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Image of Sam Zellner is the Lead of the Patent Quality through Artificial Intelligence Project (PQAI)

Guiding Inventors Through the Challenges of Innovation

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Sam Zellner is the Lead of the Patent Quality through Artificial Intelligence Project (PQAI) and the Founder and the Co-founder and CEO of InspireIP, a platform enabling companies to harness their team’s innovative spirit. He serves on the board of the US Intellectual Property Alliance, and is an IAM top 300 IP Strategist as well as an inventor on more than 200 patents.

PQAI brings together the latest technologies and the Open Source community to create a new approach to inventing. No longer will inventors waste time and resources pursuing non-patentable ideas. PQAI will allow inventors to rapidly identify novel ideas and effectively share this insight with funding sources and partners.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Sam Zellner talks about the benefits that follow learning about patents and how he transitioned from engineer to patent mastermind
  • The challenging world of inventing and getting patents
  • The difficulties inventors face with validating their ideas and inventions
  • Sam explains how his tool, PQAI, started, how it works, and how it helps inventors with their inventions
  • The other projects Sam has been working on
  • Why students should focus on innovating
  • How to get in touch with Sam Zellner

In this episode…

One of the biggest challenges most inventors face is getting validation for their inventions. This can lead to a lot of wasted time, creating a product that could later face patent infringement issues if a patent already exists.

To help solve this problem, Sam Zellner invented an artificial intelligence tool to help guide fellow inventors through the process of innovation: PQAI. PQAI provides a simple interface that helps them determine the novelty of their inventions.

Sam Zellner, the Lead of PQAI and the Co-founder and CEO of InspireIP, is Rich Goldstein’s guest in this episode of the Innovations and Breakthroughs Podcast, where he explains how he helps inventors handle the various challenges they often face in the invention and patent process. Sam also explains how his new tool, PQAI, works and how it benefits inventors.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Goldstein Patent Law, a firm that helps protect inventors’ ideas and products. They have advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 25 years. So if you’re a company that has a software, product, or design you want protected, you can go to They have amazing free resources for learning more about the patent process.

You can email their team at to explore if it’s a match to work together. Rich Goldstein has also written a book for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work, which is called ‘The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent.’

Intro (00:09):
Welcome to innovations and breakthroughs with your host Rich Goldstein, talking about the evolutionary, the revolutionary, the inspiration and the perspiration and those aha moments that change everything. And now here’s your host, Rich Goldstein,

Rich (00:33):
Rich Goldstein here, host of the innovations and breakthroughs podcast, where I feature top leaders and the path they took to create change past guests include Joe Polish, Roland Frasier, and Joe de Sena. This episode is brought to you by my company, Goldstein patent law, where we help you to protect your ideas and products we’ve advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 27 years. So if you’re a company that has software, a product or a design, you want protected go to Goldstein patent, where there are amazing free resources for learning about the patent process. And you could email my to explore if it’s a match to work together. You can also check out the book I wrote for the American bar association that explains in plain English, how patents work it’s called the ABA consumer guide to obtaining a patent.

Rich (01:19):
I have with me here today. Sam’s elder Sam led, uh, uh, patent development team at, at and T that was responsible for building managing and monetizing ATS wireless patent portfolio. He created another program at, at and T that produced over 500 ideas per month. He’s an inventor on more than 200 patents and inventions. Sam is currently leading a project to create an open source prior art search engine using artificial intelligence to radically improve inventing. It’s known as the patent quality through artificial intelligence project. Also known as PQ AI, uh, the P the P no PQ AI morphs over into that. But yeah, the PQ AI project brings together the latest technologies and the open source community to create a new approach to inventing. Um, the intention is that inventors will no longer waste time and resources pursuing non patentable ideas. Uh, so with that in mind, I’m very pleased to welcome here today. Sam Zellner. Welcome Sam. Thank you, rich. Yeah, my pleasure. And so, so you’re a degreed engineer. Um, and, um, so you, um, you don’t have a legal background, but somehow you got into the patent field. So let’s talk about how you went from being a, um, um, being a, um, an engineer to really getting into the patent field and being a bit of a patent girl in, in the areas that you’ve, you’ve been in.

