Monthly Archives: May 2009

Tap the Rockies

Editor’s note: This appeared in our May 2009 issue.

There’s a certain amount of awkwardness involved in attending a keg party.octpus-tap

It usually involves standing around, staring at the guy pumping the tap wondering when it’ll finally be your turn. A company out of Lafayette, Colo., invented a device that allows you to spend more time partying and less time standing at the keg line.

Brew Innovations LLC created the Octopus Tap, which serves up to four beers at a time. The tap provides up to a 300 percent increase in flow with the high capacity hand pump – that’s three more keg stands!

This is going to be the product that changes frat parties, power hours and bachelor parties. Enjoy, boys.

Visit http://octopustap.com

Edison Jr. – Apps for Democracy

Editor’s note: Devin White, 14, is an aspiring inventor and youth blogger for this site.

By Devin White

Are you the kind of kid who has all of these great ideas on how tourists or locals can find things in your city?

Well I’m happy to tell you that your contest has arrived.

Devin White

Devin White

Apps for Democracy is in its second year of competition and running stronger than ever. In the fall of 2008, DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer asked iStrategyLabs how it could make DC gov’s Data Catalog useful for the citizens, visitors, businesses and government agencies of Washington, D.C.

The Data Catalog contains all manner of open public data featuring real-time crime feeds, school test scores, and poverty indicators, and is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. This means everything from maps, to bike routes, to historic sites, to tour guides. Everything is there.

So, iStrategyLabs comes up with this contest. You come up with the idea, they open the data base and if they have the info that your idea uses, you’ve got a great chance of making it far in the contest. This contest is ideal. It is pretty kid friendly and it allows us kids to invent to make our nation’s capital a better place to visit.

Hey, you will probably go to Washington, D.C. at least once if you’re lucky and if your idea gets chosen in this contest, thousands of people who visit Washington with their iTouches and iPhones will be utilizing your idea.

Did I mention that they give away about $35,000 in prize money, sometimes more? This contest is highly valued by our capital city. Straight from the site:

The first edition of Apps for Democracy yielded 47 Web, iPhone and Facebook apps in 30 days – a $2.3 million value to the city at a cost of $50,000.

“Apps for Democracy produced more savings for the D.C. government than any other initiative.”  – Vivek Kundra, former CTO of Washington, D.C., and current federal CIO.

So, check out www.appsfordemocracy.org, download your free app builder to play around with, and if you enter the contest definitely add a comment below – I’d love to say congratulations. Let’s Show the World. Don’t Stop Thinking.

Devin White

Sex and the Stratosphere

The 2Suit Adds New Meaning to the Term ‘Mother of Invention’

Editor’s note: This story ran in the May 2009 issue.

By Jennipher Adkins

Vanna Bonta and her husband hovered in simulated zero gravity aboard Zero G Corp.’s G-Force One, a converted passenger jet that performs steep dives to suspend its occupants in weightlessness.

As History Channel cameras rolled, the couple simulated sex.vannabonta2suit-cr

The two were wearing the 2Suit, an invention Bonta created to help humans cuddle and procreate in space. The test mission took place in September. The History Channel aired The Universe: Sex in Space in December.

The 2Suit anticipates the day when humans will colonize the cosmos – realizing the vision that late filmmaker Stanley Kubrick foretold in his classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The 2Suit owes its inspiration to when Bonta and her husband struggled to kiss while on a previous zero-gravity G-Force flight in 2004.

“It’s difficult to keep up intentional movements in microgravity,” Bonta says. ”It takes a lot of work.”

So she created a means to anchor two humans in microgravity as a built-in feature for flight apparel.

David Rajter, director of Sex in Space, worked with Bonta on the G-Force shoot.

“I got to see just how serious she was about making sure the 2Suit was a real piece of space hardware that actually worked,” he says.

Sex in space, however, is one small step.

“The possibilities,” says Bonta, “are boundless. The concept of the suit is just the beginning.”

Renaissance Woman

Bonta is a bit of a renaissance woman – part poet, part physicist. Innovation, in her mind, is “strict common sense with wild imagination.”

