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).

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!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October 2018

Michael Stokes (CEO, Waveform Communications; author, The Waveform Model of Vowel Perception and Production) summarized his progress since 2012 in developing a method of using waveforms and spectrograms to identify vowels in human speech.

Mr. Stokes’ model is currently the best for describing how people recognize spoken vowels.  A distinct set of vowels characterizes each language.  For example, English has ten vowels, Spanish five.  Each vowel of a language has a characteristic sound that underlies all dialects and individual pronunciations.  That characteristic sound can be visualized as spectrograms of three sound wave frequencies.  Although unpatentable as is (patent applications 14/223304 and 13/241780), a computer program (Elbow) based on the model accurately predicts spoken vowels from observations of the spectrograms.  A second program (Cobweb), especially useful to athletes, uses speech patterns to diagnose concussions in real time.

The model can be used to rapidly improve speech.  Mr. Stokes analyzes spectrograms of someone whose speech has been impaired by a stroke or by postoperative delirium or who is learning English as a second language.  Then he coaches the person on how to change the way s/he moves lips, tongue, and jaw to pronounce vowels correctly.

This model might also contribute to cross-species communication.  Humpback whales speak with vowels.  Learning how to pronounce their language(s) might help people learn how to warn them of the danger of approaching ships.

Thank you, Mr. Stokes, for sharing your interesting model with us!

Friday, September 7, 2018

September 2018

I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways.
—Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

A patent helps to secure a place in the market for an invention.  That is why many inventors take time, make an effort, and pay a significant amount of money to patent their inventions.

Inventors often do not realize that grant of a U.S. patent is always conditional.  Like everyone else, patent examiners make mistakes.  The patent office (Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)) or a federal court can decide at any time during the life of a patent that the patent should never have been granted.  The result is an invalidated patent that provides no benefit to the patent owner.

Truth is often hard to ascertain and reasonable individuals can disagree on what the truth is.  Does our current patent system provide enough certainty for individual inventors and investors to risk innovation?  The recent documentary film, Invalidated: The Shredding of the U.S. Patent System, says no.  The movie argues that the patent office acts with intentional bias against individual inventors and that the office rationalizes, rather than justifies, its final decisions.  The America Invents Act (2011) encourages patent infringement and has significantly weakened our patent system and Constitutional protection of private property.

One focus of this movie is Josh Malone.  He invented and obtained patents for a system and method for quickly filling water balloons (U.S. patents 9051066, 9242749, 9950817, 9527612, 9315282, 9682789, and 9533779).  A company, Telebrands, immediately marketed a product very similar to Mr. Malone’s.  A federal court told Telebrands to stop infringing Mr. Malone’s patents and awarded his partner company $12 M in damages.  PTAB said that the federal court was wrong because several of the claims in Mr. Malone’s first patent were indefinite and therefore invalid.  This year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) told PTAB that it was wrong because the claims were definite and asked PTAB to decide instead whether some of the claims were invalid because they may have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill in that technology.  (Remember, Mr. Malone and his partner companies are paying huge legal fees throughout all of this.)  Who knows what the final result will be.

Attempts are being made to rebalance our patent system, for example HR6557 and HR 6264.  Individual inventors would benefit from the proposed changes.

Many thanks to Dave Zedonis and Matt Thie for showing the movie to us!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

August 2018

Need help with designing or with building a prototype of your invention?  Or with preparing drawings for a patent application?

Wade Stallings (owner, D3DTechnologies; (463) 201-1777, in Indianapolis can help.  Using computer-aided design (SolidWorks and other CAD software) and 3-D printing with hard plastics (0.02 mm tolerances, each part as big as 8 inches high with a 7 inch x 7 inch base), Mr. Stallings (a recent graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) provides these services for $60/hour, usually with a maximum of 4 hours/project.  The total price of a project depends on the time/project and on the type and amount of plastic used in building a prototype.  Included in the price are a confidentiality agreement, all project files (CAD, pdf, etc.), and assignment of any and all patent rights to the client.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

June 2018

Need help with product development?  Troy Mason (president, CEO, Impulse Product Development) has some good advice.

It’s hard to develop a popular product.  Start by setting a realistic goal for your invention.

Before your spend a lot of time and effort bringing your product to market, do some high quality customer research to see if forecasted sales meet your needs.  Your product might become a best-seller, but there won’t be one in every household.

Product development doesn’t start with a prototype.  Maybe you will eventually need a physical prototype, maybe you won’t.  The essence of some products can be displayed in a drawing or virtual prototype.  If you need a prototype, especially to test your product’s function as its design evolves, realize that the first prototype is never the last.  Professional help with prototyping is available, for example at Realize, Inc.

Product development can be expensive.  Before you decide to develop a product, estimate the total cost of doing so to see if you can afford it.  Mr. Mason’s company charges $150 per hour for design.  A patent typically costs at least $10,000.

If you decide that you need a patent, file a nonprovisional patent application only after you have a good idea of what your marketed product will be.  The general design of the product should be final, but you don’t need to know all of the details (amendment or addition of a picture claim in a well-written application during patent prosecution can take care of that).  In the meantime, filing one or more provisional patent applications can help secure your place as the first inventor-to-file (a requirement for getting a patent).  Remember that if a product developer (such as Mr. Mason) invents a claimed feature of your invention, your patent application must list the developer as an inventor.  (Inventing means thinking of something new and nonobvious that is beyond the ordinary skill of someone working in the technology of your invention.)

