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, April 25, 2023

April 2023

For an independent inventor, especially one new to an industry, there is no place better to learn and to network than a professional trade show (a large public display that promotes awareness and sales of new products within a particular industry).  Inventor Kenton Brett unpacked for us many of the benefits this tool offers.

• Meet people who can help you.

Engage with anyone who wants to interact with you.  Everyone there wants to do business and you never know who might be able to help you.  Someone who might become your friend, business partner, or client; who can answer your questions (now or later); who can connect you to the industry and make you feel like an insider; or who can give you a contract.

There are no company gatekeepers at a trade show, so it is often easy to talk with a company’s leaders.  Scan the exhibitor directory to see who might share your interests (maybe the president or head of marketing of a company), note where their exhibits will be, and either just show up at the exhibits or call ahead of time to make an appointment.

You can meet helpful people in many other places too: sharing a cab ride from your hotel to the show, standing next to someone in line, or sharing a table with someone at lunch. 

• Help yourself become an expert in your field by learning what others are doing.

Attend educational sessions at the show to get a better understanding of the industry and of your technology.

Visit exhibits to help you learn quickly who some of the important players in the industry are and how they compare with each other.  Exhibitors can tell you which companies practice open innovation and in which countries your industry resides.

• Get ideas about what to invent.

You can have more confidence in the value of your invention if it is not displayed and if similar inventions displayed are inferior to yours.  If someone at the show displays your invention or a better version of it, you know to move on to your next great idea.

If your invention is protected by a patent application, consider showing prospective clients and others (not your competitors) a short video of your invention in action.  You might also show them a sell sheet and your best prototype (if your product is small).  Ask for their honest feedback on what they like and dislike about your invention.

Visit exhibits that interest you in general, whether or not they relate directly to your invention.  Both impressive and not so impressive inventions might inspire you to modify your current invention or to start work on a completely new one.  Engineers and scientists, not salesmen, can tell you about technology.  Salesmen can tell you about customer complaints and about what customers want but can’t get.

• Learn how to communicate your invention.

For people you meet, prepare a 2-3 sentence description of who you are (eg, a product developer) and what you do (eg, develop products that solve some specific problem).

Listen to the exhibitors and learn how to clearly explain what problems a product solves and what a product is and does.

• Learn how to go about marketing or manufacturing your invention.

Talk with exhibitors to learn which companies practice open innovation, which of those fit your invention, and who in those companies can decide to give you a contract.  Ask exhibitors displaying products similar to yours about their manufacturing process.

• Have fun.

Enjoy the displays and the people.  If the show is in a big city or resort, consider spending an extra day there for recreation.

Cutting costs can make your trip more enjoyable.  Stay at an inexpensive hotel and drive to the show location the night before to look for nearby inexpensive parking.  Get free food at the show in exchange for watching a presentation.  Wear an old coat and hide it in some out of the way place instead of spending time and money at the coat check.


• Put some thought into which trade shows will benefit you.

For example, if you want to know how much it will cost to manufacture your product, consider attending the Design-2-Part show.  If 3-D printing interests you, consider the Rapid + TCT show.  An international directory of trade shows is available here.

• If you are new to an industry, go to learn, not to exhibit.

• You might want to avoid a trade show dedicated to inventors or to licensing.

     Often the companies there are trying to sell services to inventors.

• If you are not an exhibitor, don’t try to sell your product at a trade show.

It’s fine to ask informational questions so you can follow up with an appropriate person after the show.  But exhibitors pay a lot of money to sell their products at the show and tend to take a dim view of free riders.

If you haven’t made an appointment at a booth, wait for someone to approach you and demonstrate the products.  When he asks what you do, say you are a product developer and ask if his company accepts outside submissions.  If yes, get his business card, but don’t try to sell.  Follow up after the show.  The trade show directory has everyone’s telephone number.

• Dress business casual and wear comfortable shoes.