The blend of those two disciplines manifest itself at an early age. When she was 18, the engine on her Volkswagen blew.

“I couldn’t buy a new car,” she says. “So I fixed it.”

Approaching the task as a “wonderfully predictable jigsaw puzzle,” she bought tools and parts. With the help of a friend, she dismantled, rebuilt then installed the engine.

The car ran for another 15 years.

“As an inventor, her range of creativity reaches from fashion to rocket science,” says her husband, Allen Newcomb, an engineer who designed the avionics for the hybrid rocket  engine on Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, winner of the $10 million Ansari X-Prize. “She plays like a child and creates like a genius.

“And,” he adds, “she’s hot!”vannabonta1

Bonta is creative director at design and engineering outfit BonNova. The company is among those in the growing field of space privatization, where orbital commerce intends to bustle around everything from energy production to space tourism.

Magnates such as Virgin founder Richard Branson and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk are visible examples of this breed. Yet the new frontier is opening the heavens to sophisticated, tech-savvy independent inventors. People like Bonta.

Witness the X Prize Foundation, which has helped launch the Google Lunar X Prize and the related Ansari X Prize. Both use a contest model to spur development of low-cost, private alternative space rockets and vehicles.

Among Bonta’s more recent inventions is a pressure-release device for high-combustion rocket engines called a Rocket Engine Over-pressurization Release  Protection System or REORP. BonNova tested the device last September as part of the NASA-sponsored Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. The level-two $1.65 million prize remains on the table, and BonNova is in the running for this year’s contest.

BonNova’s lunar lander is called Lauryad, after the spaceship in Bonta’s novel Flight (Meridian House, June 1995). Lauryad performed its first test lift-off Jan. 11.

Bonta also has created the Jet show that converts from a flat to pump with the push of a button.

“A pump is dangerous in zero gravity,” she says. “But when you land, you want attractive footwear.”

Indeed, the writer, inventor and fashion-forward dreamer sees potential in reaching for the stars.

And if nothing else, the 2Suit should make solving the mysteries of the next frontier a whole lot more fun.

Visit www.bonnova.com

A Place to Hang Your Hat

By Jack Lander

If you’re thinking of producing and distributing your invention, as opposed to licensing it, you may be able to do so without a spacious facility. A desk in your spare room or garage may suffice.

Jack Lander

Jack Lander

You’ll need warehouse space and a method for fulfilling orders. These can be one and the same. Fulfillment houses routinely act as warehouses, storing your inventory, packing and shipping it for you. You can even link from your Web site directly to the fulfillment house and have orders fulfilled while you sleep.

If you aren’t selling several orders a day directly to the consumer, but are selling in quantity once or twice a week to catalogs and distributors, you may choose to fulfill orders yourself. In that case, you’ll likely find a domestic storage facility near you in which to warehouse your inventory.

Warehousing and fulfillment cost money and is a deduction from your gross profit. But the storage and fulfillment functions must be built into the price of all products, regardless of how these essential functions are accomplished. When your sales volume grows to the point where you have to work full time in your own business, you may find that renting a few thousand square-feet in an office park will cut your costs. But hiring and supervising employees and maintaining payroll records, is no picnic.

Either way, one of your early problems will be arranging a steady flow of inventory to satisfy your orders. Catalogers and distributors are really fussy about having their orders filled on time and you’ll be dismissed as a supplier if you blow it. If you’re selling through Amazon.com, your rating will drop a couple of stars if you ship late. This means that you must keep the “pipeline” filled. Too little inventory and you’re in trouble with your customers; too much inventory and you’ll likely have to borrow money or factor your accounts receivable to carry you until you are paid by your customers.

Goods from China, India, and so forth are shipped in containers, those metal boxes about the size of a one-car garage. You pay a fixed amount per container whether it’s fractionally filled or filled to the brim. If you don’t need a whole container, according to Edie Tolchin, an inventor-friendly import broker, you should order your goods shipped “CIF,” which stands for “cost, insurance and freight.” Your other choice is “FOB,” standing for “free on board,” and means that the overseas source pays for transportation costs to the point from which your goods are shipped, which may be their shipping dock. You arrange and pay from that point to your warehouse.

