Monthly Archives: May 2009

Response Expo news

Inventors Digest has joined Response Expo, the Direct Response Marketing Alliance (DRMA) and Brainchild Marketing to serve as media sponsor for the Inventors Pavilion at the upcoming RESPONSE EXPO Conference & Exposition taking place at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront May 19-21.

The Inventor’s Pavilion is a dedicated space within the exhibition hall designed to serve as a showcase for new product inventions in all categories.

Inventors signing up to participate in the Response Expo Pavilion will receive a 5’x5’ booth, and an All Access badge (a $795 dollar value).  Response Expo, Inventors Showcase and Brainchild Marketing have also created two separate sessions featuring DRTV industry leaders expressly for inventors designed to help them move their inventions into the direct response marketplace.

The full cost to inventors: $199 dollars, including the booth (with tables and chairs), All Access Badge and inventor seminars.

If interested, contact Jennifer Lawlor at 412-400-0703 or via email at jenlawlor@brainchildmarketing.biz.

Welcome Edison, Jr. – New Blog!

I’m Devin White, the author of the new Edison Jr. blog here on InventorsDigest.com.

Devin White

Devin White

I’m sort of a youth ambassador.  I’m 14 years old and a freshman in high school.

I’m from the small town of Stonington, Conn., right on the border with Rhode Island. I play lots of sports – tennis and soccer very competitively – but I love baseball, skiing, and golf.

I’m a die-hard Yankees fan (Sorry Sox fans). I listen to all sorts of music, while actually playing trombone and tuba. Just like many of you readers, I txt a lot and always have my iPod on me. Also like many of you readers, I love to invent. Love everything about it, from that first light bulb moment to seeing the great look of success in the eyes of the inventor.

A little about my story, I was a finalist to get a spot on the Emmy Award-winning PBS television series Everyday Edisons. Although I didn’t make the show, it was the experience that still keeps me going. Trust me when I say that in a kid’s mind there are no shortages of ideas. Our ideas are countless – we have no limits! Let’s show the world what we’ve got. Don’t Stop Thinking.

First Person – Teacher Trolley

Hard Lessons for the Teacher Trolley

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

By Jodi McKay

Every inventor has a story. Mine starts with a question. Have you ever really thought about all the mobile classrooms behind schools across America?

Jodi McKay

Jodi McKay

On average, taxpayers paid about $100,000 per trailer. That’s OK because education is a priority in our country. Kids need a place to learn.

What if I told you there are empty classrooms inside all those schools – lots of empty classrooms?

I know because I taught at an overcrowded school and I “floated” between some of these empty rooms.

My year as a floater ignited my “inner Einstein” and started my journey toward inventor-hood.  I created the Teacher Trolley, a complete mobile workstation on four all-terrain wheels.

It is designed to meet the unique needs of nomadic educators and enable floating teachers’ success. I intend to change the way our country views the use of space in our schools and decrease dependency on costly mobile classrooms.

In all honesty, my journey hasn’t been a fast one. However, I have learned a lot along the way.

Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves.  –  Italian Proverb

Initially, I saw my invention as simply a product that enabled floating teachers to transport their materials efficiently between several rooms.

For several years, my energy was focused on securing venture capital, creating the perfect design, and protecting a single idea.

However, in my situation, the product is large and it will cost a small fortune (by my standards) to manufacture.

Early on, I made the decision to wait for the right investor instead of taking out a second mortgage on our house to fund the tooling and first wave of manufacturing. This was the right decision for my situation, but it put me in a frustrating place. “Inventor purgatory,” if you will.

Then one day I realized that floating teachers don’t just need a product; they need support.

Teacher Trolley prototype

Teacher Trolley prototype

When I embraced this opportunity and established myself as an “industry expert” on nomadic instruction, a whole new world opened up to me. Best of all, it has cost little more than my time.

As I wait for a manufacturing partner, I have been able to dramatically increase the visibility and value of my company by developing an extensive mailing list of floating teachers, creating Sink or Swim (a bi-monthly online newsletter geared to floater issues), hosting a first-year floater to be our “Blogger in Residence,” marketing professional development workshops directly to schools, and slamming YouTube and Facebook with PSA-style promos bringing awareness to the available space in our schools and our ridiculous dependency on costly mobile classrooms.

