It was seen that the works of founders of States, law-givers, tyrant-destroyers, and heroes cover
but narrow spaces and endure but for a time; while the work of the inventor, though of less pomp,
is felt everywhere and lasts forever.          - Francis Bacon Preface to a Treatise on Interpreting Nature

The Design of Everyday Things

Every inventor should take this free online course. Learn the basics of design and start observing and applying design principles.

How to Design Breakthrough Inventions

A CBS interview of IDEO founder David Kelley

How to Build a StartUp

In this free online course, learn the key tools and steps for building a successful startup (or at least reducing the risk of failure).

Sunday, February 9, 2020

February 2020

Would you marry someone you never met or dated?  No?  Then why would you start a business without knowing who your customers are and what they really want?

No entrepreneur wants to waste time and money on a nonviable company.  If you are thinking about starting a business, the most important question is whether you should start a business.

Bill Petrovic (workshop chair and mentor, SCORE Indianapolis; past vice president and treasurer, Roche Diagnostics) recommends using the lean startup method to answer that question.  It is an efficient method of approximation for developing a successful business model.  Make your best guess of what a successful business looks like.  Ask people whom you think are your potential customers what they think about your guess.  Adapt your guess to the feedback you get from those people.  Then ask again.  Repeat.  If you should start a business, this process will likely converge on a business model that profitably identifies your customers, what they really want, and your ability to provide what they really want.

Start the process by developing something simple to sell (a product or service).  This minimally viable product should include the fewest features that you think early adopters will buy at a profitable price to solve the core of some problem they have.

Then get out and do a reality check.  Talk face to face with at least 100 potential customers and see how they react to your product.  Include people who will pay for the product or who will influence the decision to buy.  If you are selling something for dogs, go to a dog park, not to a library.  Talk with people yourself, don’t delegate this important interaction to someone else.  Ask open ended questions.

Does solving this core problem matter to them?  If so, would they be willing to spend money to solve the problem; how much?  Will they buy your product now, as is?  What do they like and dislike about your product?  What additional features would make your product more attractive to them?

If this core problem doesn’t matter to them, they are not your customers.  But don’t waste this conversation; ask what problems do matter to them.  You might be able to develop something else for them.

After sequentially adapting your product to several rounds of feedback, you may have a product that potential customers really like.  When you have all of this information, develop a value proposition, a description of all features and benefits of your product that will induce customers to buy it.

Then worry about production costs and business partners.  Can you manufacture and distribute your product for less than the selling price?  Can you sell enough to make the profit you want?  If you like the answers to those questions, you are on your way to starting a successful business.

Several tools are available to help with this process. For example,  Mr. Petrovic has kindly provided the slides of his presentation.  Udacity offers a free online course on the lean startup method.  A lean startup template is available.  By appointment only, a librarian on the 4th floor of the Indianapolis Central Library will show you company business plans related to your interests.

Thank you, Mr. Petrovic, for helping the business community create jobs and for sharing your extensive expertise with us!

Friday, January 10, 2020

January 2020

Ron Jackson (long-time member of the Indiana Inventors Association; founder, Jackson Systems; holder of 15 patents) helped us start the year off right by describing his experience as a successful innovator.

Marketing is 80% of profitable innovation.  Unmarketed but very useful inventions can fail in the marketplace while heavily marketed but useless inventions can be quite profitable.  Helpful elements of marketing can include:

Creating a good looking prototype of your invention.  Whether you show potential buyers a working prototype or a sell sheet/brochure that includes a high quality picture of a nonworking prototype, an image is worth a thousand words.  An image makes people feel that you and your invention are real and credible.

Creating good quality videos of your invention and related topics for display on YouTube.  Videos can help to establish your credibility in your technical field and to show the benefits your invention provides.  The Jackson Systems YouTube channel is a good example.

Finding a good fit for your invention in the marketplace.  A company may want to partner with you if an embodiment of your invention contains parts made by that company or if the embodiment supplements or enhances one of the company’s products.

Growing your business network.  If you want to sell (assign) or rent (license) your idea or patent, try visiting trade shows relevant to your invention and find booths of medium size companies that sell products similar to yours.  Visit these booths when only the company representative is there and ask if the company ever works with independent inventors.  If so, ask if you may exchange business cards with the representative now and send information about your invention to the representative later.

Selecting your business partners carefully, then trusting them.  Don’t let fear of intellectual property theft prevent you from profiting from your invention.  Most people are honest, but nondisclosure agreements can help keep them honest.

Thank you, Mr. Jackson, for sharing your lifelong enthusiasm for and expertise in innovation with us!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

November 2019

Patenting an invention can give an inventor a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  But preparing and prosecuting a patent application takes time, money, and expertise.  Some energetic inventors who can’t afford to hire a patent attorney or patent agent take time to acquire the expertise needed to prepare and prosecute their own patent applications.  Michael Pugel (patent attorney, Eurekovation, LLC) described resources available to these pro se applicants.

