PHOTO: Gold seal on the cover. Trapezoid Neck Profile Patent.
On the wall, near the register desk, was an instrument unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Monochromatic black. Ultramodern. Industrial. A...machine. No curves, no embellishments, no chrome, no wood, no ornamentation except a small white logo: Steinberger.
My image of what defined "guitar" was instantly erased. Evaporated. This was an entirely new branch of species on the evolutionary tree. The future was suddenly unwritten and wide open to possibilities. Life, and design, was not as predictable as I thought.
I also became aware, for the first time, that objects were invented and designed by individual people. This new guitar was the result of one man's thought.
I was just a kid, first learning to play guitar. Mom waited patiently as Jim, the salesman at Russo Music Center in Trenton, New Jersey, pulled the Steinberger off the wall and put it into my hands. The price tag was incomprehensibly out of my reach. The three of us knew that. But Jim also realized a spark had caught fire in my mind as I held the guitar and tentatively picked the open strings.
Three decades later Ned Steinberger stood before me in my NAMM booth. Big brown eyes behind owlish eyeglasses. He quietly handled my guitars. As he was leaving, he said: "We're going to have some problems. I will come after you."
The letter from his lawyer arrived not long after I'd returned to New Jersey post-NAMM, claiming my Trapezoid Neck Profile (D630,676) patent was not legitimate because it was an infringement of the Chapman Stick.
Suddenly I was in a lawsuit with one of my boyhood design heroes. You can imagine, right?
I understand why he did it.
It's just business.
I was resolved to potential loss of the patent. Steinberger/Chapman/Gibson Guitar vs. Toone...with just a slingshot.
My emotions about the confrontation have long subsided. Now I feel quiet elation. Ready to move forward. It's just business.
There are tremendous misconceptions about patents, especially in the guitar forums online.
In simplest terms, the United States Patent and Trademark Office evaluated my guitar neck invention, compared it to prior art (including the Chapman Stick) and determined my design idea was both: a) new, and b) non-obvious. I was granted a patent.
Ned Steinberger then challenged the legitimacy of the patent, and by implication the judgment of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. An extensive, exhaustive review was re-conducted on the matter by additional Examiners within the USPTO. After four years of legal process, it has been decided my patent stands as granted.
A patent is a powerful tool. D630,676 is now twice proven to be my invention: original, exclusive, and enforceable.
Congratulations Rick. It's evident that your passion and care for the craft is pure and relentless. Getting challenged by an alpha is nature's law of growth and stature. To the victor go the spoils — protected space, battle-tested experience, opportunity for reflection and personal re-definition. (Nick)