Sam (02:47):
Well, Richard is just one of the things you go through the experience. So many times you sit down with examiner to have them question you about your idea, work with attorneys, trying to draft claims, work with them on defining your idea and the scope that you, you quickly start understanding the game as I call it and how to, how to play the game. And so, uh, that, that brought me here. It’s just, uh, just practice, practice, practice, or experience, experience, experience, and, and that’s something I would, you know, encourage all inventors, you know, it’s like anything just get experienced with the process, go through it. You’ll, you’ll, you’ll learn a lot and you’re, you don’t necessarily have to go all the way to a patent filing, just, you know, do, as we’ve talked about prior art searching, thinking about how you structure, you know, a lot of people don’t appreciate that patent. It’s all about the claims, right? The claims are what you own. Nothing else. I don’t care what you said. You know, you see so many people say, oh, I mentioned that in my patent. Well, great. You mentioned it, but in the spec, that’s fine. But what are the claims say the claim, say, you know, talk about a, you talked about B not going to make a difference.

Rich (03:59):
Yeah, absolutely. The, the, the claims are truly everything. The rest of it’s still has to be done well, but, um, but the claim, but, uh, if it’s not in the claims, it’s really not in the territory of what you own. Um, but you know, in particular like you starting out in industry, in engineering, so you, you found, um, you, you found an opportunity to really move over into this other role, um, within corporate to, to, to work on the patent portfolio and on developing idea. So kind of, how did that transition happen?

Sam (04:33):
Like I said, I had gone through the patent process. I worked with the intellectual property group a lot. I lot, I work with many of the, the patent attorneys, and I think they recognize that one. Uh, I understood the way in which you need to think about ideas and evaluate ideas, and then also important pieces when you work with inventors, you know, it’s a lot about interpersonal skills and working with people and, you know, it’s something a lot of patent attorneys have realized too, that, you know, working with people is, is, uh, is a skillset and getting their ideas express properly, uh, and understanding why they came to this conclusion takes, you know, it takes a special skillset. And, and I think, I think they saw when I, when I was working with them, that I had that skillset to work with others. A lot of my patents had, uh co-inventors.

Rich (05:26):
Hmm. So you, you thought like an engineer and you also had the skillset to be able to communicate that and to carry it through to the patents. And so that was recognized and that’s kinda what they, um, they created the, um, this role for you.

Sam (05:39):
Right. And also the other piece is, you know, let’s keep in mind that there’s a business component about patents too, you know, just because you get a patent doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile as you know, rich. And so do you need to understand the, the marketing business aspects to, to, uh, do what you’re going to pack? Yep, absolutely. So, yeah, that’s where my background, uh, I got an MBA from the university of Chicago that was very helpful. And I think another aspect that, you know, uh, helped me fit into that

Rich (06:08):
Job. Absolutely. I didn’t say that. So you are a degreed engineer, but you also have an MBA. And so it kind of created a bit of a combination there of the guy who understands the innovation, the technology, but also the one who has his attention on, uh, on marketing and on like the end game for this patent in the business world. That’s right.

Sam (06:27):
Yeah, that’s right. It’s really, really important.

