tuesday, 15 march of 2016

Florida Inventor Demands Credit for Post-It Note in $400 Million Lawsuit

Who came up with the idea for the Post-it Note? For Florida inventor Alan Amron, the answer has been the sticking point of his life.

The origins of the iconic sticky note is part of American corporate lore. The key moment of inspiration, according to Post-It Note maker 3M Co., came in 1974 when 3M employee Art Fry was singing in his church choir in St. Paul, Minn., and a scrap paper serving as a song marker in his hymnal fluttered to the floor. That got him thinking about using an adhesive developed years earlier by 3M scientist Spencer Silver to create “a better bookmark.”

Mr. Amron thinks the world needs a reminder about what he claims is his critical contribution to the discovery.

The 67-year-old West Palm Beach resident has filed a lawsuit in Florida federal court accusing 3M of falsely misrepresenting itself as the inventor of the paper sticky note and damaging his inventing reputation.

Mr. Amron doesn’t claim he invented the adhesive, the catchy “Post-It Note” name or even the idea to color product canary yellow. In his complaint, reported by the Associated Press, he says he was first to come up with a practical way of combining sticky glue and a paper pad.

It’s not just credit he wants. His lawsuit asks for $400 million in damages. (Mr. Amron, who is representing himself, says he’d settle for a lot less.)

“It kills me. It really does,” Mr. Amron told Law Blog in a phone interview.

3M doesn’t appear to be losing any sleep.

The company says it’s confident it has accurately credited its own employees with inventorship. “3M developed Post-it Notes without any input or inspiration from Mr. Amron and it is false and misleading for him to state or suggest that he created, invented, or had any role in the product’s development,” the company said in a statement.

The company notes that “the only inventors of Post-it Notes, Spencer Silver and Art Fry, were inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame at the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2010.” One of their earlier notes, according to 3M, is displayed at the Smithsonian.

Mr. Amron, who came up with a battery operated automatic water gun and developed a laser football first-down marker among dozens of other patented inventions, says he got the idea for a sticky note in 1973.

That year, he says, he was working in his garage and realized he was running late for an appointment and needed to leave a message for his wife. So he took out a piece of gum he was chewing, kneaded it with some dust, stuck it on a piece of paper, and squashed the gummy paper on his fridge.

According to an affidavit accompanying his lawsuit:

Later that evening, his wife was impressed with three things: that he cared enough to leave a note in the first place — many men wouldn’t — secondly, that he’d left it in the perfect location, and thirdly, that the note hadn’t fallen to the floor whereas the gum peeled off the refrigerator without leaving a mess; and it did smell a bit like Spearmint. But it also smelled like a product. What if there were a pad of paper that had some kind of Scotch tape-like sticky material on the back?

He claims he then developed a product he called “Press-on Memo” and sent samples of it to 3M in 1974. He says he was told the company wasn’t interested. In 1977, 3M introduced its “Press ‘n’ Peel” memo pad, renaming it the “Post-It Note” three years later in 1980.

It’s not the first time Mr. Amron has disputed 3M’s version in litigation. He sued the company in 1997, seeking to invalidate 3M patents and recover royalties under them and demanding a public apology. He says he settled for $12,000 in legal fees with the understanding that 3M would stop  claiming inventorship. It never did. Both sides agree that the confidential settlement itself didn’t specify who could or could not claim inventorship, but Mr. Amron says at the time, 3M led him to believe that a Swiss patent for a sticky note from 1968 proved that neither of them was the actual eventor. That patent, he says he later realized, wasn’t practical because the product would leave a residue.

A federal magistrate judge has ordered the two sides to try to bridge their differences through mediation and has set a schedule for further motions, discovery and a trial, tentatively set for early next year.

(Published by The Wall Street Journal - March 14, 2016)

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