Surprisingly, as soon as I started marketing my skills, as opposed to my product, my story was picked up by several national trade magazines. Consequently, I gained great free publicity and validated my company and product.

I have never met a man so ignorant I couldn’t learn something from him.  – Galileo

Despite all our success with expanding our visibility and organic marketing, the smartest thing I did was surround myself with people who know more than I.

Early in the process, I created a voluntary board of advisors to guide my business decisions. After all, I am a teacher, not an MBA. On average, we meet once a quarter. They are a motley group that come from a variety of backgrounds and they seem to enjoy the challenge of trying to get a new company started as much as I do.

I recommend taking the time to create a list of people with knowledge in areas foreign to you (i.e. accounting, small-business development, customer service, marketing and banking/financing). Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. You’ll probably be surprised how many agree to join your adventure.

What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight,

but the size of the fight in the dog!”  – Dwight Eisenhower

I am a woman with no formal business experience who took a sabbatical from the classroom for several years to raise three young kids. My husband is also a teacher, so we aren’t wealthy. However, I have two very important skills that all good stay-at-home-moms have mastered – patience and persistence.

The journey has sometimes been paved with potholes. There was the important urban school official who ate candy bars and answered her cell phone multiple times during our short courtesy meeting. I recall the former advisor who earned my trust then tried to line his pockets with a manufacturing deal through a friend. There is the superintendent who didn’t think a mere teacher could solve his city’s important education budget issues “with her little idea.” And the big school-supply company that showed a lot of interest in acquiring my start-up company as a backdoor approach to learning our product secrets.

These could have been viewed as show stoppers. Instead, I see them as stepping stones on a path to success. I am a little dog with a lot of fight. I may not be there yet. But I’m a lot closer than I was yesterday!

Visit

www.teachertrolley.com

www.helpfloaters.com

E-mail Jodi at: rmckay@carolina.rr.com

Doug Hall Places His Bet

The corporate-friendly nonconformist is wagering big that his new Web site will connect inventors with companies and spur innovation. But at $2,000 a pop, who’s gonna buy in?

Editors note: I served as an advisory board member for Doug Hall’s USA National Innovation Marketplace.

By Mike Drummond

Last November on a chilly afternoon, Doug Hall held court with a group of strategic advisors inside his Eureka! Ranch headquarters in Cincinnati.

Doug Hall

Doug Hall

Showing no ill-effects from the previous night’s tasting and history lesson of rare single-malt Scotch, he padded barefoot to a whiteboard and scrawled “reason to believe” and other concepts related to commercializing new products.

It was the second such session that had included the likes of famed inventor Dean Kamen, buyers from Procter & Gamble, Best Buy and Lockheed Martin, as well as academics and officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

We gathered to critique and hone Hall’s latest adventure.

On April 20, Hall officially launched the USA National Innovation Marketplace or NIM, a Web-based means to connect inventors with companies.

In a growing landscape of open-innovation Web portals, Hall envisions his as the gold standard – the ultimate means to help inventors gain credible audience with corporate America and other businesses.

Inventors looking for buyers fill out an exhaustive questionnaire, including IP status, product-development stage, estimated market size and other essential data. The information – or “inputs” in the geeky nomenclature of NIM – is run through Hall’s proprietary “Merwyn Business Simulation,” a process that includes 2.5 million mathematical calculations.

Within days, NIM spits out a four-page report predicting potential market success and is posted on the Web site for companies to review. The report’s results are only as good as the data inventors enter. Based on the quality of the information that goes in, inventors may realize they should give up on the idea, or press ahead. The average concept score is 29 on a scale of 1-100. Don’t quit your day job if your idea scores in the teens.

The report is a color-coded business plan showing royalty rates and projected sales revenues based on various levels of marketing support and other factors. Perhaps most important, it serves as a Rosetta Stone for inventors, enabling them to speak the same language as those in the glass offices.

The cost: $2,000.

NIM will offer a limited number of free reports for inventors every three months through the company’s “Franklin Scholarship” program.

There is no guarantee an inventor’s product will be commercialized. In fact, Hall’s site warns inventors of the massive odds against financial success.

‘My Purpose’

Hall became an entrepreneur at 12 selling magic kits. He worked at Procter & Gamble for a decade as a “Master Marketing Inventor.” He’s author of the national bestseller Jump Start Your Business Brain.