Rich (06:29):
Awesome. And, and you’ve worked on so many interesting things throughout your career and like, you know, one of the things, um, that you did was help create this portfolio of patents, uh, for, at and T on their wireless technology, which, um, it’s kind of interesting. I mean, that kind of took place during my career and a little bit before. I mean, when I was in law school and I was working, um, I was working at a large IP firm, uh, like they were working on wireless technology and I just recognized just how that exploded in value from the nineties and on it was like, um, so

Sam (07:06):
It’s, yeah. It’s, you know, it’s interesting. One of the areas I was very active in, in patenting was location services and here, the ironic thing is, and again, the interesting piece I like about I like and dislike about innovation is after the fact, it’s always obvious you talk to anybody it’s obvious. Right? And so at the time we were, we were looking at location services because of nine 11, there was a big issue with nine 11 people would call on their cell phone, you know? Yeah. I need the police right away. Where are you? I don’t know. I’m just using my cell phone. I don’t know. And so obviously the police were very frustrated with people calling very frustrated. So they had made it a mandate that the cellular companies would provide lows location-based technology. Well, at the time it was not obvious to this tell your company that location-based services would be valuable. And I know it sounds like, what do you mean they should have known no, at the time it was like, why do we have to do this? This is, this could have cost us a lot of money. What would you use it for? And

Rich (08:09):
So how often, how often do you, do you need to locate a lost person on a mountain side? We’ll use triangulation for that. Right, right. Uh, so

Sam (08:20):
It was, it was, uh, it was interesting, but that’s just one example of a lot of things that when you look back, you say it was obvious, but it, at the time, it’s not obvious. I mean, browsers on cell phones. So I worked on the standards with browser and cell phone, and again, not obvious, we didn’t have much power in the cell phones. The data rates were very slow. Why would anybody want a browser on a cell phone? And by the way, the Internet’s not exactly a big hop and thing.

Rich (08:45):
And so, right. Well, that kind of reminds me of, um, um, of Steve jobs, his address when he introduced the iPhone, you know, where he said, I’ve got this great phone and we’re also introducing a great iPad iPod today, a music player. And we’ll also introducing a web browsing device. Right. And so, because, and then of course you put it all together. So maybe after that address it, it was obvious to have web browsing. Um, but before that people weren’t thinking of that, it was, if anything, they were thinking of, of, uh, other types of data access is really a novelty and not something that would become a, a staple of, of use of our phones after that. Right. So,

Sam (09:27):
Yeah, I always say the boots, it’s a challenging position for inventors, because what you’re usually doing has you, you invent is you’re, you’re eliminating some assumptions. You’re eliminating assumptions that the data rates are slow. You’re eliminating the assumptions that it’s very costly to do data. You’re eliminating the assumptions that the battery life isn’t a problem. So your limit. And so for most people, they listen to what you say and they go, that makes no sense that, that, that makes no sense. So that’s, it’s a challenging world, I think from Pinterest, you’re expecting love when you throw out your idea of in most cases, it’s not going to be there because people won’t and they’ll be like, no, that’s not true.

Rich (10:08):
Right. Right. And in a sense, you have to find the missing link because it’s like on the one hand, the invention has to be not obvious, which means like not the natural progression that things are going. That’s kind of how I think of it. Right. Um, but at the same time, it’s gotta be something which people will naturally want because it is kind of like the natural way that the demand is going. Right. So you have to kind of find that missing link where something is innovative, that people would not have readily thought of it. It’s not obvious, but at the same time, it is the solution that they’ve been looking for.

Sam (10:42):
Right. It’s a, it’s a tricky balancing act and just something that takes practice and you start realizing, Hmm, how do I need to think about this? Like I said, I, I find myself just thinking two things, one looking at what other people are doing. So you get a notion how other people thought about the problem. You know, you’ve got to start with a problem and then, um, think about what things could change, what could change reasonably, right? And sometimes there’s things that you think are going to change and guess what does it never change? So

Rich (11:14):
Exactly w which kind of leads us into the project that you’re working on now, but essentially, um, before we get to the project itself, let’s, let’s look at the, the, the challenge that led to the project. Let’s talk about the, um, kind of like the difficulty that inventors face, um, with, with verifying that their ideas are patentable, uh, and validating their ideas. So let’s talk about that challenge.

