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).

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

June 2018

Need help with product development?  Troy Mason (president, CEO, Impulse Product Development) has some good advice.

It’s hard to develop a popular product.  Start by setting a realistic goal for your invention.

Before your spend a lot of time and effort bringing your product to market, do some high quality customer research to see if forecasted sales meet your needs.  Your product might become a best-seller, but there won’t be one in every household.

Product development doesn’t start with a prototype.  Maybe you will eventually need a physical prototype, maybe you won’t.  The essence of some products can be displayed in a drawing or virtual prototype.  If you need a prototype, especially to test your product’s function as its design evolves, realize that the first prototype is never the last.  Professional help with prototyping is available, for example at Realize, Inc.

Product development can be expensive.  Before you decide to develop a product, estimate the total cost of doing so to see if you can afford it.  Mr. Mason’s company charges $150 per hour for design.  A patent typically costs at least $10,000.

If you decide that you need a patent, file a nonprovisional patent application only after you have a good idea of what your marketed product will be.  The general design of the product should be final, but you don’t need to know all of the details (amendment or addition of a picture claim in a well-written application during patent prosecution can take care of that).  In the meantime, filing one or more provisional patent applications can help secure your place as the first inventor-to-file (a requirement for getting a patent).  Remember that if a product developer (such as Mr. Mason) invents a claimed feature of your invention, your patent application must list the developer as an inventor.  (Inventing means thinking of something new and nonobvious that is beyond the ordinary skill of someone working in the technology of your invention.)

Spend at least half of your time and effort on learning how business works.  How will your product fit into the market?  Which business partners will you need?  Will bringing your invention to market be profitable?  Inventing is only a small part of innovating.

Thank you for sharing your expertise with us, Mr. Mason!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March 2018

I am strong!  And now, I am smart.
The Hominids (Saturday Night Live, 1979)

The ability to adapt nature to our needs is a remarkable and inventive talent.  If you want to use that talent to earn a living, it helps to be able to adapt human nature to your needs.

Matt told us about how he and four other engineers founded a company on a shoestring budget in their spare time.  The co-founders got along so well with each other that the attorney preparing the founding legal documents empowered the company instead of the co-founders.  All were equal partners and all had inventive talent but the company had nothing to sell.  Matt soon invented a marketable product that benefitted small businesses and that became the focus of the company.  He applied for a patent and, being the team player that he was, unconditionally assigned the patent rights to the company.  Customers liked the product and prospects looked so good that the company decided to sell stock to get money to manufacture 200 of the product.  Investors instantly provided $250,000.  The government granted the patent.  And everyone lived happily ever after?  No.

The day after the patent issued and became the property of the company, most of the co‑founders voted to oust Matt from the company.  Soon after, only two co-founders remained.

Like Aesop says, try before you trust.  The attorney should have empowered all of the individual co-founders instead of the company.  A golden parachute clause could have protected Matt from loss of his invention by causing the patent rights to revert to him if he were fired.  A little caution can go a long way.

Thank you, Matt, for sharing this valuable lesson with us.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

February 2018

Measure twice, cut once.

Common sense tells us to test the water before jumping in.  Inventors need to know who their customers are and what their customers want before spending a lot of time and money on inventing things/services and bringing them to market.

Helen Colby, PhD, (assistant professor of marketing, Indiana University Kelley School of Business) treated us to her insights on how an individual on a limited budget can conduct high quality customer research.  This brief summary of her presentation doesn’t begin to contain all of her excellent advice.  To learn more, talk with someone who was there.

When should you do customer research?  Whenever the benefit is greater than the cost.  Customer research can answer questions about any aspect of marketing that is important to you (eg, what to invent, what to sell, where and when to sell it, how to advertize it, how much to charge for it).

How do you conduct research?  First and most important, ask one specific question to which you can find a clear, complete, and meaningful answer.  Think hard about this question.  If you ask a defective question, you will get a defective answer.  Check with your business partners (eg, customers, investors, licensing companies, manufacturers) to make sure the answer to this question will be helpful.  Don’t ask customers a question that they can’t understand or don’t want to answer truthfully.  If you want investors, don’t ask a question that won’t help them decide whether to invest in your business.

