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).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

November 2011

(Thanks to Dave Zedonis and Robert Humbert for summarizing this event.)

An inventor tends to know a lot about technology, but not about business.  So if s/he wants to turn an invention into a profitable business, s/he must often either hire someone with business expertise or learn about business.  Steven Bryant (executive director of the Ivy Tech Community College Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, Bloomington, IN) told us about his college’s new program for teaching people how to start and run a business.

Several classes for students, taught by entrepreneurs, are structured by one 2-year degree (Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Administration emphasizing entrepreneurship) and two certificates (Technical and Career Development).  Free consultation and asset mapping help existing businesses grow.  Networking events, workshops, and educational events for children help people in the Bloomington area community start and grow businesses.

Thank you, Mr. Bryant, for promoting entrepreneurship and for telling us about this valuable program.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 2011

(Thanks to Dave Zedonis and Robert Humbert for describing this presentation.)

John Stephens, an inventor from Bloomington, IN, told us about innovating the gapsocket.

Mr. Stephens hurt his hand while trying to install a ceiling fixture because the tool wouldn't quite fit an eye-bolt. He solved the problem by inventing and prototyping a socket (for a wrench) suitable for installing eye-bolts of various sizes.

Patenting his invention was lengthy and costly.  He tried several patent attorneys before finding the right one.  Prosecuting his patent application successfully required modifying the claimed invention.

Mr. Stephens found that an innovator must be creative, in marketing as well as in inventing.  Identifying potential customers and investors who could benefit from his socket, and teaching them to appreciate the benefit, has been difficult.  Other innovators who solve a well-recognized problem can market their inventions with much less effort.

Thank you, Mr. Stephens, for giving us insight into the real world of inventing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

June 2011

The medium is the message.  – Herbert Marshall McLuhan

People new to innovation ask Mr. Ronald Jackson (founder of Jackson Systems) for advice.  So he wrote a short book for them, Should I Patent My Great Idea?, based on his experience in developing 10 patented inventions and in bringing 40 products to market.  Mr. Jackson, with his characteristic enthusiasm for innovation, introduced us to his new book.  We learned that his advice resides as much in how he developed and marketed his book as in the content of the book itself.

Mr. Jackson’s approach to innovation is practical and hands‑on, whether the invention is a HVAC zone control system or a book.  His book presents an overview of innovation and its risks, provides advice and options (including sample documents) for minimizing those risks, and leaves the reader to decide whether s/he has enough time, money, and enthusiasm to innovate.

“Work on ideas with which you are somewhat familiar.”  “Do as much of the work as you can yourself.”
Publishing was new to Mr. Jackson.  So, he decided to learn about the industry by starting his own publishing company (Indy Short Books) to publish his book.

“You have only a few seconds to get the attention of the person looking at the brochure.”
The book’s front and back covers portray the reader (i.e., inventor) as a thinking duck, which is itself a great invention.  A duck knows no limits, able to go anywhere because of its ability to walk, fly, and swim. 

“Present yourself as a professional.”
Trademarking the duck; adding a barcode, ISBN (International Standard Book Number), and professional endorsement to the book cover; and setting up a PayPal account to receive payments give the book a professional appearance.

“Cultivate a network of people who can help you.”
In preparing his book, Mr. Jackson consulted with attorneys, business people, editors, marketers, and publishers.

“The invention process is about 20% invention and 80% marketing.”
Mr. Jackson is starting to promote his book by giving away hundreds of copies.  He then plans to advertize his book in trade journals and to use PR Web to distribute press releases about his book in company newsletters.  He expects to use his book as a marketing tool to attract attention to his company Jackson Systems and increase its sales of HVAC zone controls.

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

April 2011

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.

     -  On Poetry: a Rhapsody     Jonathan Swift

Innovation in a free market is risky.  For example, a utility patent can help to minimize the risk of competition, but is itself a risk.  Investment (from $10,000 to $30,000) in a patent application is wasted if the patent office denies grant of a patent.  And a patent doesn’t even guarantee that we can use, sell, or profit from embodiments of our own inventions, though we can often do so without a patent.  Patent attorney Ronald Aust helped us understand the risk of a utility patent and how to minimize it.

In some ways, a patent is like a land deed.  A deed specifies where someone’s land is; claims of a patent specify where (in the world of useful ideas) someone’s invention is.  Owners of either land or invention can tell others to keep off their property, can sell or rent their property, and can use their property to develop business relationships.  Both land and invention can be inaccessible to the owner if they are enclosed by another’s property.  For example, if you improved someone else's recently patented chair by adding rockers to it, you might need to reach a cross-licensing agreement with that person before you could sell your patented rocking chair.

Unlike a land deed that can convey a high probability of permanent ownership, a patent conveys a moderate probability of time-limited (usually about 17 years) ownership.  A patent is just the patent office’s tentative (though influential) opinion that a patent holder owns intellectual property.  Anyone may, for good reason, challenge that opinion in a federal court.  If the court decides that the patent is invalid or unenforceable, the defending patent owner loses the patent and at least $300,000 in legal expenses.

Not every innovator needs a patent.  If the law would let you sell embodiments of your patented invention, it would often let you sell those same embodiments without having a patent.  A patent is only one means of protecting your share of the market.  Other protective means include persuasive marketing and public relations, an enthusiastic sales force, a strong business network, or high startup costs.  Especially for a fad invention whose popularity will quickly fade, or for an invention that won’t yield enough profit to attract competitors, it might make more sense to skip the patent and go straight to market.