Sam (11:40):
I think there’s is interesting. You have a service spectrum here. You have some inventors who say, yeah, I’m not going to look, I don’t want to know, but as you know, as a patent attorney, we have to look. So, you know, if the pat attorney doesn’t look, the examiner will look and so you can’t get around it. Uh, but some inventors think, you know, I know it’s gotta be not one time, a whole book, some in inventors, I D it was just, uh, a book, a patent strategy where they express the, the author, their express that, um, that some inventors don’t want to be influenced by other inventors and their ideas, which I, again, I, I don’t understand the logic behind that because the patent system was built on building upon other people’s understandings. Right. So, um, that’s still hard. And then unfortunately, and I think it’s majority of cases, it’s most inventors find it’s too time consuming.

Sam (12:38):
And even the patent office is if you look at EPO and even look at the U S patent office, and when they say you should do a patent search, they sort of admit that this is going to be too time consuming, too hard. You know, the EPL says, you know, if you had an idea for a mouse trap and you look miles trap up on a bullion search, and you might get 200, 2 million hits, right. And they say, that’s too many. And then they say, maybe you should do Rodin trap. And wrote trap gives you 20,000 hits, which is too many. And they try and help you narrow it down, but still they, in the end, they say, yeah, this is very hard. And you should get a professional.

Rich (13:13):
Yeah, absolutely. And, and then, um, you know, one of the challenges there is, is word searching in general is flawed because people can use different terminology. Like you said, it could be a mousetrap, or it could be, it could be a rodent capturing device. Um, and then your search for mousetrap won’t find it if it was described as a Rogan capturing device. So, uh, I mean, a lot of times what, what people look towards is classification searching, um, so that you can capture, um, or you can find PA related patents, even if different terminology was used. Um, and then presumably you check all the classifications and all the classifications, but, but yeah, it’s, it’s burdensome to, to effectively search, um, other ideas. And, and part of the, part of the downside or a part of the, the, the end result is that you, you might, uh, end up pursuing non patentable ideas. That’s, that’s,

Sam (14:11):
That’s a real problem. Richard has been, you have people spending hours and hours of their time working on their idea and potentially spending thousands of dollars and finding out if they can’t protect it existing already. And that’s really what, when I was working with inventors and even myself, like I said, that’s the thing that I found very frustrating is, is, you know, nothing more annoying than thinking you have a novel idea and then going to somebody and they say, no, it’s not, not looking it’s right here. And, you know, everybody takes pride. And so that’s what bothered me. And that’s what motivated me to say, there’s gotta be a better way. There’s gotta be a way in which there’ll a common tool out there that people could use. There’s there could be more tools, of course, but at least one common tool that people get some level of confidence before they go and spend time on it.

Rich (15:02):
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what led you to this project that you’re working on now, PQ AI. So, so tell me a bit about that.

Sam (15:11):
So, um, we actually started off with it, you know, and this is classic, right. We started off, uh, at, at and T we were planning to do it for ourselves, right. For, at T and T. And then we realized that why should we be building something that the rest of the world has as a problem too? And it would benefit a at and T from a standpoint of, you know, we have better quality patents out there because they’ve been searched much more efficiently. So then we said, well, you know, we’ve seen this open source model, and we’ve seen a lot of things work very well. Obviously Lennox is a great example, open source, where it’s worked very well. And we said, why not take that approach with PQA ad? And so that’s why we went that way. Uh, I retired, um, at the end of 2019. And so, uh, I told them, uh, I would be very interested. I was working for the Georgia IP Alliance at the time as a board member. And I said, let me take this on as a nonprofit in this, in this realm and, and see if we can move this forward.