Now, here’s the interesting part: If you specify CIF, your source can arrange for your goods to share a container with other shipments. This arrangement enables you to order more frequently, achieve a better balance between cash in-flow and out-flow and avoid being overwhelmed by ordering and warehousing a full container.

It’s easier to start a small business, taking orders from your Web site, from Internet sellers like Amazon.com and from catalogers, rather than attempting mass distribution through brick-and-glass retail chains. But either way, it’s possible to orchestrate a business rather than being the hands-on worker in each of its essential functions. Delegating isn’t just for the fellow who goes to work in a limousine. Delegating frees you to do the most important work. As the grand old man of business theory and practice, Dr. Peter Drucker stated in his timeless masterpiece, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: “Business has only two functions, innovation and creating a customer.” No doubt you’ve mastered the innovation part.

Drucker’s book and Edie Tolchin’s book, Sourcing Smarts, are available online. I highly recommend them.

jack@inventor-mentor.com

Editor’s note: Jack Lander is a regular columnist for Inventors Digest. This piece appeared in the May 2009 issue.

Toil and Trouble

By Eva Winger

At the outset of Spark, this year’s series following three women inventor-entrepreneurs, we introduced Diana York, creator of the Slow Cooker Mate, a three-chambered stainless steel slow cooker.

She experienced set-backs during the first phase of prototype development, including finding a reliable manufacturer – a process that spanned two years. *

Before York could regain momentum toward phase two – packaging and design and launch of her Web site – she had to revisit prototyping. She still had not decided whether to manufacture ceramic inserts or sell a whole new slow cooker system.

“My initial idea was to sell stand-alone inserts,” says York, “I quickly realized that slow cookers, even in the same brand and size, are all different shapes.”slowcookmate

Creating enough molds and inventory to accommodate every slow cooker on the market would be impossible. She also realized that asking a customer to remember which brand and model slow cooker they had before purchasing an insert would be too much trouble.

“I can’t even recall those details with my own products,” she says, “so how can I expect that from my customers?”

York decided to develop a slow cooker that would include her inserts.

York and her sourcing agent managed to find a manufacturer that could make the Slow Cooker Mate system with her desired size and features. Except for a few hiccups along the way – a factory shut-down for a Chinese holiday, having to adjust the color of the ceramic insert, and issues with the handles – York finally had her finished product.

She was now ready to move onto other steps for Slow Cooker Mate’s launch: a photo session and Web and design packaging.

While a graphic designer worked on the packaging layout, York drafted her own collateral materials, such as operational instructions.

“My manufacturer saved me time by allowing me to use general manuals as a guide,” she says. “Otherwise it would have been a nightmare to create the manual from scratch.” **

York also wanted to offer customers a cookbook to accompany her Slow Cooker Mate. The graphic designer compiled the book in files believed to be “printer friendly.”

The factory was unable to open and execute those files.

“Go figure,” says York. “Nothing can be simple and easy.”

Another month delay later, the factory completed printing and was ready to go into production. York planned for inventory to arrive at her warehouse by the first week in December 2008.

Yet sensing something would go awry, she consulted her network of women inventors.

“The overall consensus was to expect poor quality with my first run production, and accept it as part of the experience,” she says.

York approached her sourcing agent’s quality control staff and requested they supervise production. The inspector found sloppy workmanship and errors in the placement of the Slow Cooker Mate’s face-plate for the logo.

“What a relief to have found those mistakes early at the factory,” says York. “If we did not catch them, I would have paid for a shipment of substandard slow cookers and I would have had no recourse.” ***

York gave up hope of an early December delivery. Eager to receive some inventory to send to media outlets, she requested the factory send a small shipment via air, which arrived in Dallas on Dec. 30.

The carrier sent York a notice requesting payment for shipping fees before it would release the air shipment, but did not send wire-transfer information. By the time she received the information, it was too late to wire the money and the carrier charged her a storage fee.

The New Year’s holiday triggered another delay.

“It was hard being patient at that point,” York says. “Having spent years working on my product, I was eager to … get selling.”

York’s family owns a warehouse. She looked forward to saving money with storage and handling fees, as well as having direct control over inventory.

