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).

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!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

June 2016

Never be satisfied with anything, everything can be done better than it is now being done.   — Eli Lilly, Jr.

Ron Jackson (president, Jackson Systems; longtime member of the Indiana Inventors Association; and holder of several patents) left his HVAC company and inventing long enough to share his unbridled enthusiasm for them with us.  “Controls Done Right”— his company’s trademark—conveys Mr. Jackson’s inventive spirit.  Here are some of Mr. Jackson’s suggestions for inventors and innovators.
If you can, invent for contractors or original equipment manufacturers.  You won’t spend time and money educating them on the value of your invention; they already know.  Keep your inventions simple so that users will like them.
Look at items or methods throughout your day and ask: What’s wrong with them?  How can I improve them?  Write down your answers so you don’t forget them.
Develop a portfolio of inventions in each technology you work with.  A group of products is easier to license or sell than is a single product.
To avoid reinventing the wheel, see if someone has already developed your idea.  Search for your idea on Google’s Images and in patent documents available through FreePatentsOnline.
Unless you want to start your own business, licensing may be the best way to profit from your invention.  Receiving 5% of the wholesale price is typical.
Before trying to license your invention, file a patent application (provisional or nonprovisional) and, if a manufacturer is already making your product, have the manufacturer sign a confidentiality agreement.  Doing so will make your licensing discussions more definite and relaxed. 
One way to start the discussion with potential licensees is at a trade show.  Dress up and make a list of exhibitors who might be interested in your invention.  When one of their booths is nearly idle, ask the representative if his company works with individual inventors.  If so, ask for the name of the person in charge of national sales and ask that person if you can send him information about your invention.
Potential licensees will want to be sure that they can profit from your invention before you do.  Be able to tell them how customers will use your product and, if possible, show how your product will increase the sale of the potential licensees’ existing products.
Especially if you decide to give one licensee exclusive rights to sell your invention, be sure that your licensing agreement contains a performance clause.  Companies often want an exclusive license so that they can keep your product out of the market.
Innovation is 20% inventing and 80% marketing.  Give your product a memorable name and develop an attractive brochure describing the benefits it provides.
Don’t ask friends and relatives to evaluate your invention.  They usually won’t tell you what they really think.
Buy a comprehensive set of online domain names that will drive potential customers to your Web site and that will keep those customers from sites selling knockoffs of your invention.
Filing a provisional application for a patent gives you the right to sell products marked “patent pending” during the year your application is active.  That notice might deter competitors from developing your invention.
Prepare for disappointment and expense when you file a nonprovisional application for a patent.  USPTO patent examiners often reject an application until prosecution persuades them that the application has merit.  Prosecution can easily cost more than writing the application.
Innovation is all about having fun.  If you aren’t having fun, you probably won’t succeed because the challenges are so great.  Enthusiasm helps build teams.  Protect your ideas, but share them too because you will learn a lot.
Thank you for energizing us with your enthusiasm and expertise, Mr. Jackson!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

February 2016

Joshua Springer (president, GrinOn Industries, Indianapolis) had a eureka moment at his father’s birthday party when he imagined a beer container that would fill from the bottom.  Four days later he had a prototype.  Eight years and two U.S. patents later (US8763655, US8777182), the worldwide market for his invention provides an estimated annual revenue of $10-20 million.

Televised interviews with CNN and Inside Indiana Business have showcased Mr. Springer’s pioneering and “paper clip simple” beer dispensing system.  In its most prevalent mode, a nozzle pushes up a detachable magnet from the bottom of a plastic cup, fills the cup with beer, and retracts as the magnet seals the bottom of the cup.  This highly efficient automated system wastes no beer (in contrast to most dispensing methods that waste 30%) and dispenses beer 300 times faster than is typical with traditional methods.  Because of his invention, the number of people in line for beer at an athletic event depends only on how fast the seller can ring up sales.  Happy vendors with happy customers.  Everyone grins.

Mr. Springer found that having to start on a shoestring budget was an advantage.  A lack of money forced him to think hard and to keep his invention simple.  The result is a reliable, efficient, low maintenance product.