Patent It Yourself” by patent attorney David Pressman is a good general introduction to the topic.  Step one is to keep an inventor’s notebook in which ideas, the invention process, experimental tests and results, and observations are recorded, dated, signed, and witnessed.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants a patent to the first inventor to file a patent application for a particular invention.  The notebook helps to establish that persons listed as inventors in a patent application are, in fact, inventors.

Step two is to write a patent application.  The USPTO’s Pro Se Assistance Program, Inventors Assistance Center, virtual instructor led training, and Learning and Resources page offer help with this.  For example, a checklist and guide for preparing a nonprovisional utility patent application are available.  Librarians in Indianapolis and in West Lafayette demonstrate how to use patent examiner systems for finding prior art.  USPTO personnel by phone and in person explain different types of applications, help complete forms and locate resources, and review applications for compliance with regulations.  Monthly online Inventor Info Chats are available, as are a newsletter and in-person workshops and independent inventor conferences.  The USPTO does not offer legal advice, but individuals and small businesses who qualify can receive free legal advice and help from patent attorneys or patent agents through the USPTO’s Patent Pro Bono Program in Bloomington, IN.

Step three is to file the patent application.  Create a USPTO account, get a USPTO customer number, verify your account, and learn how to use the USPTO’s electronic filing system.  Include payment for the appropriate fees.

Step four is to prosecute the application.  This is a months- or years-long legal conversation between a patent examiner and the applicant about which, if any, features of the invention claimed in the application should be patented.  The conversation is always summarized in writing and may include in-person meetings and teleconferences.  If the examiner’s final decision is to reject some or all of the patent claims, the applicant may abandon the application, appeal the decision, request continued examination of the application, or file a new or continuation application.  If the examiner instead allows some or all of the patent claims, the applicant may pay additional fees to get a patent.

Thank you, Mr. Pugel, for sharing these valuable resources with us.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

October 2019

The market rewards execution, not ideas.
—Scott Adams, “Scott Adams' Secret of Success: Failure”, Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2013.

Is the juice worth the squeeze?
How do you convert an idea to money?  By doing something to unlock the value of the idea.  Even though it’s easier now than ever before to bring an idea to the marketplace, risk and expense remain part of being an entrepreneur.  Success in the marketplace almost always entails failure.  Fear of failure is the number one reason people don’t do anything with their ideas.

Louis Foreman (author, The Independent Inventor's Handbook: The Best Advice from Idea to Payoff; publisher, Inventors Digest; founder and CEO, Edison Nation, Enventys, and Edison Nation Medical) takes away that fear by transferring all of the risk and expense to his company, Edison Nation.  He helps people find out if bringing their ideas to market is worth it.  His company is for individuals who want to profit from a new idea that solves (or might solve) a problem but who don’t want to be entrepreneurs.  Edison Nation filters ideas and gets the best to companies that buy or license the ideas.

It costs $25 to submit a new idea (ie, one not found with a Google search) to Edison Nation.  The person submitting the idea pays nothing else.  If Edison nation successfully sells or licenses the idea, the person and Edison Nation split the profit 50:50.  The person may withdraw the submission without penalty at any time during the first 6 steps (ie, before the idea is offered for licensing or sale to companies) and try to profit from the idea without help from Edison Nation.

Mr. Foreman told us how Edison Nation uses an 8-step process to unlock the value of a good idea.  The idea can take various forms: identification of a solvable problem (eg, “I hate peeling hard-boiled eggs.”), an idea that might solve a problem (eg, “Avoid peeling hard-boiled eggs by boiling shell-less eggs in an easily opened artificial shell.”), or an invention that solves a problem (eg, Eggies, patents D662351, D654759, and D714093).

Experts at Edison Nation typically pick 3 ideas each week (of the 55 ideas per day received) that they predict will yield a desirable return on investment.  Before developing the ideas, they test each with 5 questions.

 1. What is the product/service?
What makes it valuable?  (How does it make life easier or more enjoyable?)
What makes it unique?  (How does it differ from its competition?)

 2. Who is the customer?
• Age   • Income          • Education      • Location
This estimates how big the market is for this product/service.

 3. How will the customer react to the product/service?
Ask the customer if he would buy it.
How much would he pay for it?
Is the product/service more expensive than the problem?
From where (eg, store, online) would he buy it? 
What would drive his decision to buy? (eg, job bonus, convenience)
How often would he buy it?

Online surveys and forums and in-person interviews (group and individual) suggest whether there is a demand for the product/service.  This information can be obtained without revealing any specific details of the idea.

 4. How much money will it take to make the product/service profitable?
This calculation includes basic costs (eg, obtaining a patent, creating a prototype, etc.) as well as operating costs and involves creating a pro forma income statement.