Then go to the library (eg, the IUPUI university library) and ask a business librarian to help you find information that helps to answer your question.  Meaningful numbers can be especially persuasive to potential investors and licensees.  Look at records (such as databases) that show industry trends and the traits of various customer groups (eg, age, buying habits, gender, how far people are willing to travel to buy something, income, location).  Search Google Scholar for original studies that relate to your question (be sure to read the original study, not someone’s summary of it).

Once you know the state of the market, start your own research.  Learn the best way (eg, mail survey or mall survey) to reach the right customers and ask them to answer your question.  Don’t ask a secretary if the boss makes all of the buying decisions.  Many things can bias customer answers, if customers answer at all: attempts to be kind to you, order of survey questions, self-image, time of day, wording of a question, etc.  You can’t eliminate all bias, but try to eliminate forms that most strongly interfere with answering your question.  For example, if you want to know how people like to get news, don’t post your question on a newspaper’s internet site; most respondents will prefer news on the internet.  The last question of every survey should be: “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”.

You can start small with one or more pilot studies that test your methods and tools before you do your main study.  You might post a survey or ask for customer comments on a free Google website or on SurveyMonkey.  Amazon Mechanical Turk provides a way to quickly survey a good cross section of potential customers for about $75.  Qualtrics, Emtrics, or Survey Sampling International provide a similar service.

If you decide to hire a professional trend spotter or a company that does research for you, insist that they give you what you need.  Consider writing a survey yourself.  Get the raw data and original transcripts of interviews so you can analyze them yourself.

What might customer research look like for someone who is thinking about selling cupcakes in a particular geographic area?  The research question might be: Can this area support my business?  Existing research on the state of the market, found in databases (such as Simmons OneView) at the IUPUI library, shows how many cupcake sellers are in the area, who they are, and how much money customers spend on cupcakes there.  New research using Qualtrics or Amazon Mechanical Turk might show that most customers would prefer a new business that is kid-friendly over existing businesses in the area.  Trips to shops in the area would provide an estimate of what pricing should be.  All of this information could be used to develop a realistic value proposition and model of a successful business, which could be tested in a focus group and presented in a business plan to potential investors.

Thank you, Ms. Colby, for sharing your invaluable insights with us!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December 2017

SCORE Indianapolis mentors Bill Petrovic (retired vice president and treasurer, Roche Diagnostics) and Steve Click (retired national sales manager and DigiNet manager, WTHR) dazzled us with a description of all that SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives, a nonprofit organization supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration) provides.  Entrepreneurs and small businesses with all levels of business experience benefit from expert advice given through confidential individual mentoring, group workshops, and a well‑stocked, vetted library—for free or low cost.

The 45 mentors at SCORE Indianapolis (including a retired patent attorney) point a variety of people in the right direction.  Someone thinking about starting a business is shown how to focus on the appropriate sequence of essentials, how to develop a successful business model, how to find customers, how to raise startup money, and how to develop an exit strategy (based on a positive brand, loyal employees, and loyal customers).  A mature business receives help with problems related to human resources (eg, how many employees should there be), a supply chain (eg, should manufacturing be done in China), and intellectual property (eg, is a patent worth its cost).  A business owner can bounce ideas off an expert.  Search nationwide for SCORE mentors who have the particular expertise you need.

SCORE mentors often recommend using the lean startup method to build a business.  Step 1 is developing a value proposition, a description of all features and benefits of your product or service that will induce customers to buy it.  You must have something to sell that solves a problem and that customers are willing to buy at a profitable price.  To find out what that something is, you need to figure out who your potential customers are and talk with them to learn what they want.