For a man who recreated Robert Peary’s last dash to the North Pole, who served as a judge on ABC’s American Inventor show and who commands six-figure sums to counsel Fortune 500 companies, NIM may be his most ambitious initiative to date.

“It’s quite simply a fulfillment of what I think is my purpose,” he says. “I’ve lived in these two worlds (as an inventor and in corporate America) and I can help these two worlds talk to each other. And they both desperately need each other.”

There’s a hint of altruism.

“I’m half Canadian,” he quips. “So maybe it’s a genetic flaw.”

But make no mistake. Hall is a hard-nosed capitalist who has no patience for indolent inventors unable or unwilling to take the time to research their business goals – and fill out his lengthy online form.

“Even though it asks you for a lot of information, if you don’t have it, that’s a good light-bulb indicator saying you may need to get it,” says Lydia Carson, CEO of skin-care company Balm Innovations.

Carson, who served on the advisory board and was part of NIM’s alpha test, intends to use the program as a paying customer as she grows her business.

NIM requires inventors to input numbers and it provides places to add text.

“One of the things that took me the longest was the character limits” of the text fields, she says. “It forces you to boil down what’s important.”

Hall has leveraged a longstanding relationship with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership or MEP, a creature of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. Thousands of small and mid-size manufacturers are part of MEP, which has promoted Hall’s “Winning Ways” business seminars as well as spread the word about NIM.

“Inventors on the outside are going to be able to walk into a company with the exact same research that the internal (company) research is being evaluated against,” Hall says. “Think about that. You’re going to be able to show the exact same report. When you’re doing battle with them you’ll truly have a fair shot.”

Robert LeDonne of Colorado invented Touch Sound, a means to experience sounds subtle and sonorous through your hands. Picture feeling each moment Eric Clapton’s guitar pick strikes a string, or sensing the beat of a dragonfly’s wing.

LeDonne talks about how we’re all a “frequency in nature.” How his technology allows one to experience the voice of the universe. Makes for nice poetry. But for a boardroom presentation? Not so much.

LeDonne tried unsuccessfully for years to interest companies in his technology. It didn’t help that one of his representatives was, as he says, bi-polar.

Then came an opportunity to be a free guinea pig in NIM last year.

He has since inked a development deal with Dimensional Innovations in Overland Park, Kansas, which is working to perfect the technology for movie theaters.

“I really don’t think I could have landed this type of connection” without the NIM report, LeDonne says.

Jim Baker, CEO of Dimensional Innovations, says he’s cautiously optimistic about the technology.

“We got the ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “It really enhances the experience of the movie, especially action pictures or rock concerts. It alerts senses to key moments.”

However, Baker says the sound from the technology competes with audio from theater stereo systems – a problem his team is fixing.

A month before NIM’s launch, Hall fields questions from me about the program.

He’s accommodating of queries he’s mulled countless times, despite the pressure of a looming deadline. The only time he demonstrates impatience is when I ask about the $2,000 price tag. It’s not the first time I’ve challenged him on this, but a good question is always worth posing again.

“Amateurs that don’t have any idea what they’re doing, we don’t want you in,” he says. “This is the ante to get into the game.”

The rewards include connecting with innovative-minded companies eager to find new products – with everyone reading from the same reports.

“Make sure you warn inventors,” Hall admonishes toward the end of the hour-long interview, “this is a severe test. You’re most likely to fail. I’m sorry about that. That’s life.”

USA National Innovation Marketplace at a glance

♦ Cost: $2,000 – no refunds.

♦ Businesses can shop for offerings or they can post requests for free.

♦ Free “Franklin Scholarships” are available for qualified inventors.

♦ You don’t have to have a patent to submit an idea. But it’s strongly recommended inventors only disclose their experience, successful test results, testimonials, relevant pedigree, etc. on any submissions published on the site.

♦ Running a research report itself is not a public disclosure.

Women's Verse

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell as Tweet…

By Margaret Pryor
Lately I’ve been wondering why would I use Twitter, the seemingly ubiquitous microblogging service founded in 2006.

Margaret Pryor

Margaret Pryor

Twitter users reply to the question “What are you doing?” by sending short text messages up to 140 characters in length, called “tweets” to their friends or followers.

Do I really want to know the latest thought that popped in to a friend’s head, or what an acquaintance had for breakfast? I’m still not convinced.

