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).

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!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

March 2019

Charles Meyer (partner, Woodard, Emhardt, Henry, Reeves & Wagner LLP) gave us a very interesting and witty review of intellectual property.  For more information than this brief summary provides, talk with someone who was there.

Take-home message: Intellectual property protects your identity and your market share.

The most popular forms of intellectual property are copyrights, patents, and trademarks.  A trademark brands your products with your identity.  A patent prevents others from benefiting from your invention (a product or process, an ornamental design for a manufactured product, or a plant).  A copyright prevents others from copying your particular tangible expression of an idea (not the idea itself).

A trademark (for goods), service mark (for services), or trade dress (trademark for the image and overall appearance of goods) identifies you as the origin of a good or service.  It lets consumers know what quality or consistency to expect when they buy from you.  A mark can be anything that is sensate and nonfunctional: a sight (word, design, packaging shape [eg, Coca Cola bottle]), sound (eg, NBC chimes), smell (eg, Play-Doh), touch (eg, Khvanchkara wine packaging), and taste (no examples yet).

Rights to a mark are acquired by use.  Registration of a mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) records the rights and offers additional benefits: protection throughout the country (instead of just the area of immediate use), own the mark before actually using it, presumption in court proceedings that you own the mark, protection by U.S. Customs, and—best of all—a “no trespassing” sign that discourages lawsuits over who owns a mark.  Search the USPTO database for existing marks before choosing a mark.  The cost of a professional seach, depending on completeness, ranges from $100 to $1500.

The protective strength of marks varies.  The goal is to avoid confusing the public about which mark goes with which good or service.  Weaker marks are more likely to be challenged in court.  The strongest kind of mark, arbitrary or fanciful, has no relation to the good or service (eg, APPLE computer).  A little weaker is a suggestive mark, which requires some thinking to link the mark to the good or service (eg, GREYHOUND bus service).  Weaker still is a descriptive mark, which uses some trait of the good or service (eg, UPS brown color).  Weakest of all is a generic mark, which uses a common description of the good or service (eg, CAR).  One test of the strength of a trademark is to put a trademarked item in a bag, tell someone what the trademark is, and ask if the person can tell you what is in the bag.

To avoid loss of a mark, use it as an adjective, never as a verb (eg, don’t say you xeroxed something on a XEROX machine).  In writing about your mark, designate an unregistered mark with TM and a registered mark in all capital letters or with an R enclosed by a circle.

Copyrights protect authored works such as poetry, computer software, architecture, a novel, painting, movie, or song.  In the United States, copyrights automatically apply to an authored work the moment it is expressed in a tangible medium.  The owner has 6 exclusive rights: to reproduce the work, to derive works from the original, to distribute copies of the work or to transfer ownership of the work, to publicly perform the work, to publicly display the work, and to publicly perform a protected sound recording by digital audio transmission.

A copyright owner can sue for infringement to recover statutory damages and attorney fees only if the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright office.  Additional benefits of registration include a “no trespassing” sign and a presumption of ownership in court proceedings.

Copyright law is written for the plaintiff, not the defendant.  To protect yourself from infringing another’s copyrights, attribute works of others that you use.  If using a picture you find on the internet, read the fine print on whether and how you may use it.  Disclose any payment you receive for publicly endorsing a work.

A patent is all about building a better mouse trap.  It is granted by the USPTO for the U.S., by other regulatory agencies for other parts of the world.  It exludes others from benefiting from your invention for a set time, typically 17 years for a utility or plant patent and 15 years for a design patent.

There are 3 kinds of U.S. patents.
A utility patent protects useful, new, and nonobvious machines, manufactured items, processes, combinations of materials, or improvements of those.  Computer software can be patented under some conditions.

A design patent protects the nonfunctional ornamentation of a manufactured thing.  It is like a trade dress except that protection lasts only for a set time and there is a less stringent requirement that the ornamentation be nonfunctional.

A plant patent protects a new kind of plant that is designed or discovered.

A patent:
Is useful for:
Offense; the better the patent, the less competition your invention will have in the market; and

Defense; another patent owner may need to cross-license your patent before benefiting from his.

Says nothing about whether a patented product is a good idea, logically or functionally.

Varies in cost:
Simply filing an application for a design patent may cost $2500; for a utility patent may cost $12000.  The cost of prosecuting a utility patent can double that amount.

There are 2 kinds of utility patent applications.
A nonprovisional application and the prosecution it entails are needed to get a patent. They are expensive and time-consuming and the application must be filed within 1 year of publicly disclosing the invention (but see below).  If you also want a patent from another country, file this application before publicly disclosing the invention.