Thank you, Mr. Brett, for sharing your insights and enthusiasm with us!

Saturday, April 1, 2023

March 2023

Patent attorney Michael Morris treated us to an overview of four ways the law helps inventors to profit from their creations.

First, a patent, which is an agreement.  The inventor receives a temporary monopoly that lets him prevent others from profiting from his invention.  This negative right helps the inventor protect his share of the market and defends him from from claims of violating the patent rights of other inventors.  In exchange, the inventor gives his inventive idea to the world when his temporary monopoly ends.

A patent is granted to an inventor by a national (eg, United States) or regional (eg, European) patent office.  The U.S. grants three kinds of patents: utility (for a useful structure or a method of making or of using a useful structure); plant (for a botanical plant that the inventor invented or discovered and asexually reproduced, except a tuber or plant found in an uncultivated state); and design (for the ornamentation of something manufactured; protection is strongest against exact copies of an invention).

Here is a typical sequence of events leading to a utility patent.

  1. An inventor thinks of an invention.
  2. He searches publications to see if someone else already thought of that invention.  This video explains how to search for a design.
  3. The inventor applies for a patent from the U.S. patent office.

The application can be nonprovisional, which can lead to a patent.  Or the application can be provisional, which acts as a 1-year placeholder for a subsequent nonprovisional application.  This placeholder has value because:

• the U.S. patent system grants a patent to the first inventor to file an application for a particular invention;

• the inventor can use this year before filing a more expensive nonprovisional application to see if his invention will be profitable; and

• the inventor can continue to improve his invention during this year, file a series of provisional applications describing each improvement, then combine all of those provisional applications in one nonprovisional application.

Remember: once an inventor reveals his invention to the public, he has only 1 year to apply for a U.S. patent.  If he wants a patent from almost any other country, he must apply for a patent before revealing his invention to the public.

  1. He starts to sell embodiments of his invention or to sell or rent the invention itself.
  2. The inventor is granted a patent and he starts to sell embodiments of his invention labeled with the patent number.
  3. The patent ends and the inventor continues to sell embodiments of his invention that are not labeled with the patent number.

Patents can conflict.  For example, if one inventor owns a patent to a pencil and a second inventor owns a patent to a pencil having an eraser, neither inventor can make a pencil having an eraser.  To solve the problem, each inventor cross-licenses his invention to the other.

Second, a trademark, which identifies the company that manufactures a particular product.  A trademark can last forever and can be a word, phrase, symbol, design, sound, smell, or color.  The legally strongest trademarks do not describe the products they represent.

Consumers benefit from recognizing quickly what kind of product they are buying and how reproducibly good it is.  Trademark holders benefit from customer loyalty.

A trademark can, but need not, be registered with the U.S. trademark office.  If registered, annotate the trademark with ® in publications; if not registered, annotate it with ™.  Either way, use a trademark as an adjective (eg, Kleenex tissue), not as a noun (eg, Kleenex, instead of tissue).  Using it as a noun can lead to loss of the trademark.

Third, a copyright, which protects a specific expression of an idea (not the idea itself).  A copyright lasts until 70 years after the last author dies.  Copyrights exist the moment a specific expression exists; no registration with the U.S. copyright office is required.  But suing for infringement of a copyright requires registration with that office.

Fourth, a trade secret, which protects confidential information (eg, the formula for Coca Cola).  A trade secret can last forever and is often protected with a nondisclosure agreement.

These different kinds of protection can be layered.  For example, one invention can be protected by a utility patent, a design patent, and a trademark.  Or a trademarked product can contain a trade secret.

Thank you, Mr. Morris, for a fun and informative presentation!

Friday, May 20, 2022

May 2022

          The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. —Paul Valéry

We now have our own dream catcher.  It’s a book, Inventor Confidential: The Honest Guide to Profitable Inventing, that tells inventors how to keep the nightmare of empty promises from ruining their sweet dreams of financial success.  The author, Warren Tuttle (independent contractor for external open innovation, Lifetime Brands; past president, United Inventors Association of America), kindly summarized his book for us.  The first half of the book is about product development, the second half is about what interferes with financial success.