To develop a value proposition, start with a learning tool called a minimally viable product.  See how potential customers (at least 100) react to one simple product/service that solves one simple part of a bigger problem.  If they aren’t interested in the problem, either find different potential customers who are interested in the problem or else invent something that solves a different problem that does interest them.  If they are interested in the problem, ask what they like and don’t like about your product/service.  Ask them to buy this product/service as is and see how much they will actually pay.  Then go back to the drawing board and adapt your invention to what they want.  Repeat this process until you have something that your potential customers really like.

Ask what the price of that product/service should be.  The market decides how much customers will pay (although there are ways to change the market).  The price could vary seasonally or from year to year.  Identify who will pay, who will influence others to buy, and what your selling channel (eg, in-person or internet) will be.

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

SCORE needs mentors who are familiar with inventing.  If you would like to become a mentor, please contact Mr. Click (

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

November 2017

On matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of substance, stand like a rock.
—Author unknown

Jared Adams (COO, Canvas) showed us how to profit from using the lean startup method to add substance to style. 

The founders of Canvas started with two things: a background in information technology and the observation that many young adults prefer to interact with others indirectly.  Knowing that this lifestyle increases the efficiency of some kinds of communication, the founders wondered if employers and young job applicants would rather text than talk.

To find out, they developed a text-based intelligent interviewing software program and raised $2 million in seed capital.  Because the founders needed help to know what to build and how people would use their product, they asked trusted senior human resources (HR) people across the country to find flaws in the original program. 

The HR people found several embarrassing flaws but, surprisingly, also asked to invest in Canvas.  This encouraged the founders to revise the original program to meet the customers where they actually were, not where the founders imagined the customers were.  The result was the first text-based interviewing platform.

The marketed product creates a win-win-win situation.

Job applicants avoid human contact in the early stages of the interview process.  (Canvas recommends that its product be used only to select candidates for subsequent in-person interviews.)  They can think about what they communicate before blurting out something, focus on the dialog itself (rather than worrying about speech impediments, attire, or shyness), and add documentary materials not typically submitted with a resume.

HR folks can interview 10 times the number of applicants because the inherent time delay in texting lets them interview several candidates simultaneously and avoids the need to schedule interviews for particular times.  The program’s subtle use of artificial intelligence suggests questions to the interviewer during an interview and reveals information available online about each candidate.  The indirect interaction provided by the software program helps prevent unconscious and unwanted bias by the interviewer.  An interviewer can also get some idea of an applicant’s interest in the job by observing whether the applicant clicks on links to recommended resources.

Feedback from companies and job applicants helps Canvas adapt its software program to the general hiring process and to processes specific to different industries.

Canvas’ story offers two lessons for those who want to market their inventions:

If your first try at inventing a marketable product is not embarrassing, you are doing something wrong.  You need to take your product to where your customers are.  Only interaction between your invention and your intended customers can tell you what to market.  Find out what’s wrong with your original invention (and revisions) and fix it before you go live.

A product’s public image is important.  The image (created by widely viewed media such as Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and CNBC) of the Canvas software program successfully marketed the program.  Rather than portray the invention as one of a million new software products, the media painted a picture of a pioneering product that joins the business world to the preferred lifestyle of many young adults.

Thank you, Mr. Adams, for sharing your company’s interesting story with us!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 2017

For creative individuals who hope to profit from their ideas, invention is only a small part of the story.  Consumers buy products (material realities), not inventions (ideas).  John Ritchison (intellectual property attorney from Anderson, IN) offered us advice on how to best market our products: be patient, stay focused, and don’t get frustrated.  Bottom line—be bold.  Go big or go home.

An inventor typically has 3 marketing options: make and sell a product or method, sell the invention to others who will use it to make and sell a product or method, or license (rent) the invention to others who will use it to make and sell a product or method.  For all 3 options, learn all you can about your product’s market, study your business opportunities, and draft a basic business plan that can take you from point A to point B.

Here are some useful steps for learning how to take your product to market.

Find out how others have marketed a product similar to yours.  For example:

Identify companies that can market your product.
Look in stores and online for products similar to yours.  Look at the packaging to see who the manufacturers and distributors are.  Then go to the library and use SIC (standard industrial classification), NAICS (North American industrial classification system), or ICC (International Code Council) classification numbers to find similar manufacturers and distributors.  These companies can either buy or license your invention or help you take your product to market.