A provisional application lets you try before you buy.
It is like a dinner reservation: call now and show up within 1 year with a nonprovisional application that refers to the provisional application.

A provisional application gives you an extra year to file a nonprovisional application after publicly disclosing the invention.  The USPTO grants a patent to the first inventor to file a patent application for a particular invention, so filing provisional applications early and often can be helpful.  You can file a series of provisional applications as you incrementally develop your invention.  You can market your invention, look for investors, or try to sell embodiments of your invention after filing a provisional application.  If you like what you see, then roll your provisional applications into one nonprovisional application and file it within 1 year of filling the first provisional application.

A provisional application lasts 1 year and can be renewed but can not lead to a patent unless combined with a nonprovisional application.  It can be less expensive, less time-consuming, and less formal than a nonprovisional application.  But don’t be fooled—the patent office credits you only for what you disclose.  Words are important.  For example, stating that objects are joined by a fastener (which can be a nail, screw, or rivet) can provide more protection than stating that objects are joined by a nail.

After filing a provisional application, you may mark the unpatented products you sell as “patent pending”.  This “no trespassing” sign warns competitors that they risk having a warehouse full of worthless knockoffs if your patent issues.

If your patent issues, mark your products with either the patent number or with an internet url address that shows the patent number.  This lets you sue for financial damage due to any infringement that occurs before you notify an infringer to stop infringing your patent.  Remove those marks after your patent expires.

Nondisclosure agreements can help you seek business partners while protecting your unpatented invention.  In general, the customer is always right.  Someone who wants to buy or rent your patent is your customer and has no incentive to sign a nondisclosure agreement.  You are the customer of a manufacturer or vendor you may hire, so they do have an incentive to sign a nondisclosure agreement.  If you want, but can’t get, a nondisclosure agreement, you can still protect your invention by telling only enough about your invention to make it interesting and by clearly marking all documents you share as confidential.  But your best protection will always be to file a patent application before seeking partners.

Thank you for sharing your valuable time and expertise with us, Mr. Meyer!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

February 2019

Dave Zedonis (president, Indiana Inventors Association; principal, Z*Tech; patentee) treated us to a discussion on how to successfully invent and innovate.

Inventing is in our genes.  It gave our ancestors the edge they needed to prosper in hostile environments and gives us hope today for a better tomorrow.  Almost everyone invents to some extent and for a variety of reasons.

If you invent to make money, solve an important, widespread, and widely known problem.  Working or playing in any technical field will acquaint you with such problems.  Chatting with or surveying experts and workers in technical fields (eg, at trade shows) can do the same.  Solving such problems avoids a barrier to entering the market—the need to educate potential customers on the benefits of your invention.

Stick with a problem that interests you.  Solving an important problem can easily take 3 or 4 years.  Developing a working prototype of your invention can help you learn more about the problem and your solution, can help you teach potential investors and clients about your invention, and can help you avoid those Wile E. Coyote moments that all inventors dread.

If you want to change the world, don’t think that discovery ends with your invention.  Now you need to discover how to fit your invention into the marketplace.  Because you and your invention are unique, finding a good place in the market for your invention is up to you.  Either learn what to do or pay others for what they know.  Stephen Key, through his company, InventRight, offers free education and paid coaching on what to do.  Steve Blank offers free education on how to start a small business.  Our blog lists additional resources.  In general, don’t rely on invention companies; most give you no return on your investment.

Make your invention interesting to make others (investors, partners, customers) part of your story.  Some innovators patent their inventions or prevent others from doing so, other innovators forego patents and only build public awareness of their inventions.  Some innovators sell their inventions or license their inventions in exchange for a royalty of 5% of wholesale, others start their own businesses to sell embodiments of their inventions.  Some must cross‑license their inventions to gain the right to make, use, and sell them.  As with most business, negotiation is a must.

To learn more, please join us at our monthly meetings and tap into Mr. Zedonis’ extensive knowledge and experience.

Thank you, Mr. Zedonis, for sharing your expertise and enthusiasm with us!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

December 2018

Kenton Brett (granted 15 U.S. patents, see bottom of this page) displayed one of his inventions for K-5 math education and shared insights he gained from his years of innovation.

Innovation takes a lot of time and money, always more than you expect.

You can make things happen by sticking with an inventive project.

If you think of a good idea, someone else will think of it too.  So get to the patent office and to the market first.

Get unbiased validation of your idea before you spend a lot of time and money on it.

You can sell just an idea, but rarely.

You can get compensated for infringement of your patent by a big company.  License or sell your invention to a mid-sized company that will actively seek compensation from the big company.

Get a recommendation from your potential customers.

Focus on your core idea to get a cash flow that can fund the rest of your ideas.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Mr. Brett!

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

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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