Jumping in Shark Tank? Better Have Flotation Device.

Do Contestants Understand Patent Law—And What They Have To Lose?

ABC’s Shark Tank has become my favorite show. I guess you could have predicted that. Every Friday night, my girls and I settle down on the couch to get our fix. Bring on the munchies!

Did anyone catch last week’s episode (EP605), apparently a rerun from 17 October 2014? In the first presentation, the contestants presented an inner-tube with metal bars in the middle to support safe jumping. Called the Jungle Jumparoo.

Yeah, I know, I know. I’ve heard worse. But hear me out.

The presenters were asked whether they invented the Jungle Jumparoo. And they said a farmer invented it back when they were kids, and sold it to a few schools. And that was that. They said they tried to contact the farmer, but sadly he had passed away.  So they made it themselves.

The Sharks then asked, “Well, you have the rights to this, don’t you?”  And the presenters said, “Yes, we have a provisional patent application filed.”

Duh. Do they realize that they likely blew their intellectual property rights on national television? If a farmer invented the original Jungle Jumparoo, and sold a few (or even gave a few away), then they simply do not own the rights. The pending patent application should not issue.

I think the Framers had other things in mind than a Jumparoo anyway, when they wrote patent rights into our Constitution. And, needless to say, the Sharks passed—for other reasons.

But did anyone notice (or even care) about the patent blunder? No one on the judging panel said anything. Probably no one even knew.

So my girls and I checked. These guys’ patent did issue, in May of 2015 (U.S. Patent No. 9,033,853).  Several prior art patents are cited, but no non-patent art, such as from the farmer, is cited. Claim 1 is a picture claim and very detailed, so maybe that saved the Jungle Jumparoo from the admitted prior invention.

But what about the admission before a live and national TV audience that the farmer had invented it, and publicly sold and used it? How does that fit with the failure to disclose the farmer’s work to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office? Maybe those Examiners watch other types of shows, after a full day’s work (ahem!) at the USPTO.

Another Shark Tank patent test … Who flunked it?



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