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 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!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

February 2015

And they asked me how I did it; and I gave 'em the Scripture text,
"You keep your light so shining a little in front o' the next!"
They copied all they could follow, but they couldn't copy my mind,
And I left 'em sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.

     Rudyard Kipling, The "Mary Gloster"

Richard McVicker, member of the Indiana Inventors Association for 40 years, patent illustrator at Barnes & Thornburg LLP for 49 years, and patent-holding inventor for 54 years, graciously shared his hard-won insights into innovation with us.

  • Spend money to get a good prototype of your invention, but try to save on everything else.  A good, tested prototype helps you understand your invention and helps you explain it to others (patent attorney, investor, manufacturer, customer, etc.).  For example, Mr. McVicker invented and patented a 10 foot tall yard light, advertised it at the Indiana Home and Garden Show, then installed it in a yard.  Only after the installed light had been exposed to a hot Indiana summer did it become clear that the sun would bend and disfigure the post (made of polyvinyl chloride, PVC).
Don’t get in over your head and spend a lot of money on lawyers and manufacturing during the early days of your invention.  You may think your invention is a great idea, but who else does?  In these days of rapid reverse‑engineering, a patent can be very useful, but does not guarantee a best-seller.  Test your invention under real world conditions and ask members of your target consumer group for their honest opinions.  Which brings us to the next point.

  • You can’t afford to educate the public.  Mr. McVicker developed 3 remarkable thumb picks that solve recognized longstanding problems in the music world.  But the picks don’t sell well in stores.  Benefits become apparent only during use because the picks resemble standard picks.  Yet the picks don’t attract attention because they are more expensive than their look-alikes.  Salesmen would rather spend their time trying to sell a high-profit instrument than to explain the benefits of a low-profit pick.
One exception to this rule is marketing and selling over the internet.  Mr. McVicker’s video and Web site educate the public in an affordable way, 24 hours a day, every day.  As a result, he is selling picks worldwide.

The hardest sale is to a retail consumer because educating the public is so time consuming and expensive.  Sales are much easier if you invent a part or attachment for an existing product that the current seller will sell to an existing market for you.  Or invent a solution to a recognized industrial problem; fewer people to educate, easier sales.

  • Let love motivate you.  If you love some part of the world, you will naturally want to help people there with the hardships they face.  If you love innovation, you will use that path to solve their problems.  Invent to make their lives easier or better and they will join you in your enthusiasm for your invention.  The result can be a little profit for you, jobs for many, and happier lives for even more.
Mr. McVicker fell in love with a woman who became his wife and helped him fall in love with bluegrass music and with playing a banjo.  That love led to his inventing thumb picks which make life more enjoyable for musicians (including those with deformed hands) and their audiences and which provide jobs for a few people.

Inventors tend to fall in love with their inventions.  But, if not totally indifferent, the world will see the flaws.  If only a desire for money motivates you to invent and innovate, you may find that you exagerate the value of your invention and spend all of your money, time, and personal relationships grasping at straws.

  • Don’t give up, but don’t go down a rabbit hole.
Successful innovating requires balance.  On the one hand, like Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”  Most innovators find that successfully marketing their inventions takes all they can give.  So don’t quit just because you must try hard.

On the other hand, weigh the risks and benefits of innovation.  If your invention has a fatal flaw, or if long hours of innovation will result in the loss of your loved ones, the sooner you adapt and improve your invention and your life, the better off you will be.

Mr. McVicker developed his interest in inventing as a child.  He nurtured it as an engineer at PR Mallory, where he thought of the now-famous name “Duracell” and invented the first 3-position snap switch, invented a method of painting names onto batteries, and invented a windshield sun shield having a negator spring.  During his career as a patent illustrator, he continued to invent independently (see below).  Now retired, he recently applied for a patent on the latest improvement to his thumb pick.  Isn’t that a labor of love?

Thank you for your good advice, Mr. McVicker!

Patents held by Mr. 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

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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