Learn whether it would be profitable to market your product.
Find out how much it would cost to mass-produce your product, then look in stores and online to find the prices of products similar to yours.  Form a few focus groups of 2-3 people who would use your product and get their detailed opinions of your product and its cost.  Join online marketing forums (eg, The Marketing Forum USA) to learn what other people think about your product. 

Join groups online or in-person (like the Indiana Inventors Association) and ask people to share their experiences, information, and resources with you. University-related engineering blogs often offer the opportunity to ask technical questions.

Learn about the tools that can help you market your product.
Price ladders, costs of intellectual property, size and nature of your product’s market.  If you plan to protect your invention with intellectual property (patent, trademark, or copyright), consider doing so early in the marketing process so that you get the full benefit of protection.  Find out what, if any, government regulations your product must satisfy.  Forming an LLC company to hold your intellectual property can be helpful.

Develop the best prototype of your product that you can afford.
Depending on your product, the prototype can range from a drawing to a professionally made product.  Send a well-crafted outreach letter (requesting a reply) to companies to arrange meetings in which you can pitch your product.

Remember—you are the best person to market your product.
Be highly skeptical of anyone who claims to have unique access and ability to successfully market your product.  A few companies, Edison Nation or Invention City for example, might be helpful.

If you want to avoid the high costs (and high profits) of marketing your product, consider selling or licensing your invention.

Approach companies that:

Own less than 15% of your product’s market;

Don’t have a strong in-house product development program;

Have previously bought or licensed inventions;

Have internally influential marketing and sales departments.  Don’t try to persuade a company’s product and development department (ie, your competitor) to invest in your invention; and

Have the money to introduce your product into the market.

You need help from 2 kinds of people.

External Advocates
End users of your product, important retailers, and decision-makers in product distribution provide evidence to companies that buying or licensing your invention will be profitable.

Internal Advocates
A company’s executives, sales managers (regional or national), or marketer can help persuade the company’s decision makers to buy or license your invention.

Prepare a 10-15 minute show-and-tell presentation to sell your invention to a company.  Provide evidence that your invention will be successful and that it aligns with the company’s present goals and strategies.

Ask one of your internal advocates to say why s/he likes your invention.

Demonstrate your invention.  Maybe side-by-side with competing products.  Show a chart listing competing products, their prices, and their strong and weak points.

Describe your experience with making or marketing your product.

Give a short history of your idea: how you got it; why you designed a product as you did; why you think your product will sell well; a categorized list of people who like your product.

Summarize results of any previous attempts to sell your product.

Explain why you chose this company for your invention—how your product will increase sales of existing company products; how the company can afford to promote sales of your product.

Thank you for sharing your expertise with us, Mr. Ritchison!

Patent Drawings by Richard McVicker

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

Rick Hanson
6,240,579 Unitary pedal control of brake and fifth wheel deployment via side and end articulation with additional unitary pedal control of height of patient support
6,253,397 Deployable siderails for a wheeled carriage
6,256,812 Wheeled carriage having auxiliary wheel spaced from center of gravity of wheeled base and cam apparatus controlling deployment of auxiliary wheel and deployable side rails for the wheeled carriage
6,264,006 Brake for castered wheels
6,507,964 Surgical table
D474,446 Sterilizable battery component

Bob Humbert
4,281,368 Keyhole illuminating apparatus

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

Al Robbins

3,882,960 Ride quality control for surface effects craft
3,946,689 Air dynamo pressure regulation and modulation device for surface effect ships and air cushion vehicles
6,588,702 Lighter-than-air device having a flexible usable surface

Matt Thie
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

Richard Tucker
5,833,751 Powder coating booth having smooth internal surfaces
6,840,367 Material handling and manufacturing system and method
6,976,835 Manufacturing system and process
7,018,579 Manufacturing system and process

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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