow into corporate behemoths but to obtain investment funding and eventually be acquired by a larger, more established company. When looking for investment opportunities, investors undertake extensive due diligence on the target company’s intellectual property portfolio to determine its value and future prospects. A strong patent portfolio can provide the leverage necessary to obtain funding.
Patents can create valuable revenue streams for their owners through licensing deals. In a typical licensing deal, the owner of the patent agrees to allow another company to make, produce, and sell the patent product in exchange for a licensing fee. Even if the patent owner does not manufacture the patented product directly, the patent can nonetheless drive value back to the company.
Establishing Market Dominance
A patent does not give its owner the right to make, use, or sell the invention it covers. Rather, it gives the owner the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention. Hunting and fishing patents give their owners a chance to carve out a market niche and prevent other companies in the space from selling the same or similar products. Offering a popular product that cannot be found elsewhere gives the patent owner a distinct competitive advantage over its rivals.
What Is Required to Obtain Hunting and Fishing Patents?
The process of obtaining a hunting and fishing patent is known as “patent prosecution.” It is an ex-parte proceeding (so-named because it involves only one party — the patent applicant) before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). During patent prosecution, a patent examiner who is an expert in the field of the invention evaluates the patent application to determine its compliance with the following elements of patentability:
- Subject matter: Patentable subject matter includes virtually all types of inventions but notably excludes inventions that rely on abstract ideas, laws of nature, or natural phenomena to function.
- Utility (for utility patents): Applicants for utility patents must show that their invention is useful, which generally means that it must be useful for some purpose, either explicitly or implicitly. The utility requirement normally is not a major impediment to patent protection in the hunting, fishing, and sporting goods space.
- Novelty: Patentable inventions must be novel, meaning that they must be different from all other inventions that came before them (a body of work known as “prior art”).
- Obviousness: Patentable inventions must be more than obvious improvements over the prior art. The obviousness standard is highly interpretive, but, generally, an invention is considered obvious if the differences between it and the prior art would have been obvious to a person having skill in the art to which the invention pertains.
- Specification: The specification requirement concerns the level of specificity with which the patent application must be drafted and requires the invention in the patent to be described clearly and with enough detail to enable a person skilled in the art to which it pertains to reproduce it without undue experimentation.
Once that patent submits his or her application to the USPTO, the patent examiner normally will issue several rejections based on one or more of the above requirements. The applicant must then amend the application to bring it in line with the examiner’s concerns. At the conclusion of a successful patent prosecution, the USPTO will “allow” the patent application, which eventually becomes the issued patent.
Examples of Hunting and Fishing Patents
The scope of patent protection in the hunting, fishing, and sporting goods industry is vast. Some examples of hunting and fishing patents include:
- U.S. Patent No. 6,986,404: Hunter’s climbing tree stand and method of use
- U.S. Patent No. 2,531,635: Hunting arrow and arrowhead
- U.S. Patent No. 2,777,584: Fishing tackle
- U.S. Patent No. 6,266,916: Soft plastic fishing lure with hidden hook
- U.S. Patent No. 8,819,983: Systems, methods, and apparatus for securing a recording device to a hunting apparatus
Get Started with a Hunting and Fishing Patent Application
Filing a patent application at the USPTO is the first step to protecting your valuable hunting and fishing intellectual property assets. While it is not strictly necessary to have an attorney handle your patent application, hiring an attorney to draft and prosecute your hunting and fishing patent application can increase your chances of success. Just ensure that you contact an attorney with experience handling hanging and fishing patent applications at the USPTO.