But the freight carrier delivered the shipment to her corporate address instead of the warehouse. The big truck could not access the office’s drive-way. York would have to off-load the shipment to a smaller truck, then drive to the warehouse.

To top it off, there was a freezing downpour that day. “Even mother nature had it out for me,” York says.

The driver explained that the shipping company lost the paperwork, could not find the delivery address, and so defaulted to York’s office address on the customer invoice.

“I felt lucky to even receive my shipment,” she says.

York is ready to put the tumultuous experiences of the last couple years behind her, and looks forward to the Slow Cooker Mate’s future.

“My goal is to prepare other inventors with what to expect,” she says, “and hopefully spare them some troubles.” ****

We asked Nell Merlino, CEO and founder of the nonprofit Count Me In organization that helps women entrepreneurs, to weigh in on York’s experiences:

*In business, as in any other part of life, two heads are better than one. Entrepreneurs and inventors have the tenacity to strike out on their own, but that can sometimes prevent them from getting help. Hiring a professional to help you can definitely save you the time and money you’d spend on trial and error. But good help doesn’t have to cost a lot. Reach out to your peers. There are communities like Count Me In’s Make Mine a Million $ Business RACE, that are full of people who have already taken their ideas to market and are eager to share what they’ve learned.

**Ask yourself, “What am I best at?” Focus your passion on what you know you do well, and find help for the rest. The Make Mine a Million $ Business RACE helps women entrepreneurs answer that question for themselves through our online Business Assessment, and then connect to information and other businesses who can help them fill in the gaps.

***The most precarious stage of a business’s development is the period of expansion when a solo entrepreneur must give up some control, whether that means hiring new employees or outsourcing parts of a project. Entrepreneurs transitioning between doing everything themselves and sharing responsibility need to take some time to do their research and establish their expectations. York was very wise to ask her network about what to expect.

****Now that York has survived the ordeal of production, sales and marketing are her next mountains to climb. She should look to get exposure on local and national media. She also needs to connect with women who have sold their products through major chains.

Visit www.makemineamillion.org

USPTO – En Route to Recovery

As one who typically finds himself aligned with the Republican side of the political aisle, it pains me to admit that under the Bush Administration the Patent Office became an terribly dysfunctional agency, thanks in no small part to political leadership having almost no patent experience prior to taking the position as Director of the PTO.

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn

This lead both of President Bush’s appointments, and in particular Jon Dudas, to make bad decisions with respect to what needed to be done to tackle the issues facing the Office.  In an almost Soviet-era style of management, goals were set forth and completely achieved year after year, and the Patent Office would give themselves A+ grades across the board for meeting their objectives.  All the while the patent system sunk deeper and deeper  into the abyss.  Unfortunately, the goals established had little or nothing to do with making the patent system better, or even functional.  Thank goodness things are changing at the United States Patent Office, and changing for the better!

Several weeks ago I wrote an article detailing new initiatives that would be taking place at the Patent Office relating to quality review.  My source who told me about this new initiative has never been wrong, and although I was beaten around the head (albeit in a virtual way) by folks who thought I was just making stuff up, I knew it was right, no matter how crazy it seemed.  And trust me, it did seem crazy because it was really the first thing that one could point to showing that the Patent Office understood the problems it created for itself and were willing to make changes, including drastic changes, to get the patent system back on track.

After writing this article I received a call from the Patent Office and one thing lead to another and I wound up interviewing the Acting Commissioner for Patents, Peggy Focarino.  The Patent Office was happy to see that a commentator was actually giving the Patent Office the benefit of the doubt, and I explained that if what I had heard was true that the Patent Office certainly deserved the benefit of the doubt because this could start the march toward a better patent system, at least with respect to what it is that the Patent Office can do without Congressional assistance, but that is another story for another day.

During my 40 minute conversation with Commissioner Focarino, many things came up which were newsworthy.  Here is one particularly interesting question and answer:

QUESTION: I understand that there will also be a reorganization of the Office of Patent Quality Assurance (OPQA) in 2009.  Can you tell me what the Office has planned?