There are two ways to bring an invention to the marketplace: indirectly (by licensing (ie, renting) or by selling the invention to others who bring it to the marketplace) or directly (by arranging for all of the steps yourself: production, tooling, landbridging, shipping, warehousing, fulfillment, sales teams, orders, collecting money, reinvesting money, etc.).  Either way, the odds of success are low for an independent inventor because the vast majority of inventions are not salable.

Licensing to a large company is obviously the easier way.  It provides less potential profit for an inventor (typically 2-7% of wholesale profit) but transfers the risk of failure to a company that acts as an angel investor by providing brands, resources, and capital.  The odds of financial success are still low but at least the inventor does not fail to get the invention to the marketplace.

Getting the best licensing deal requires preparation.  Ask experts in the industry to vet the inventive idea so you can learn what the challenges are to making it profitable and to learn if it has legs.  (To be profitable, your invention must uniquely solve a problem that is big enough to interest a significant number of customers.)  The bases of a licensing deal are a physical prototype and a patent.  So develop a prototype of the invention to prove that it can be built and that it works and to help identify its patentable traits.  And patent the invention to acquire ownership of intellectual property that can be licensed.  Then prepare marketing materials: a sell sheet describing benefits of the invention and a video showing the invention providing those benefits.  Practice communicating politely and effectively with buyers.

There are two main ways to ask a large company for a licensing deal: indirectly (through an an inventor submission/marketing/coaching company) or directly (through a company’s open innovation program).  In general, an inventor is best served by the direct way.  Why?

If you have a dream, there will always be someone who wants to sell something off of that dream to you.  During gold rushes of the old West, people selling shovels and pick axes to miners made more money than did the miners.  Today an inventor submission/marketing/coaching company selling to inventors makes more money than do the inventors.  Such a company takes submissions from inventors, prepares the submissions for licensing by adding prototypes and patents, and represents the inventor to companies that practice open innovation (the art/science of looking outside of the company for new products).  Or the company offers an inventor advice on how to do the same.  The marketing message is that this process is easy, simple, and results in a gold mine for the inventor.  These companies do not buy from inventors, these companies sell to them.  The primary goal of this business model is financial success of the company, not of the inventor, because no one can reproducibly pick a winning product.  This business model is driven by cash flow, taking a lot of money up front from a naive inventor in exchange for information and products that often do not help the inventor and for advice that is often nothing but thin air.  Usually only the company makes money because the odds of financial success for the invention are low.

In contrast, an inventor can skip the middleman and directly ask the open innovation program of a large company for a licensing deal.  Such a program buys from inventors (ie, licenses inventions from them) and does not sell to them.  The primary goal is joint financial success of the company and the inventor.  This business model is driven by profit for the company and for the inventor.  The odds of success are still low but a prepared inventor has nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If no company wants to license your invention, recognize this as an opportunity to fail fast and move on to your next and better invention.

Which method do you prefer?  Feel free to hire an inventor submission/marketing/coaching company.  But do so while you are awake with your eyes wide open.  Ask the people who will work with you what their relevant business experience is.  Ask for data: what fraction of their clients get a licensing deal; what fraction of those make enough profit to pay for this company’s services; what fraction of those make a net profit from their inventions.

If you want free help with open innovation or a free evaluation of your invention, consider submitting a description of your invention to Tuttle Innovation.  This company is paid by companies that practice open innovation, not by inventors.  The site has links to educational videos and podcasts.  You can also contact companies that have open innovation programs directly.  For example, Procter & Gamble, which sources 50% of its products through open innovation, has an open innovation page hereMarketBlast offers a free platform for directly submitting inventions to companies looking for specific products.