For Mr. Springer, the best part of success is the journey that made him who he is today.  One lesson he learned is that starting a business is a rollercoaster and that open communication with one’s spouse during the ups and downs is important.  He looks forward to continuing his journey and to an ever brighter future.

Thank you for sharing your interesting journey with us, Mr. Springer!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 2016

If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
- Yogi Berra

Are you spinning your wheels?  Only dreaming instead of also doing?  Taking decades to do what can be done in months?  If so, you are not alone.  A lot of folks, including inventors, let life pass them by.  Life is too precious for that.

Setting goals can help you live a full and exciting life, which includes bringing your inventions to market.  Richard McVicker (member of the Indiana Inventors Association for more than 40 years, patent illustrator at Barnes & Thornburg LLP for 49 years, and patent-holding inventor for 55 years) told us how.  Try it; you’ll like it.

A goal is a specific, attainable, and major accomplishment that you crave with your whole being.  Want it so badly that you imagine it with all of your senses.  Figure out: what you want and when you want it; who will benefit from it; and what you will do and when you will do it to achieve your goal.  Think of goals as pacts with yourself.

Personal—strongly motivated by your inner self; very disappointing if not attained
Attainable—something you can really accomplish within from 5 to 10 years
Challenging—something big that requires a major effort from you and help from others
Tangible—create and keep reminders of how the result will look, feel, smell, taste, and sound; write the goal on paper and share it so others can help you and hold you accountable
Specific—plan the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how

Make attaining your goals enjoyable by harmonizing them with the rest of your life.

Identity—See yourself as a winner, as someone who persists until you accomplish what you set out to do.
Family—Involve, rather than neglect, your family.  Find and share aspects of your goal that interest members of your family.
Social—Build and lead strong teams that help you achieve your goal.
Spiritual— Set a goal that matters to you, that makes you feel worthwhile to some person, cause, ideal, or worldview.
Education—Use your goal to help you learn something new every day and to grow as a person.  Learn from your mistakes and learn to adapt your goals to changes in your life.
Finances—Be realistic and budget expenses in line with the rest of your life.  Can you design the results of your goals, or how you achieve them, to help people in need?
Health— Minimize stress by making your goal fun to achieve.  Breaking a goal into subgoals that you work on for as little as 15 minutes each day will lead to big results.  Can you exercise while thinking of solutions to problems or make a balanced diet part of your goal?

Setting and working toward a goal makes you strong.  Concentrating your efforts on something that matters a lot to you:

Gives you energy and a positive attitude;
Drives away fear of failure;
Empowers you to persist through the distractions and setbacks that life brings;
Helps you turn a wish into reality; and
Makes your decisions easier.

Believe it—goals can improve your life!

Thank you for sharing your insights with us, Mr. McVicker!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

November 2015

80% of success is showing up.
  Woody Allen

Erik Magner, PhD (president, Meister Cook) and Betsy Magner (marketing manager, Meister Cook) issued a charismatic call to inventorsDon’t be afraid.  Find your passion and use it to start your own business.  Using their own success story to inspire us, Mr. Magner shared a 6-part strategy that helped them create in less than 10 years a 2-person company ranked by Inc. 5000 as the 41st fastest‑growing company (2nd fastest‑growing manufacturer) in the United States.

Identify an important technical problem that you care about.
William Osler (a founder of modern medicine) advised physicians, “Listen to your patient; he is telling you the diagnosis.”  Likewise in industry, listen to the experts; they will tell you what problems are commercially important.  Mr. Magner’s first challenge in the food industry was a client’s request for a more heat-efficient hamburger broiler.  The broiler he invented was so profitable that a second client asked him for a toaster that could toast bread in 10 seconds.  The profit from the sale of thousands of those toasters led others in industry to seek Mr. Magner’s help.  One asked for a food warmer that would preserve the freshly cooked appearance and texture of fried food for 2 hours.  Another asked for a new beverage concept.  The results: inventions that profit both Meister Cook and its business partners.