ANSWER: There will be no change to the organizational structure of OPQA or its major function, which is to measure quality.  OPQA will continue to provide estimates of examination quality at the Corps level with the desired level of precision and confidence (95% confidence and a sample error margin of +/- .5%). What is changing is the volume of end process reviews.   This will enable OPQA to increase the resources available to the Technology Centers to assist with TC specific quality improvement initiatives.  By having the reviewers working closer with the Technology Centers, OPQA will have a better grasp of training needs and areas needing improvement.   This approach will enable OPQA to better assess what is happening with respect to the quality of the examiners work product rather than what has happened.

This is big news indeed.  One of the problems facing the Patent Office is low morale of examiners.  Whether rightly or wrongly, there has been a perception under the Dudas Administration that all that mattered was meeting production goals, and rejections were just as good, if not better than allowances.  Examiners perceived quality review as a way to punish them for mistakes and hold it against them with respect to bonuses and promotions.  The reality was that quality review did include some review of cases where an examiner incorrectly rejected an application that should have been allowed, but I think it is safe to say that most focus was placed on cases that were allowed and should have been rejected.  The message to examiners was that they were better off rejecting than allowing, because the likelihood that a wrongly rejected application would come back to hurt them was much lower, and in the mind of some examiners completely non-existent.  So the mantra at the Patent Office became “reject, reject, reject right now!”

By focusing resources on helping examiners get work correct in a non-threatening way; in a manner that would not count against the examiner with respect to bonuses and advancement, the Patent Office is working to fix one of the primary problems created under Dudas.  On top of that Commissioner Focarino told me that examiners will be encouraged to work with patent applicants early in the process to identify allowable matter, if it exists.  Examiners will also be encouraged to have interviews with applicants late in the process to see if it is possible to eliminate the need for the filing of continuations and RCEs.  This is huge!  Allow me to decode this for you… examiners will be encouraged to find something allowable late in the process rather than forcing applicants to file another application to keep fighting or file an RCE to go back into prosecution.  This is great news!

Then a couple days ago I with Mark Malek, a patent attorney at the firm I am with, Zies Widerman & Malek.  Mark had an interesting conversation with a patent examiner who shall remain nameless.  The purpose of the call was to inquire about the status of a particular application that had been filed over 4 years ago and which was still waiting a First Office Action.  The patent examiner told Mark that about 2 weeks ago management started telling the examining corps that they need to start issuing patents.  The edict, which comes as part of the new training initiatives that Commissioner Focarino spoke to me about, encourages examiners to no longer simply reject applications and throw the ball back to the applicant.  Examiners are being encouraged to reject where appropriate, but offer solutions and suggestions when there does appear to be allowable and patentable subject matter.  So the examiners are being encouraged to meaningfully collaborate with applicants and get patents issued where appropriate.

It seems like the Patent Office is becoming the Patent Granting Authority that I have been begging it would become.  These new initiatives should start to streamline patent prosecution, get patents issued and really dig into both the backlog of patent applications and length of time patent applications remaining pending, both of which have grown to unacceptable levels.  Now we can only hope that President Obama will not appoint a new Director who will get in the way of the initiatives started by career Patent Office management.  I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Edison Jr. on Edison Nation

Editor’s note: Devin White is a 14-year-old aspiring inventor and teen blogger for Inventors Digest.

By Devin White

Taking that idea in your head to an actual product is very hard. I’m not saying you can’t do it, but it takes resources. Resources – pretty much the word of the day.new-improved-en-logo

Out of all the inventing sites that offer help with your product, I have found what I, and many others believe to be the best – Edison Nation.

If you submit into one of their casting calls for the award winning show, Everyday Edisons, they will sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which means that you can entrust them with your idea and if they like it, it can become a reality. This is a resource.

It isn’t a totally kid-driven Web site. You will find adults in the public inventing driven forums, but I have been at EN for about a year and learned so much without paying a cent. I’ve learned everything from applying for patents, to industrial design, to the pros and cons of manufacturing.