The first step toward obtaining a patent is to show that the invention works (utility patents are granted only for useful inventions).  That can be done explicitly (in an actual reduction to practice) by testing a physical form of the invention, or implicitly (in a constructive reduction to practice) by filing a patent application.

The second step is to enter the lengthy (think at least 2 years) patent application process, usually through one of two doors.  The earlier and tentative entry – a provisional patent application – leads only to protection (for 1 year) of a place in line at the patent office.  This gives an applicant time to save money for the patent process, to study the market, or to decide whether the benefits of a patent will outweigh the costs.  The later and assertive entry – a nonprovisional patent application – may be opened directly or via the tentative entry, and can lead to a patent.  Opening this door by filing a nonprovisional patent application starts a dialog between the applicant and the patent office examiner.  They discuss whether the invention merits a patent, and if so, what the final form of the patented invention will be.  If all goes well, and after the applicant pays several fees, the examiner will allow issue of a commercially valuable patent to the designated owner of the invention.  If the examiner decides instead to deny issue of a patent, appealing the decision or requesting continued examination of the application can still result in a patent.  Keeping the patent for several years requires payment of more fees.

Literature searches performed before filing a patent application decrease the risk of wasting money.  If a patentability search finds that someone else invented your invention first, there is usually no reason to file a patent application.  If a freedom-to-operate search finds that using your own invention will require negotiation of a cross-licensing agreement, you will be able to make a more informed decision about whether to file an application.

While your provisional or nonprovisional patent application pends, you might study the marketability of your invention.  If few people would buy the invention at your selling price, you might decide to cut your losses and abandon the application.

Pending legislation (America Invents Act, H.R. 1249, S. 23) proposes to grant a patent to the first inventor to file a patent application, rather than to the first to invent.  If that Act becomes law, filing a series of provisional applications on inventive increments, as your invention develops, will decrease the risk of losing the race to another inventor.

Thank you, Mr. Aust, for helping us decide whether to patent our inventions.

Monday, April 4, 2011

March 2011

"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these is roots, the other, wings."    Henry Ward Beecher

Jim Bartek (317-614-0792), Business Development Manager of the Purdue Technology Center of Indianapolis (PTCI), offered us advice on whether and how to turn an idea into a business.

Understanding where your idea fits into the market can help you decide whether starting a business is worth the effort, whether the juice is worth the squeeze.
  • Benefits     Who needs help, why do they need it, and how can your business provide them with it? 
  • Market share     What and who do you need to get your product or service to market?  What will keep competitors from kicking you out - a patent or trademark, a high start-up cost barring entry of competitors to the market, or a strong business network?
  • Business model     Who specifically has the money you want and how will you get it - many low-profit sales, or a few high profit sales; a product or service that is new and unique, or that is old and established but manufactured less expensively; addict consumers to free items, then sell them add‑on features? 
  • SWOT analysis     What strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats could affect your business?
A new business, like every baby, needs care, protection, and help with learning how to function in society.  An incubator helps a new business quickly grow up happy and healthy by giving it a firm foundation and social skills needed to turn an invention into innovation, to move an idea into the market.  In exchange for fees or partial ownership, an incubator typically provides a new business with inexpensive advice, commercial space, connections to the community, information and training, services, or tools.  Those benefits save a business owner time and money that can be better spent on developing the business, a product, or a service. 

Incubators are almost as varied as the small businesses they nurture.  Available physically or only virtually.  Restricted to a particular technology or open to all technologies, arts, and crafts.  Not-for-profit (focused on economic development of a community) or for-profit.  Unsponsored or sponsored by an economic development corporation, government, investment group, or university.  Many offer, or help find, financial assistance.  Tips on how to select an incubator are available from Gaebler Ventures, the National Business Incubator Association, and the New York Times ("How to Choose an Incubator" 1/26/2011).  The left column of this blog displays links to some incubators located in Indiana.

PTCI, for example, provides an incubator that is sponsored directly by the Purdue Research Foundation (a private, nonprofit entity) and indirectly by Purdue University.  Its main goal is to promote economic growth of Indiana’s complex-technology industry.  It helps new businesses that focus on complex technologies (often on business‑to‑business software) and want a strong relationship with Purdue University.  In exchange for reasonable fees, PTCI provides its residential or affiliate clients with:
  • space 
    • break rooms, conference rooms with 2-way video-conferencing, laboratories, office and storage space, and a location near the Indianapolis airport and the IUPUI campus; 
  • services 
    • communications and marketing – advice and help with ads, interviews, and public relations; 
    • financial assistance – advice on where to find it and help with getting it; 
    • human resources – recruitment and training of employees and visiting Purdue University students, and help with setting up consultations and research partnerships with Purdue’s faculty and staff;
    • information systems – advice on, and technical help with, electronic equipment; and a data center built to support technology‑based and compliancy‑regulated businesses; 
    • networking opportunities; 
    • Purdue Portals – advice, information, and training on how to commercialize a product or service; 
    • shared office services – basic utilities, building security, cleaning services, and receptionist and secretarial support; 
    • Technical Assistance Program – provides each business with 40 free hours of engineering assistance per year; 
  • tools
    • access to expensive equipment at Purdue University, computers, copiers, fax machines, high-speed internet connections, postage meters, and printers.
Thank you, Mr. Bartek, for sharing your business insights and knowledge with us!

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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