Popular Mechanics: How the U.S. Patent Office Got So Screwed Up, by Scott Eden
This post originally appeared in Popular Mechanics on June 21, 2016.
Troy Norred was on his way home for Thanksgiving in 1998 when he had his flash of genius. It was the middle of the night, his wife was driving the family car, and his four children were asleep in the back. He’d just finished his shift at the hospital, where his workweek often exceeded a hundred hours. Two days shy of thirty-one, Norred was a fellow in the cardiology program at the University of Missouri. For more than a year he’d been stewing over an idea, and so powerful was his sudden insight now—surface area in the aortic root!—that he told his wife to pull over. He made a sketch on a napkin. That sketch would become the breakthrough that led to U.S. Patent No. 6,482,228, “Percutaneous Aortic Valve Replacement,” granted in November 2002 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It would also become the basis for an idea that Norred would spend the next four years failing to interest anyone in financing the development of—not his superiors in the cardiology department at Missouri, not the venture- capital firm that flew him to Boston to hear his pitch, not the cutting-edge innovation guru at Stanford who initially encouraged him but then ended the conversation, not the product-development people he signed non-disclosure agreements with at Medtronic, Edwards Lifesciences, Johnson & Johnson, Guidant, and others. The idea was for a collapsible prosthetic aortic valve that could be fished up through an artery with a catheter and implanted in the hearts of patients who suffered from failing aortic valves.
By September 2003, Norred had all but given up on his dream when he and a colleague were strolling the exhibition hall at an important cardiology congress held annually in Washington, D.C. They came upon a booth occupied by a California startup called CoreValve. With increasing alarm, Norred studied the materials at the booth. He turned to his colleague: “That’s my valve!”