Thank you, Mr. Tuttle, for writing your book, for advocating for inventors, and for sharing your valuable time and talent with us!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

October 2021

Want to build a prototype of your invention?  Has Machyne got the place for you!

Alex Bandar, PhD (executive director, Machyne) believes that everyone has the potential to be an educated and empowered innovator.  If you can imagine something, you can learn how to, and actually, sketch it digitally in 2 or 3 dimensions for free.  YouTube shows you how.  Give that sketch to computer-run machines and they will create a prototype of the thing for you. If you need money for materials or for access to tools, run a crowdfunding campaign.  Show your prototype to a customer, investor, company, or retailer and ask if they will use your idea.  If they say yes, a global network of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers can spread your idea to markets worldwide.

Alex embodied his belief by creating a clubhouse for makers, first in Columbus, OH (Idea Foundry) and now in Indianapolis.  Machyne makes it easy to move an idea from your head into your hand.  Tools, classes, memberships, and a supportive community of people (artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and innovators) who like to find and solve problems are available here.  Memberships start at $50/month/person.

Machyne offers classes on how to use its tools.  For example, there will be a class on how to use the Formech 508FS vacuum former on October 27 ($20) and a class on how to use 3D printing machines on November 3 ($40).

A wide variety of tools are available for use after you complete and pass a training session for each tool you want to use.  The workshop area has tools for metal fabrication, welding, CNC routing, CNC plasma cutting, CNC milling/turning, CNC waterjet cutting, vacuum forming, laser cutting, and woodworking.  The design area has tools for 3D printing, electronics, programming, and vinyl cutting and has design software.  The media area has tools for virtual reality, augmented reality, photography, videography, and podcasting.  An hourly fee for tool use ranges from $5 to $40 per hour.  Workbenches where you can store your own tools are also available.

Thank you, Mr. Bandar, for an exhilarating tour of Machyne!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

April 2021

Business is about relationships.  Benjamin Harrison (product developer; creator, SmartPitch; author, Licensing Ideas Using LinkedIn) told us how to use LinkedIn to approach decision makers and persuade them to join our teams.

LinkedIn is playing a bigger role for inventors.  Many trade shows have been canceled or have become virtual.  Many people won’t answer a phone call from an unknown caller.  Thousands of companies are looking for inventions but must be approached professionally.

The goal of using LinkedIn is to send direct and courteous messages seeking common ground to specific people.  Then, if common ground exists, move the conversation off of LinkedIn.  There is no need to create content about your invention or to be an influencer in order to get at least a 25% response rate from decision makers.

Build a community of people with compatible interests because you never know who might help you.  Start by creating a professional profile on exactly one LinkedIn account (a free account will do).  A mini-narrative portraying you as human and memorable will interest others.  That profile sells you—a product developer—to decision makers.    

Identify decision makers you want to meet by searching LinkedIn or sites such as Recruitment Geek.  They might be other inventors and product developers or employees of companies you want on your team.  Employees in marketing might be most helpful, followed by those in sales, followed by those in product development.  Pick people who have a lot of first degree LinkedIn connections because they can help you grow your community.

Ask them to join your LinkedIn network.  Limit yourself to 100 new connections per week to avoid portraying yourself as a spammer.

Then use traditional text or the more personal audio message to find common ground.  For example, “Hey ___, I’m sure it’s not your department, but do you know who @ (company name) takes care of open innovation submissions?”  Make the question short, specific, and easy to answer.  Act like you belong on LinkedIn as a product developer: get permission to send marketing materials; don’t show off or try to prove something; don’t ask for a time-consuming favor; don’t be pushy, no hard-sell pitches; don’t send a request in the “custom note” space unless you already know the recipient.

For more of Mr. Harrison’s insights, take a look at his free online videos or subscribe to his SmartPitch program, which includes access to a database of over 1,000 open innovation companies.

Thank you, Mr. Harrison, for sharing your practical wisdom with us!


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!

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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