Rich (16:12):
Got it. Okay. And so then tell me about the progression of the project, like how the progress you’ve made, like how, what the team looks like, et cetera. Uh, so first of all,

Sam (16:25):
I should say that we talked to some major players about this and they were like, eh, yeah, this is, this is because they sort of felt like it was too hard. One of the things they thought was too hard, um, you know, because I wanted to really change, you know, not just a minor change, it really major change. So one of the things is, is not to get technical here, but as you know, there’s anticipated 1 0 2 type of rejection in the U S patent system where one document has your whole idea, and then you have the obviousness, uh, uh, rejection, or what else, three rejection where the examiner combines multiple documents to get your idea and the press, the, the presumption, if it was obvious to bring these ideas together. Right. So I wanted to do a search engine and we’d not only do one or two, but 2, 1 0 3, because nobody does 1, 2, 3.

Sam (17:17):
And when you look at the number of office actions that contain 1 0 2 rejections, which is what everybody does, that’s around 20%. Uh, but the number that contain 1 0 3 rejections is at 80%. So that’s a huge piece. And, and most inventors don’t even know it exists. They don’t find out about it until they go on an exam or give them a rejection. So I wanted to have something that they did both 1 0 2 and 1 0 3. Um, so that a number of players in the industry were sort of like, that’s too hard, can’t do it. And, uh, so they start bowed out. But, uh, we, we do have, uh, the Georgia IP Alliance and number of members, there were an interested, we obviously had 18 T behind us. Uh, we got a number of other companies, uh, with experienced gravy services. Um, uh, uh, IP analytics company based in India is, is, is very good.

Sam (18:14):
And they’ve been very active in helping us, uh, put together the system. And so now where we came as we’ve launched, um, the website, uh, the project website. And so now people can actually use the, uh, the beta engine out there to do searches. And, um, we’ve been improving it ever since. And I’m excited to say most recently, uh, we got, we’ve been going around to different interviews, inventors associations, and we just got the support of the international Federation of inventors associations. And, uh, I think that’s a big step. And then we’re going to be going to all the, uh, chapters and individual country chapters and getting them oriented on a PQ AI. Um, so that, that’s the real exciting another component we just launched is the PQI report. And the idea here is that inventors can run their searches, identify documents that are relevant to their idea and create a report that then they can give to their patent attorney, uh, which will help start that dialogue, or, you know, they can give it to maybe venture capitalists. There’s looking, you know, they’re looking for funding might ask, well, are you sure this idea is novel? And this gives them at least one sense of how you’ve done some very, fairly thorough checking.

Rich (19:42):
Right. Got it. And so, like, what’s the state of readiness now of, of the system.

Sam (19:47):
I’d like to think we’ve tested our, our 1 0 2 engine against many of the other common one or two engines. We think our engine beats, or at least it’s competitive with most of the engines out there. And again, we’re a free engine that anybody can use. And like I said, we’re doing 1 0 3. I’m not satisfied with what it’s doing so far, but, uh, again, we’re the only search engine out there that does 1 0 3 searches today.

Rich (20:13):
Interesting. And so how would people find the, the, uh, search engine,

Sam (20:19):
Uh, project Uh, that’s the website and there’s a link to the search engine there.

Rich (20:27):
Very interesting. Um, and, and that’s fascinating. So, um, now other than, uh, so you’ve retired from, at and T you’re working on this project, so you’ve gotta be up to some other cool things.

Sam (20:39):
I, I am, uh, you know, I, you know, this IP stuff is exciting stuff. I really find it very, very exciting. And so one of the other things I noticed, uh, um, in my tenure at, at and T and at other places, I saw that there isn’t a good system out there capturing innovations from, uh, uh, employees and corporations. Uh, it’s interesting. Um, uh, the systems out there just don’t appreciate the inventors. Um, um, you know, how busy they are, how act is there are, most of the best inventors are just being pulled in lots of different directions. And so they don’t have a lot of time. And a lot of the systems are very clunky in the way in which they capture as they expect the inventors, put their ideas in. And so what we’ve done is said, let’s bring the system to the inventors. You know, we, we integrate in with collaboration tools. Um, we make it much simpler in which to process the, the disclosures. We keep everybody informed on what’s going on. So it’s just a much better experience for everybody involved. And, and we, we already have a couple of corporate customers, large corporate customers using the system and the inventors are very excited about it.

