'Anti-Troll' Marblar Unites NASA Patents, Samsung to Crowdsource New Products

The new crowdfunding site Marblar makes hundreds of patents available to users.

ByABC News
October 24, 2013, 2:00 AM
Marblar has partnered with NASA and other agencies to make several hundred patents available to the public.
Marblar has partnered with NASA and other agencies to make several hundred patents available to the public.

Oct. 24, 2013— -- What do water filters, memory foam and invisible braces have in common?

All those everyday products' origins can be found in NASA technology, and the new crowdsourcing website Marblar is taking advantage of that to find the next big thing.

The site Wednesday announced that several hundred patents from NASA and other organizations would be available for its users to play with.

Marblar CEO Daniel Perez said that although many companies' research and development departments spend millions of dollars on such patents, more than 95 percent of them sit unused.

"They're just kind of laying dormant," he told ABC News. "But what if people saw the patents for a special type of material from NASA or a unique laser from Oxford? What are some new ways that we can incorporate these patents into new products?"

In addition to obtaining NASA patents, Marblar also obtained access to many patents from the University of Pennsylvania and from ETRI, the largest Korean telecommunications and electronics research institute. The site also partnered with Samsung, although it did so not for Samsung's array of patents, but for its potential to bring the patents of Marblar users to life.

"Samsung is looking into many different products, even outside of consumer electronics," Perez said. "They're also looking to fields like renewable energy and drug discovery."

Any idea that Samsung likes could find its way into Samsung technology, with 10 percent of the royalties going to the Marblar users who brought it to life.

More than 95 percent of patents just sit there, unused. -- Daniel Perez

But catching the attention of Samsung's eye isn't easy. Perez and his colleagues screen ideas put forth by potential inventors, with only about 20 percent advancing on to Marblar's next phase of idea development.

"We ask questions like, 'Who is the customer for this product?' or 'How will you deal with the product's power consumption?'" he said.

Although the original inventor might have a basic idea, he or she might not have all the details together.

In the spirit of crowdsourcing, other Marblar users can help out a particular inventor whose idea they want to see come to life. Users familiar with the business end of product development can answer questions regarding how a product could fare in the marketplace, while engineers and designers who know a thing or two about product prototypes can contribute to figuring out the technical details.

The contributors to a Marblar project might be helping an inventor out of the goodness of their heart, but they also stand to gain if a particular product gets the green light. Marblar rewards users who provide useful data or information by giving them "marbles," the websites namesake currency.

"As you submit product ideas and contribute market data or technical data, you get more marbles," Perez said.

The more marbles a person earns, the bigger the cut he or she gets in the royalty check if the product makes it to market.

Another website, Quirky, offers a similar service to Marblar, as well as a treasure trove of GE patents from which to pick. Although Marblar doesn't have a store dedicated to selling its users products as Quirky does, the royalties might make up for that difference.

If a Marblar idea is incorporated into a company's newest product, all Marblar contributors stand to collect and share 10 percent of the royalties.

Samsung isn't the only major company interested in bringing some ideas to life. Perez says there are several other companies across the globe that are eager to partner with Marblar.

"They want the tech to be commercialized, as well," he said.

Marblar is expected to have more than 2,000 different patents at its fingertips in the next three months.

The patent system has been accused of stifling innovation in its current state. From Apple's court battle with Samsung to the fight over a breast cancer gene, patents have become more associated with litigation than productivity.

"Patent trolls buy up patents to extract money, with no intention of actually creating a product," he said. "Marblar is like the anti-troll. We're looking for new ways to commercialize."