It is an incredible melting pot of structured knowledge based around inventing. If you are looking for a little bit more, for just $10 a month you get a whole package of resources. Things like a monthly subscription to Inventors Digest, ability to participate in EN’s “Live Product Searches” where you submit your idea online and the searches are sponsored by companies. These companies work with EN to decide the products from the Live Product Search, which they will feature in their stores or online.

In addition you receive access to EN’s video vault. The vault includes all episodes of Everyday Edisons‘ current season, EN success stories, behind the scenes footage, and interviews with countless professionals in the industry. On top of that, you get a discounted fee on any product sold today that was exposed from EN and the group of EN family companies.

Make your free account today at www.edisonnation.com and you’ll for sure find me, En’s Junior Ambassador around frequently. Let’s show the world. Don’t Stop Thinking.

Devin White

Follow me at www.twitter.com/DevWhite

Yahoo! Is Going Green

Yahoo!’s online Make-It-Green campaign is looking for eco-friendly product ideas to improve people’s lives and help the planet.

Submit your ideas to http://green.yahoo.com/makeitgreen. If your idea is selected, Yahoo!, in partnership with Edison Nation, offers a chance at a share of sales royalties and a possible appearance on the Emmy Award-winning PBS television series Everyday Edisons.

You also can give the “thumbs up” and vote for your favorite product ideas online. A green idea can mean using fewer resources, reusing materials or finding a better way to get rid of unwanted stuff.

Among the ideas Yahoo! has liked so far: the Kyoto Box – a solar-powered cooker constructed from two cardboard boxes, aluminum foil and an acrylic cover. It saves energy, trees, the atmosphere and even lives … and costs about $6 to make.

U.S. Manufacturing

I toured the Faultless Bon Ami manufacturing plant in Kansas City yesterday before speaking at the Inventors Club of Kansas City. Great company – heartening to see small manufacturing is alive and well in America. Faultless also is an inventor-friendly company. The inventor group there was great as well – Steve Pope, thank you for being a most excellent host!

Faultless starch churning off the production line.

Faultless starch churning off the production line.

Women's Verse – Nell Merlino

Editor’s note: Nell Merlino is founder, president and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, a nonprofit provider of resources for women to grow their micro businesses into million $ enterprises. She is guest blogging for Inventors Digest.

By Nell Merlino

Angelia Hopson is a unique figure among Count Me In’s M3RACE community.  She’s started more than one business – which is actually common – but built the second by finding the customer before she created the product.

Angelia Hopson

Angelia Hopson

Angelia built her first company, a safety and environmental consulting firm, over the last 11 years and took it over the $1 million mark.

She was expanding her existing business by working with a previous client to create “closed loop sustainability solutions” – the process of taking a corporate client’s waste and turning into recycled, reusable products – like taking waste tires and combining them with coal or crude oil to create new fuel.

She had another idea for recycling tires, but before she began the costly process of developing, sourcing, producing and marketing her new product, she went straight to the horse’s mouth – her potential customer.

Already having a relationship with the diversity suppliers at Sam’s Club, she was able to set up a meeting with them and representatives from Sam’s auto maintenance department, Tire Lube Express, so that she could understand their need and they could understand her methodology.

Basically, Anglia’s solution to Sam’s Club’s environmental sustainability goals are to sell their waste back to them as Genesis Rubber Mulch.  Her process is just taking away used tires, sending to disposal company, having the tires shredded, colored, packaged, and sent back to Sam’s Club as recycled rubber mulch chips for sale to consumers.

Confident in her previous experience with the EPA’s rules and regulations, Sam’s Club granted Angelia her first contract before they ever saw the final product.  Only after the contract was signed did she trademark the name, develop the packaging, design the product, purchase the UPC code.  Genesis Rubber Mulch just hit its first six Sam’s Club locations on March 9th, and will be in 9 stores in April.  Angelia is now working to get into Walmart and their online stores.

Clearly being a saavy business owner, what did Angelia need from the M3RACE?  Getting the story out. Angelia is in the process of approaching Lowes, Home Depot, and Disney, and she knows that some publicity and credibility will strengthen her case.

I asked her what advice she’d offer to other M3 Racers, and she said her story is a lesson to others.  “Pay attention to market trends,” she said.  ” Understand your business and your customers’ needs.”