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).

Monday, November 16, 2020

November 2020

This is a brand new day, ladies and gentlemen.  A brand new day.

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit


Sell first and sell fast.  Speed is the key to profiting from a simple, short-lived invention.  To increase our chances of quickly licensing our inventions, Stephen Key (inventor, author, speaker, and co‑founder of inventRight, LLC) recommends that we develop and use four selling tools: the point of difference; perceived ownership; a LinkedIn profile; and a list of companies that love open innovation.

The point of difference tells a potential licensee how your invention differs from marketed products and from prior art.  This gives a potential licensee two things: confidence that your invention has unique benefits that customers might want to buy; and the perception that you could own a place in the market for your invention (ie, get a patent).  A search for your invention on Google and in stores will show the difference between your invention and products like it in the marketplace.  A search for prior art will show the difference between your invention and products (made or imagined) that are publicly known.  Librarians in Indianapolis and in West Lafayette can show you how to find prior art.

Don’t waste time on a patent.  A patent is not useful because the time it takes to get a patent (typically 25 months) exceeds the life cycle of a simple short-lived invention.  But you need to persuade a potential licensee that your invention is marketable, that you potentially own a place in the market, that you could get a patent.  Create this perceived ownership by writing and filing with the U.S. patent office a robust provisional application to patent your invention.

A provisional patent application is an instruction manual on how to make and use your invention.  The application includes the invention’s point of difference, manufacturing information, and a detailed description and drawings of the basic invention and of all variations of the invention that you can imagine.  A good set of detailed drawings is especially important because it allows translation of plain language (in a provisional application that you write) into legalese (required in a nonprovisional application that a patent attorney/agent writes).  A provisional application can not itself lead to a patent but it does provide a timestamp for a nonprovisional patent application that can itself lead to a patent.  If a patent attorney/agent is writing your provisional application, be sure to lead the effort and say what aspects of the invention you want protected.  No one is as interested in your invention as you are.

A provisional application also provides perceived ownership by letting you mark products you sell as “patent pending” during the 1-year life time of the application.  This lets your competitors know that they could lose an investment in copying your product if you eventually get a patent for it.

When licensing to companies, sell yourself as well as your invention.  Companies need to know that they want to work with you.  Your LinkedIn profile is your sell sheet.  Create a complete profile that shows you as a professional product developer.  If you are not on LinkedIn, you are not in the licensing game.

The best way to protect your invention is to license it to a medium-size company that loves open innovation.  There are thousands of such companies.  After you have a list of companies, remove those having several complaints and lawsuits (search Google for each company name and the word “complaints”), those that don’t have a department that handles outside submissions, those that want you to sign a nondisclosure agreement heavily weighted in their favor, those who want you to have a patent, and those not on social media.  Then find which of the remaining companies fit your invention.  Understand each company’s mission, product line, price point, and target audience.  For example, PELEG DESIGN, which sells products worldwide, candidly says what it wants from inventors.  Then use LinkedIn to connect with a company’s marketing manager and ask if you may submit information about your invention.  When working with a company, act like you belong at the table and convey that you are easy to work with and are a team player.

Don’t buy what you don’t need.  You don’t need a prototype to interest a company in your invention.  Sell to a company the way the company sells to its customers.  If you can’t sell the benefits of your invention, why worry about anything else?  If a company is interested in your invention and it asks for a prototype, then build one.

Have fun but be smart.  Don’t buy into fear.  Sign a company’s nondisclosure agreement and don’t worry about theft.  The value of an idea is almost always in the work you do to bring it to market and no one is going to steal your work.

For more on licensing, see the wealth of information at inventRight: articles, books, coaching, courses, lists of companies, podcasts, videos, and more.  Both inventRight and IP Watchdog offer help with preparing a provisional patent application.

Thank you, Mr.  Key, for opening our eyes to this new way of licensing our inventions!

Friday, October 16, 2020

October 2020

Would you like to have the government (federal, state, or local) as your customer?   The government awards hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts to small businesses every year.  But not every small business is suited for that role.  Inventors Network KY treated us to an online presentation by Darrall Henderson (director, Kentucky Procurement Technical Assistance Center) that described what it takes to become a government (federal or Kentucky) vendor.

Becoming a government contractor involves a complex process that has its own vocabulary and requires a significant investment of time and money.  Educational resources on this process are available from several organizations: Indiana Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Indiana Department of Administration, Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Indiana Small Business Development Center, local governments in Indiana, the federal government, U.S. General Services Administration, Government Marketing & Procurement, LLC, Small Business Administration, and govology.

Thank you for introducing us to the wide world of government procurement, Mr. Henderson.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

February 2020

Would you marry someone you never met or dated?  No?  Then why would you start a business without knowing who your customers are and what they really want?

No entrepreneur wants to waste time and money on a nonviable company.  If you are thinking about starting a business, the most important question is whether you should start a business.

Bill Petrovic (workshop chair and mentor, SCORE Indianapolis; past vice president and treasurer, Roche Diagnostics) recommends using the lean startup method to answer that question.  It is an efficient method of approximation for developing a successful business model.  Make your best guess of what a successful business looks like.  Ask people whom you think are your potential customers what they think about your guess.  Adapt your guess to the feedback you get from those people.  Then ask again.  Repeat.  If you should start a business, this process will likely converge on a business model that profitably identifies your customers, what they really want, and your ability to provide what they really want.