 5. Where will that money come from?
Typical sources are yourself, friends and family, crowdfunding, banks, angel investors, and the Small Business Administration.

Crowdfunding (obtaining funding by soliciting contributions online from a large number of people; eg, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo), by changing the relation of risk to reward, has made it much easier to bring an idea to market.

• It indicates demand.  Loyal customers buy a product/service before it has been manufactured, not knowing when it will be available, and with no opportunity for a refund.

• It provides traction (support needed for something to succeed).  Money from crowdfunding sales pays for initial manufacturing and for additional sales made through an individual’s website,, or an omnichannel business model.  Evidence of sales on this small scale can persuade big retailers (eg, Walmart) to sell the product/service.

Successful crowdfunding requires a prototype, a good video of your product/service, and money for marketing.

Only if the numbers add up do the experts start to work on the idea.  At each of the 8 steps, they do all of the hard work, look at the result, and decide whether to continue to the next step.  They find all of the money needed to develop the idea, to get legal protection (patents, copyrights, trademarks) for the idea, to create a proof of concept (ie, prototype) for the idea, and to find companies that want to buy or license the idea.

Inventors (eg, James Dyson) who want to be entrepreneurs may not need Edison Nation if they have what it takes:
• Passion for being an entrepreneur, which infects business partners;
• Patience in bringing an idea to market, which can take 10 years or more; and
• Persistence to overcome the inevitable obstacles that every entrepreneur faces.

It’s free to join Edison Nation.  Benefits include access to online forums where you can learn about industry trends, get answers to common questions, and read about the latest happenings at Edison Nation.

You can also read Inventors Digest online for free.  It is the the leading print and online publication for the innovation culture.

Thank you, Mr. Foreman and Ms. Carroll, for visiting us and for telling us about your excellent resource for inventors!

Monday, July 29, 2019

July 2019

Teresa Holland, MSN, RN discussed what she learned from trying to market her medical invention.  If she had it to do over again, she would start by developing a sound business plan and then connect to community resources.

Don’t assume that if you build a product, customers will come.  Instead, do the hard work of developing a business plan that answers important questions like:
  • Costs: What will it cost to develop your invention and bring it to market?  What will the costs be before your product is manufactured?  Who will invest in this effort?  (Angel investors are a good source of funding for medical inventions.)
  • Patents: Can and should your invention be patented?  If so, how much will it cost?  Only new inventions can be patented.
  • Product Development: Who (you or someone you hire) will develop your product?  What will development entail and how will development be done?
  • Resources: What resources (accountants, advertisers, attorneys/agents, distributors, licensees, manufacturers, product developers, public relations people, salesmen, etc.) will you need to market your invention?
    If you try to get a patent for your invention, be sure to hire a patent attorney/agent who is familiar with the technology of your invention and can fully represent your idea.  Find out if that person will write your patent application, if there is any conflict of interest with other clients, and what hourly/project rate you will be charged.  Will that person be subject to any noncompete clauses?  Be sure to personally review your patent application before it is submitted to the U.S. Patent Office.
  • Sales: Who will buy your product and for what price?  Will the expected profit be enough to make marketing your invention worthwhile?
A business plan is helpful and an invention that satisifies a real need is necessary, but successfully marketing an invention is 95% implementation.  Don’t get caught watching the paint dry.  If you get a utility patent for your invention, remember that the 20-year clock starts ticking on the earliest file date of your patent application.

Thank you for sharing your hard-won knowledge with us Ms. Holland!

Monday, June 10, 2019

June 2019

Marketing a new invention is speculative.   There is no guarantee that you will recover or profit from your investment.   To help inventors minimize their risks, the European Patent Office offers this general advice on avoiding seven marketing mistakes.

  1. The invention is more complex than the problem merits.  A needlessly complex invention drives up production costs and confuses customers.
  2. The invention is not kept secret until the date of filing.  Publicly disclosing your invention before you file a patent application prevents you from getting a patent from most countries other than the United States.
  3. The invention isn’t new.  Patents are issued only for new inventions.  Do a patent search before you invest in marketing.
  4. The inventor hasn't fully considered the problem.  No one wants to buy an invention that doesn’ work.
  5. No one wants it.  Do some customer research before you manufacture or try to license your invention.  Just because you like your invention doesn’t mean anyone else will.  Even if people need your product, you may need to teach them why they need it.
  6. An invention is safer if it's kept secret.  If you can’t keep your invention as a trade secret (eg, if your product can be reverse-engineered), a patent offers the strongest protection against knockoffs.
  7. The inventor has an unrealistic idea of the value of his invention.  Again, do some customer research before manufacturing or licensing.  You can’t afford to make a product for $3 per unit if customers will pay only $1 per unit.