But as I continue my research, I find that Twitter can also be used in business to generate traffic, get leads, and put you in touch with high profile people. Now I’m getting interested.

But what has really captured my attention is that out there in the Twitterverse is a small set of extremely creative Twitter users who have used the application to build innovative devices.

One such device is Botanicalls, described on its Web site as “a new channel of communication between plants and humans.”botanical

Have you ever wondered how your plants were doing on any given day? Probably not, but now they can tell you anyway!  Developed in 2006, the original version of Botanicalls used a sensor that enabled plants to call people on the phone to let their needs be known.  Today Botanicalls has evolved to allow plants to contact their owners via tweets on Twitter.  The plant will send polite messages; such as “Water me please,” and when watered will send a thank you message.  If ignored, the plant’s messages become more urgent.

The Web site says:

“1. Keep the plants alive by translating the communication protocols of the plants (leaf habit, color of foliage, droop, etc) to more common human communication protocols (email, voice phone calls, digital visualizations, etc).

2. Enhance people’s connection to plants, and explore the ways plants help humans, how caring for a shared resource can create sense of community, and how natural life is a valuable counterpoint to our technical environment.

3. Maintain a sense of humor at all times.”

I must have one!  Botanicalls are sold for $99 and come in assemble-it-yourself kits.

Now that is a great use of Twitter!

IP Watchdog

Patent Reform Far from Done Deal

By Gene Quinn

gene1

Gene Quinn

As of today, legislative patent reform efforts are working their way through Congress, but passage of patent reform is far from a done deal. We are admittedly further along the road to legislative reform than at any point in time over the last 4 years, but the ultimate outcome is still not certain.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported out a version of patent reform, but at a hearing of the full House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, April 30, 2009, Congressman Conyers (D-MI) explained that the Committee would not simply adopt the Senate version of the bill.  This was echoed by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Thus, in addition to the hurdles facing the reform legislation in the Senate there are now real and substantial hurdles that will need to be overcome in the House as well.  If you were rooting for patent reform, it doesn’t look good.  But for many independent inventors, entrepreneurs and start-up companies, this could well be welcome news.

It was already believed that the patent reform might not manage to get through the Senate.  It was expected that if Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) did bring the legislation to a vote it will be because he has the votes to pass the legislation. In the wake of the recent House Judiciary Committee hearing one must now question whether Senator Reid would even consider bringing patent reform to a vote without assurances that the House will sign on.

There are at least several contentious issues remaining that could derail the patent legislation, including damages, first-to-file and presence of post-grant review. For independent inventors, entrepreneurs and start-up companies these are all major issues of concern. If the damages compromise reached in the Senate version of the bill does not find its way into the House bill patents will become worth far less because the amount of damages that could be awarded to a successful patent owner in litigation would almost certainly be less.

This would likely cause larger corporations to view patent infringement as a valid and relatively risk-free alternative to respecting patent rights.  If first-to-file remains in the bill there is also a likelihood that those with fewer resources will not be able to win the race to the Patent Office, again favoring larger corporations over individuals and small businesses.
Finally, if post-grant review remains it will become much easier to challenge an issue patent, thereby holding patents hostage for even longer than they already are by the enormous Patent Office backlog and ridiculous amount of time it takes to get a patent.  Therefore, no patent reform is probably far better for independent inventors, entrepreneurs and start-up companies.

Things to watch for as patent reform continues its long and winding road through Congress include:

(1) Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has been a major driving force in patent reform, but he did not vote in favor of the version of the bill reported out to the full Senate because it did not include inequitable conduct reform.  Should Senator Hatch signal his willingness to vote for the Senate bill that would be strong indication that the Senate version of patent reform can and will pass the full Senate.

(2) Congressmen and Congresswomen from Michigan and Ohio could well dictate the fate of patent reform in the House.  With Chrysler filing for bankruptcy manufacturing associations lobbying hard on patent reform, if the bill continues to contain provisions that are viewed as taking the sting out of patent infringement it will not likely fair well with the full House.  Manufacturing associations are worried that the reforms wanted by the high-tech sector will cost American jobs.  At a time of such economic unrest this just won’t fly in the House where every member must stand for re-election every two years, and will be particularly problematic for those in the House from states hit hardest by the auto industry collapse.

Eugene R. Quinn, Jr.
US Patent Attorney (Reg. No. 44,294)
Zies Widerman & Malek
Founder of IPWatchdog.com