Rich (21:55):
Yeah. And I think you were saying you’re expanding to universities as well. We are

Sam (21:59):
Now looking at expanding university, but you think there’s a very big opportunity there to, to delink into students, give more people experience with innovation.

Rich (22:08):
Yeah. I mean, talk about people that are busy, um, but yet creating lots of great ideas. Um, so it seems like a great way to, to, you know, juxtapose what you, what you have into that workflow so that you can capture some of those ideas that might not otherwise get captured. And

Sam (22:26):
The other piece we want to do is we want to get people more experienced with innovating, because when you think about it, when you think of a good innovator, what do they have? They have, uh, education. So they have the knowledge so that they can come up with new ideas and new technologies. They have a background. This is where diversity. We really sadly have been really, um, remiss in, in including everybody in the patent process. As we already know, there’s a lot of studies have been done that women are not representative and minorities aren’t represented. And I think part of that is that we’re missing out on those backgrounds because we know that’s what helps innovation is people have different backgrounds, they think differently, and that’s what innovation is about. And then finally, the third component that makes a good innovator is experience. It’s a skill that everybody needs to have. And, um, you know, we’re hoping that by doing this, working with the universities, we’re going to get more people to experience with innovation.

Rich (23:22):
Yeah. I mean, I often tell people that part of the value of going through the process is just the experience of the process. It’s where, I mean, a lot of inventors think of like, this is going to this invention that I’ve created is going to be a big hit as well. Maybe, maybe not. I mean, most of the time when people have that success, it’s not with their first idea it’s with their second or their third, but it was the experience of going through the first and what that experience was like, that makes them then able to, um, to go through the process with the second, with the third. Um, so

Sam (23:57):
You’re so right. Rich. That’s exactly it. I tell him vendor, you’re going to have a lot of ideas. It’s not just one idea. I think somebody in vendors, this is the only idea I ever come up with. Absolutely not. You’ll come up with lots ideas and you actually come up with more, as you go through and experience the process you learn from it, and you become a better inventor. We’re absolutely right. Rich that’s, that’s really good advice.

Rich (24:18):
Yeah. Thank you. Um, and, uh, and thank you for everything that you’ve, um, you’ve shared here, um, about what you’ve been doing and about things that would help inventors to have a great experience and not pursue a non-palpable ideas. Um, and if people want to learn more about you and get in touch with you, how do they go about doing, so

Sam (24:37):
Look me up on LinkedIn, I’m very active on LinkedIn. So just, you know, Sam Zellner at LinkedIn, there you’ll find me easily.

Rich (24:45):
And, and, and the website where you could find the PQ. I is project PQ at I’m sorry, project,

Sam (24:55):
Correct. And, and, and inspire is my other venture that we’re working with corporations on.

Rich (25:05):
Awesome. And it was still

Sam (25:06):
More in a candidly we’re still in more of the quiet stage there. So there isn’t a lot on the website. We’ll be expanding it soon, but it’s still a little quiet.

Rich (25:17):
Sounds great. Um, so once again, Sam, I really appreciate you coming on the show and sharing all of your, your knowledge on this. And, and I appreciate what you’ve been doing, um, to create something this free tool for, for inventors to, to really serve, um, innovators, um, hopefully for generations to come,

Sam (25:38):
It makes a difference in, you know, in the future sometime we’ll have everybody using the tool to check ideas. You know, I, my, my thought is that that, uh, we’ll be in a bar and, uh, you’ll come up with an idea and I’ll say, Hey, check that on your phone with PQI and see if that’s really, now, that sounds

Outro (25:54):
Pretty cool. And that’s what people will do. Thank you. Thanks. Thanks again. Thanks for listening to innovations and breakthroughs with your host, rich Goldstein. Be sure to click, subscribe, check us out on the and we’ll see you next time.

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