Timing is Everything
Ten years ago today, I was awarded my first US patent. The invention was a technology to lift the fingerprint from a check at a bank teller window (using existing scanner hardware) to determine in real-time if it was fraudulent. Two companies, a large bank and a fintech firm, invested money to develop the concept.
If you ever cashed a check at the bank, the teller may have asked you to imprint your fingerprint on the back below the signature. Here's a dirty little secret: Banks do nothing with that fingerprint, other than use it occasionally much later as evidence in court cases. The teller asks for it but doesn't verify it.
My invention would change all that. As the teller scans the check to capture its image, the fingerprint would actually be used to flag fraudsters. A decade ago, check fraud was still a big deal.
Then a funny thing happened. People stopped writing and cashing checks. As debit and credit cards became ubiquitous, checks and cash both took a back seat to plastic. My invention lost relevance, and plans to bring it to market fizzled.
The lesson: Timing is everything. My idea was a day late and a million dollars short. Did my next patent fare better? That's a story for another time.
Michael McCormick is an information security consultant, researcher, and founder of Taproot Security.