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, 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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

June 2015

Though she be but little, she is fierce.
  Shakespeare, A Midsommer Nights Dreame

Who would have thought that a small nonprofit organization in Carmel, IN could unlock the secret to preventing chronic malnutrition worldwide?  Glenn H. Sullivan, PhD (chairman/CEO Quintessence Nutraceuticals, Inc.; co‑founder, Sustainable Nutrition International; senior partner, Intermark Partners Strategic Management, LLC; professor emeritus, Food Science Institute, Purdue University; recipient, USPTO Patents for Humanity Award) told us how he and his co-inventors (U.S. patent US8,945,642) became alchemists by learning how to turn trash into treasure.

An estimated 925 million individuals were malnourished in 2010.  One third of the children in developing countries (and many in Indiana) suffer from chronic malnutrition, a condition that kills them or prevents them from becoming independent adults.  Malnutrition could be prevented with rice, a cereal grain rich in nutrition (nutraceuticals) grown by almost all developing countries.  But rice locks 68% of its nutrition in bran (skin of a grain of rice), which can be digested by cows but not by people.  So, until now, rice bran has been discarded or fed to livestock.

Mr. Sullivan and colleagues to the rescue.  Their manufacturing process extracts the nutrition from bran and makes it available to children for 10 to 12 cents per serving as a semi‑sweet powder (with a shelf life of 3 years) that dissolves in liquids like water or milk.  Developing countries can produce the powder using only off-the-shelf equipment.  Testing the powder in Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) resulted in a decrease of malnutrition, from 38% of children with malnutrition at the start of the trial to only 5% of children with malnutrition at the end of the trial 10 months later.  Yesterday’s annual 40 million tons of agricultural waste can today save millions of children from death or debilitating illness.

Ever alert to new opportunities, Mr. Sullivan is now using the powder to remediate type 2 diabetes (e.g., by decreasing retinopathy) and to provide old folks with the additional nutrition they need.  Two heaping teaspoons of the powder per day provides most of the nutrition an adult needs (rumor has it that the powder mixes well with bourbon).

Thank you for inspiring us, Mr. Sullivan!

Monday, April 13, 2015

April 2015

[Thanks to Dave Zedonis for this article]

All inventors need prototypes of their inventions.  Members of Club Cyberia—Mark Owens (marketing director;; 317-721-2582), his son Austin (events director), and David Norris (equipment director)—let us know about their maker space: a facility equipped for making prototypes inexpensively.  There, do-it-yourself people meet each other and use available tools and work stations to build, collaborate, invent, and learn.  The club is open to members 24 hours every day and offers a tour of the facility to the public on the first Saturday of each month or by appointment.

The facility (7,300 square feet for work and meetings) offers an independent inventor the opportunity to develop and build a detailed prototype of an invention.  Available equipment includes hand tools; drill presses, milling machines, lathes and (soon) a press brake; a full set of wood working equipment; 3-D printers; an 80 W CO2 laser cutting system; and computers and software (e.g., computer-aided design [CAD] and stereo lithography [STL]) for creating files that direct the activity of these printers and laser.  The club offers classes on how to safely use the available equipment.  In addition, members teach each other how to do the same.

Membership is monthly (no long term commitments): $35 (basic), $60 (regular; includes storage space), or $100 (elite; includes private work and storage space).  Modest fees apply to use of the laser and advanced Objet 3-D printer.  Friends of members are welcome upon signing a safety waiver.

Thank you Mark, Austin, and David for helping to bring this excellent opportunity to inventors!

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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