Start the process by developing something simple to sell (a product or service).  This minimally viable product should include the fewest features that you think early adopters will buy at a profitable price to solve the core of some problem they have.

Then get out and do a reality check.  Talk face to face with at least 100 potential customers and see how they react to your product.  Include people who will pay for the product or who will influence the decision to buy.  If you are selling something for dogs, go to a dog park, not to a library.  Talk with people yourself, don’t delegate this important interaction to someone else.  Ask open ended questions.

Does solving this core problem matter to them?  If so, would they be willing to spend money to solve the problem; how much?  Will they buy your product now, as is?  What do they like and dislike about your product?  What additional features would make your product more attractive to them?

If this core problem doesn’t matter to them, they are not your customers.  But don’t waste this conversation; ask what problems do matter to them.  You might be able to develop something else for them.

After sequentially adapting your product to several rounds of feedback, you may have a product that potential customers really like.  When you have all of this information, develop a value proposition, a description of all features and benefits of your product that will induce customers to buy it.

Then worry about production costs and business partners.  Can you manufacture and distribute your product for less than the selling price?  Can you sell enough to make the profit you want?  If you like the answers to those questions, you are on your way to starting a successful business.

Several tools are available to help with this process. For example,  Mr. Petrovic has kindly provided the slides of his presentation.  Udacity offers a free online course on the lean startup method.  A lean startup template is available.  By appointment only, a librarian on the 4th floor of the Indianapolis Central Library will show you company business plans related to your interests.

Thank you, Mr. Petrovic, for helping the business community create jobs and for sharing your extensive expertise with us!

Friday, January 10, 2020

January 2020

Ron Jackson (long-time member of the Indiana Inventors Association; founder, Jackson Systems; holder of 15 patents) helped us start the year off right by describing his experience as a successful innovator.

Marketing is 80% of profitable innovation.  Unmarketed but very useful inventions can fail in the marketplace while heavily marketed but useless inventions can be quite profitable.  Helpful elements of marketing can include:

Creating a good looking prototype of your invention.  Whether you show potential buyers a working prototype or a sell sheet/brochure that includes a high quality picture of a nonworking prototype, an image is worth a thousand words.  An image makes people feel that you and your invention are real and credible.

Creating good quality videos of your invention and related topics for display on YouTube.  Videos can help to establish your credibility in your technical field and to show the benefits your invention provides.  The Jackson Systems YouTube channel is a good example.

Finding a good fit for your invention in the marketplace.  A company may want to partner with you if an embodiment of your invention contains parts made by that company or if the embodiment supplements or enhances one of the company’s products.

Growing your business network.  If you want to sell (assign) or rent (license) your idea or patent, try visiting trade shows relevant to your invention and find booths of medium size companies that sell products similar to yours.  Visit these booths when only the company representative is there and ask if the company ever works with independent inventors.  If so, ask if you may exchange business cards with the representative now and send information about your invention to the representative later.

Selecting your business partners carefully, then trusting them.  Don’t let fear of intellectual property theft prevent you from profiting from your invention.  Most people are honest, but nondisclosure agreements can help keep them honest.

Thank you, Mr. Jackson, for sharing your lifelong enthusiasm for and expertise in innovation with us!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

November 2019

Patenting an invention can give an inventor a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  But preparing and prosecuting a patent application takes time, money, and expertise.  Some energetic inventors who can’t afford to hire a patent attorney or patent agent take time to acquire the expertise needed to prepare and prosecute their own patent applications.  Michael Pugel (patent attorney, Eurekovation, LLC) described resources available to these pro se applicants.

Patent It Yourself” by patent attorney David Pressman is a good general introduction to the topic.  Step one is to keep an inventor’s notebook in which ideas, the invention process, experimental tests and results, and observations are recorded, dated, signed, and witnessed.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants a patent to the first inventor to file a patent application for a particular invention.  The notebook helps to establish that persons listed as inventors in a patent application are, in fact, inventors.

Step two is to write a patent application.  The USPTO’s Pro Se Assistance Program, Inventors Assistance Center, virtual instructor led training, and Learning and Resources page offer help with this.  For example, a checklist and guide for preparing a nonprovisional utility patent application are available.  Librarians in Indianapolis and in West Lafayette demonstrate how to use patent examiner systems for finding prior art.  USPTO personnel by phone and in person explain different types of applications, help complete forms and locate resources, and review applications for compliance with regulations.  Monthly online Inventor Info Chats are available, as are a newsletter and in-person workshops and independent inventor conferences.  The USPTO does not offer legal advice, but individuals and small businesses who qualify can receive free legal advice and help from patent attorneys or patent agents through the USPTO’s Patent Pro Bono Program in Bloomington, IN.

Step three is to file the patent application.  Create a USPTO account, get a USPTO customer number, verify your account, and learn how to use the USPTO’s electronic filing system.  Include payment for the appropriate fees.

Step four is to prosecute the application.  This is a months- or years-long legal conversation between a patent examiner and the applicant about which, if any, features of the invention claimed in the application should be patented.  The conversation is always summarized in writing and may include in-person meetings and teleconferences.  If the examiner’s final decision is to reject some or all of the patent claims, the applicant may abandon the application, appeal the decision, request continued examination of the application, or file a new or continuation application.  If the examiner instead allows some or all of the patent claims, the applicant may pay additional fees to get a patent.

Thank you, Mr. Pugel, for sharing these valuable resources with us.

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!

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

Get Involved