The Big Bang Theory Patent Episode – Howard Invents but gets Nothing in Return?

June 29, 2016

A recent episode of the Big Bang Theory sees university researchers Sheldon, Howard and Leonard in conflict with each other over patent royalties to their joint idea.

Attorney: “As far as Mr. [Howard] Wolowitz is concerned, as a federal employee on loan from NASA your name can be on the patent, but you’re not entitled to an ownership share

Howard: “Wait, so this can turn out to be a financial success and I get nothing?

Attorney: “Well … sometimes they give you a plaque

Sheldon: “That’s not fair, we should all get plaques!

This kind of story, told in the recent Big Bang Theory episode ‘The Application Deterioration’, will be familiar to many people who are thinking about patenting their invention.

After a great deal of humorous wrangling between the inventors, a solution was agreed in which Sheldon, Howard and Leonard formed a partnership to re-distribute the royalties amongst themselves, ensuring that Howard receives his share of the financial gains.

They even added an addendum clause to the partnership contract that Sheldon can’t make fun of Howard.

Our comments

Although this was set in the USA, UK law can result in similar situations as described above. Unexpected ownership problems can arise when working with people from other organisations, when working with residents or nationals of other countries, when working with directors, and when outsourcing or commissioning work. A more detailed article can be found here which covers all forms of intellectual property not just patents.

The overall message for inventors and their employers is to be prepared for unexpected ownership situations to arise, and to agree early on who gets the financial benefits. Written agreements before development of the invention is underway helps to avoid disputes.

If you have any questions concerning ownership, please get in touch with your usual contact at Swindell & Pearson Ltd or Tim Gilbert at [email protected]. You don’t have to copy Sheldon and wear a bow tie to a meeting with us!