One invention development company offers a different list of mistakes.

  1. Using an invention promotion or development company.  If you hire such a company to market your invention, statistically, your chance of profiting from your invention is usually less than 1%; the company’s chance of profiting from your invention is 100%.
  2. Getting a bad patent search.  Knowing your competition will help you know what to patent and to sell.
  3. Trying to license your invention prematurely.  Showing potential licensees a working example of the specific product you want to market moves the invention from imagination to reality.  Much more persuasive.
  4. Ordering units too early.  You don’t need more than 1 unit (the prototype) to license or crowdfund your invention.  If you want to make and sell products, make sure you know exactly what you want to sell before making several units.
  5. Getting expensive services before proof of principle.  Developing the simplest form of your invention can help you learn what its essential parts and design are.  Unless and until you have something that works, money spent on patents, customer research, and seeking investors might be wasted.
  6. Getting a bad patent from a patent attorney.  Patent claims must be as broad as possible to protect your true market share.
  7. Not mastering the art of invention development.  Learn as much about invention development as you can because you alone are responsible for successfully marketing your invention.  If you decide to pay a company to develop your invention, the Better Business Bureau suggests that you document the company’s record of how many of its clients made money on their inventions.  Be cautious if the company will not identify the inventions, manufacturers, or licensing corporations with which it has had success.  Check customer references provided by the company.  Be wary if the company evaluates your invention without determining its true marketability, technical feasibility, or cost of production.

Many thanks to Matt Thie for leading this discussion!

Some inventions patented by our members:

Bob Brand
3,179,907 Tuning system for television receivers
3,219,933 Television tuner switching system
3,241,072 Tuning control system
3,538,466 Television tuner cast housing with integrally cast transmission lines
4,503,740 Optical cutting edge locator for a cutting apparatus
4,503,896 Dog system for veneer slicer
4,601,317 Veneer slicing system
5,511,598 Veneer-slicer with remotely controllable blade angle adjustment
5,562,137 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
5,590,700 Vacuum flitch table with self-cleaning vacuum valve
5,678,619 Method and apparatus for cutting veneer from a tapered flitch
5,680,887 Veneer slicer with timing belt
5,694,995 Method and apparatus for preparing a flitch for cutting
5,701,938 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
5,819,828 Method and apparatus for preparing a flitch for cutting
5,868,187 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
7,395,843 Method and apparatus for retaining a flitch for cutting
7,552,750 Method and apparatus for cutting veneer sheets from a flitch

Kenton Brett
6023685 Computer controlled event ticket auctioning system
6704713 Computer controlled event ticket auctioning system
6907405 Computer controlled priority right auctioning system
7647269 Computer-based right distribution system with reserve pricing
7698210 Computer-based right distribution system
7720746 Computer-based right distribution system with password protection
7747507 Computer controlled auction system
7769673 Computer-based right distribution system with request reallocation
7992631 System and method for seasonal energy storage
8073765 Computer-based right distribution system with password protection
8128407 Method and system for teaching math
8538856 Computer-based right distribution system
8732033 Computer-based right distribution system with temporal variation
9614733 Methods and systems for reducing burst usage of a networked computer system
9900220 Methods and systems for reducing burst usage of a networked computer system

James Dougherty
8622039 Rockerless desmodromic valve system
9488074 Rockerless desmodromic valve system
9366158 Unitary cam follower and valve preload spring for a desmodromic valve mechanism

Ron Jackson
4,886,110 HVAC zone control system
4,943,039 Adjustable clamp
4,987,409 Level sensor and alarm
5,132,669 Level sensor with alarm
5,381,989 Adjustable spring clamp
5,944,098 Zone control for HVAC system
6,145,752 Temperature monitoring and control system
6,322,443 Duct supported booster fan
D347,596 Audible security alarm
D376,747 Door security device

Jerry McQuinn
D689,343 Universal Nutcracker

Richard McVicker
3,261,937 Three position snap switch utilizing interference blade means
3,319,477 Timer Escapement
3,332,704 Manually propelled treadmill vehicle
4,625,616 Thumb pick
6,309,076 Light barrier, screen or reflector
D240,237 Sculpture or the like
D356,653 Yard light
8389839 Thumb pick

Bill Pangburn
5,943,831 Device for Hauling Objects

Matt Thie
4,940,162 Rolled coin dispenser
4,844,446 Multiple-compartment currency stacker-sorter
4,940,162 Rolled coin dispenser
7,298,280 Lighted fluid flow indication apparatus
7,617,826 Conserver
8146592 Method and apparatus for regulating fluid flow or conserving fluid flow
8230859 Method and apparatus for regulating fluid

Don Walls
D707090 Torque key lever
RE36209 Door lock apparatus

Dave Zedonis
5,637,926 Battery powered electronic assembly for wheel attachment

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