Be alert.  While on a late night trip home, Mr. Magner stopped at a restaurant and received cold soup that should have been hot.  He learned from the restaurant manager that cold soup was a common problem in restaurants because of inadequate cooking equipment.  The result: a new device for automatically keeping soup hot.

Never give up on finding a technical solution.
While earning a masters degree in mechanical engineering, Mr. Magner became convinced that any technical problem can be solved.  The toaster?  After quickly creating a proof-of-concept prototype showing that the toaster was theoretically possible, Mr. Magner spent 3 years developing the marketable and profitable product.  Invention is usually the result of hard work over time, not a sudden flash of insight.

Share your ideas to get feedback.
Like all innovators, Mr. Magner needs to learn from others.  The feedback he asks for helps him optimize his inventions and form useful business alliances.

A quick and simple way for him to get feedback on an invention is to search for patented inventions similar to one he is developing.  If someone else has independently thought of and patented his idea, finding that patent keeps him from wasting time and money on a patent application.  But even better, Mr. Magner uses the inventions of others as stepping stones that lead him to identify unsolved problems and to discover new and commercially important improvements on existing inventions.

Two methods help Mr. Magner find business allies yet keep control of his inventions.  In general discussions, he talks about the problem his invention solves without disclosing what his invention is or what it does.  When the discussions become specific, he trusts his potential allies but asks them to recognize the importance of his inventions by signing a mutual nondisclosure agreement.

Recognize your needs.
The 4-Hour Workweek (Timothy Ferriss, ISBN-10: 9780307465351) persuaded the Magners to create a virtual company located in their home so that they could focus their efforts on what is most important to their success.  Outsourcing operations such as accounting, legal work, and manufacturing gives Mr. Magner time to create alliances and to invent and gives Mrs. Magner time to market Meister Cook.

Little money was available to hire others to start Meister Cook, so Mr. Magner learned all of the skills he needed to start it himself.  During the first year of the company, he filed with the state of Indiana papers needed to form a limited liability company, wrote business contracts, created a Web site (using WYSIWYG Web Builder; hosted by 1&1), calculated and filed the company’s tax returns, prepared and filed a provisional patent application, recruited business partners, and continued to invent.

      Because he is so busy, Mr. Magner needs time.  He saves time by texting rather than emailing and by flying his own airplane to business meetings and trade shows rather than waiting in airports.

      Mr. Magner also needs to persuade potential business partners to say yes.  The real decision makers are often engineers or other non‑executive personnel within a company.  He finds out who these key individuals are by talking with people who would most directly implement the day-to-day operations of a collaboration.

Form alliances creatively.
Meister Cook has only two employees: Erik, who recruits business partners and invents; and Betsy, who markets Meister Cook.  Business partners do the heavy lifting of financial accounting, legal advising, manufacturing, distribution, and sales.  So finding reliable partners who excel is essential. 

Equally important is creatively combining these partners into alliances that provide Meister Cook with a steady positive cash flow. 

The U.S. patent office usually publishes a nonprovisional patent application 18 months after the filing date, even if the office has not yet decided whether to grant a patent.  By filing a nonpublication request, Mr. Magner prevents release of his ideas unless and until he gets a patent.  That gives him time to corner the market before competitors can introduce knock-offs of his inventions.

Up to 90% of some of Mr. Magner’s patented products are sold outside of the U.S.  So he gets patents covering those products from the European Union and particular countries, as well as from the U.S.

Mr. Magner engenders loyalty by going out of his way to make his business partners look good and by paying them well.

Find success in adversity.
Mr. Magner missed a deadline for patenting a design.  He was disappointed, but rather than curse the darkness, he lit a candle.  He thought of 2 better designs that he would not have otherwise imagined.

Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Magner, for sharing your business acumen with us!

Patents awarded to Mr. Magner:
8076614    Multi-stage cooking system using radiant, convection, and magnetic induction heating, and having a compressed air heat guide
8272320    Broiler, conveyor oven, and toaster system with pressurized air guide for heat and flames
8437627    Apparatus for extending the holding time for food
9027470    Food condition maintaining device

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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