Jim Lemke, a retired tinkerer who invented a cheap device that removes the ice clumps behind car wheels, is grateful to the lawyers behind a Minnesota-grown pro bono project that helps low-income inventors navigate the U.S. Patent Office (USPTO).
“I’m a handyman, and I like exploring options for creating things that make my life easier,” said Lemke, who holds the patent on the $12 tool (www.snowboogersbegone.com). “I’d been trying to do the job with the Patent Office for two years. I got the patent in September. I probably paid $2,000 in fees to the USPTO. But the attorney probably would have cost more than $10,000.”
Said Amy Salmela, an electrical engineer and patent lawyer with Patterson Thuente, which did the work for Lemke, said: “I wish I’d had one of those tools in my garage last week during all that snow.”
Patterson Thuente and another Minneapolis firm, Lindquist & Vennum, were honored at the White House in February by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker for establishing the three-year-old Inventor Assistance Program at Minnesota LegalCorps as the first “patent pro bono program in the country.”
Salmela and Mark Privratsky, Lindquist’s IP practice group chair, also have authored “Patent Law Pro Bono: A Best Practices Handbook,” which has been hailed by USPTO and slated for publication and distribution by the American Bar Association.
The Obama administration has championed the effort to help underfinanced inventors as part of a much-larger reform of the patent process that includes stamping out so-called “patent trolls” who make often-dubious claims of patent infringement and threaten litigation to extort money from small enterprises.
Salmela said it’s an honor that “the Minnesota model is being exported to other states but also that the work done here has earned legitimacy and support from the top levels of government.”
The inventor program is part of 10-year old LegalCorps, the Minneapolis-based organization that connects volunteer lawyers with low-income entrepreneurs, innovators and small nonprofits.
“It feels like we’re doing something worthwhile, and it was nice to get a pat on the back from the White House,” Privratsky said.
Stadium Financing Falls In Place
Regardless how you feel about the nearly $1 billion stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, the Metrodome is being demolished and the public debt has been sold.
The state of Minnesota recently peddled $462 million worth of bonds at a combined (taxable and tax-free) rate of 4.27 percent. State officials said the offering proceeds were $498 million thanks to the premium that investors were willing to pay for the bonds. The stadium bond sale was negotiated with investment banking firms that underwrite, or buy, the bonds and then sell them to institutional and individual investment clients. The underwriters’ fees came to $1.26 million, or $2.72 per $1,000 bond, according to the treasury unit of the Minnesota Management and Budget agency. Recent competitively bid auctions of state general obligation bonds have resulted in “underwriter’s discounts” that ranged from $1.09 to $3.55 per $1,000 bond, although state officials note that each offering is a little different.
The group of eight underwriters included RBC Capital Markets, J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo and Piper Jaffray.
The Vikings are on the hook for $477 million, some of which will be raised from season-ticket holders, who will pay $500 to $9,500 per seat to keep their place in the new stadium, and a loan from the NFL. The city of Minneapolis will pay about $150 million through its entertainment-and-hospitality tax.
Cargill Wins Community engagement Award
Cargill is a winner of the 2014 Excellence Awards made by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), a prestigious awards program started in 1999 by a group that included the late actor and humanitarian Paul Newman.
An “independent jury” chose Cargill in the $20 billion-plus revenue category for its work with CARE on a six-year-old rural development initiative that “improves livelihoods by empowering smallholder farmers, strengthening agricultural supply chains and alleviating poverty” in India and several countries in Africa and Latin America.
“Cargill and PG&E [the other winner] exemplify companies that are a force for good in society,” said CEO Daryl Brewster of CECP, whose 150 CEO members “believe that societal improvement is an essential measure of business performance.” More information: www.CECP.co.
Closer to home, Minnetonka-based Cargill also is the single-largest corporate supporter of the Minneapolis public schools and related efforts to close the “achievement gap” between white and minority kids. Cargill has invested millions over the past decade in Minneapolis and inner-ring suburbs in support of students and families. Most recently, the Cargill Foundation approved a $1.5 million grant in support of Eric Mahmoud and his Harvest charter schools on the North Side that achieve excellent results with low-income kids of color. Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson says she supports whatever works, whether charter or public schools. Scott Portnoy, a Cargill vice president and president of the foundation, said supporting successful programs means more students graduating from high school and ready to succeed at the next level.
Carr MOVING Collaborative Events to Partners
Dan Carr, as noted previously, is shutting down the Collaborative in June after more than 25 years of bringing together entrepreneurs and financiers in a variety of annual forums.
In a recent note to members, Carr wrote that members of the Collaborative will automatically later this year become members of LifeScience Alley and the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA).
And Collaborative members and sponsors will become trial members of the Minnesota Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG). The association will co-host the Collaborative’s April private equity seminar. Life Science Alley co-hosted the February med-tech seminar. The MHTA will work with the Collaborative on the May technology conference.
And it looks as though there will be a successor to the Collaborative’s 27-year-old October “venture & finance’’ conference, the region’s biggest venture-finance show-and-tell. The Minnesota Venture Capital Association, Carr’s partner in the fall conference, is working with LifeScience Alley, MHTA, the Minnesota Cup, the Minnesota Department of Economic Development and other partners on a fall conference.
• Sanford “Sandy” Stein, the Minneapolis-based designer, retail trend forecaster and consultant, grew up in the 1950s “Jewelry and Toy Center” founded by his dad and uncle, Al and Lou Stein, in Milwaukee. It “seemed more like a garage sale than a bona fide retail operation,” before the two streetfront entrepreneurs hit it with their Pill & Puff store. Stein said the experience “gave me a unique perspective on retailing and brand building that has served me well over a four-decade career.”
Stein has written a lively, insightful and humorous book about his life and the retail trade, including local and national luminaries of the past century. A reception and book signing is scheduled for Aria at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Warehouse District. More information: www.retail-schmetail.com.
• Hats off to Katrina Kerrick of Plymouth, Maria Sanchez Lopez of St. Louis Park and 13 other Minnesota high school girls selected as winners and runners-up in the annual Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Awards, sponsored by Advance IT Minnesota, the high-tech talent incubator of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. The program is supported by Cargill, the Nerdery, Maverick Software and other outfits trying to increase the ranks of underrepresented females (26 percent) in computer occupations. More information: www.advanceitmn.org.