Spend at least half of your time and effort on learning how business works.  How will your product fit into the market?  Which business partners will you need?  Will bringing your invention to market be profitable?  Inventing is only a small part of innovating.

Thank you for sharing your expertise with us, Mr. Mason!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March 2018

I am strong!  And now, I am smart.
The Hominids (Saturday Night Live, 1979)

The ability to adapt nature to our needs is a remarkable and inventive talent.  If you want to use that talent to earn a living, it helps to be able to adapt human nature to your needs.

Matt told us about how he and four other engineers founded a company on a shoestring budget in their spare time.  The co-founders got along so well with each other that the attorney preparing the founding legal documents empowered the company instead of the co-founders.  All were equal partners and all had inventive talent but the company had nothing to sell.  Matt soon invented a marketable product that benefitted small businesses and that became the focus of the company.  He applied for a patent and, being the team player that he was, unconditionally assigned the patent rights to the company.  Customers liked the product and prospects looked so good that the company decided to sell stock to get money to manufacture 200 of the product.  Investors instantly provided $250,000.  The government granted the patent.  And everyone lived happily ever after?  No.

The day after the patent issued and became the property of the company, most of the co‑founders voted to oust Matt from the company.  Soon after, only two co-founders remained.

Like Aesop says, try before you trust.  The attorney should have empowered all of the individual co-founders instead of the company.  A golden parachute clause could have protected Matt from loss of his invention by causing the patent rights to revert to him if he were fired.  A little caution can go a long way.

Thank you, Matt, for sharing this valuable lesson with us.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

February 2018

Measure twice, cut once.

Common sense tells us to test the water before jumping in.  Inventors need to know who their customers are and what their customers want before spending a lot of time and money on inventing things/services and bringing them to market.

Helen Colby, PhD, (assistant professor of marketing, Indiana University Kelley School of Business) treated us to her insights on how an individual on a limited budget can conduct high quality customer research.  This brief summary of her presentation doesn’t begin to contain all of her excellent advice.  To learn more, talk with someone who was there.

When should you do customer research?  Whenever the benefit is greater than the cost.  Customer research can answer questions about any aspect of marketing that is important to you (eg, what to invent, what to sell, where and when to sell it, how to advertize it, how much to charge for it).

How do you conduct research?  First and most important, ask one specific question to which you can find a clear, complete, and meaningful answer.  Think hard about this question.  If you ask a defective question, you will get a defective answer.  Check with your business partners (eg, customers, investors, licensing companies, manufacturers) to make sure the answer to this question will be helpful.  Don’t ask customers a question that they can’t understand or don’t want to answer truthfully.  If you want investors, don’t ask a question that won’t help them decide whether to invest in your business.

Then go to the library (eg, the IUPUI university library) and ask a business librarian to help you find information that helps to answer your question.  Meaningful numbers can be especially persuasive to potential investors and licensees.  Look at records (such as databases) that show industry trends and the traits of various customer groups (eg, age, buying habits, gender, how far people are willing to travel to buy something, income, location).  Search Google Scholar for original studies that relate to your question (be sure to read the original study, not someone’s summary of it).

Once you know the state of the market, start your own research.  Learn the best way (eg, mail survey or mall survey) to reach the right customers and ask them to answer your question.  Don’t ask a secretary if the boss makes all of the buying decisions.  Many things can bias customer answers, if customers answer at all: attempts to be kind to you, order of survey questions, self-image, time of day, wording of a question, etc.  You can’t eliminate all bias, but try to eliminate forms that most strongly interfere with answering your question.  For example, if you want to know how people like to get news, don’t post your question on a newspaper’s internet site; most respondents will prefer news on the internet.  The last question of every survey should be: “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”.

You can start small with one or more pilot studies that test your methods and tools before you do your main study.  You might post a survey or ask for customer comments on a free Google website or on SurveyMonkey.  Amazon Mechanical Turk provides a way to quickly survey a good cross section of potential customers for about $75.  Qualtrics, Emtrics, or Survey Sampling International provide a similar service.

If you decide to hire a professional trend spotter or a company that does research for you, insist that they give you what you need.  Consider writing a survey yourself.  Get the raw data and original transcripts of interviews so you can analyze them yourself.

What might customer research look like for someone who is thinking about selling cupcakes in a particular geographic area?  The research question might be: Can this area support my business?  Existing research on the state of the market, found in databases (such as Simmons OneView) at the IUPUI library, shows how many cupcake sellers are in the area, who they are, and how much money customers spend on cupcakes there.  New research using Qualtrics or Amazon Mechanical Turk might show that most customers would prefer a new business that is kid-friendly over existing businesses in the area.  Trips to shops in the area would provide an estimate of what pricing should be.  All of this information could be used to develop a realistic value proposition and model of a successful business, which could be tested in a focus group and presented in a business plan to potential investors.

Thank you, Ms. Colby, for sharing your invaluable insights 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

Patent Document of the Month

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