Monthly Archives: June 2009

Five Questions With … Eric Wilhelm

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

Eric Wilhelm founded, “the world’s biggest show and tell” Web site where users crowdsource do-it-yourself or DIY projects, from lawnmower race cars to skateboard sails. The site began in 2005 as a way for Wilhlem to document his mechanical engineering work and grad school kite-surfing projects. He’s co-founded Squid Labs, an innovation and design partnership, and a number of Squid Labs spin-off companies including Potenco, producing a human-powered generator for cell phones and laptops; Makani, an energy company seeking to harness high-altitude wind; and OptiOpia, developing low-cost portable vision-testing and lens-fabricating devices. Talked innovation with him in this installment of Five Questions With ….

Eric Wilhelm

Eric Wilhelm

ID: Who is for? Inventors? Creative types? College kids? People with too much time on their hands?

EW: The site is for everyone. Everyone has an Instructable in them – something they do really well, or a trick they use to make life easier. The people who share are passionate about their projects and want to show them off. The analogy is that people put things they’ve built, baked or created on their coffee table so that they’ll be asked questions about it. With Instructables, we’ve just put that coffee table online.

ID: What’s off limits? Can someone post a dirty bomb or how to hack an iPhone?

EW: We review every project and don’t let junk through.

ID: We hear anecdotally more people are turning to DIY and entrepreneurial inventive pursuits, particularly in the sour economy. Comment on the link between the emergence of Instructables and macro-economic forces.
EW: DIY has always had a strong reuse and re-purposing component.  When people watch their budgets more carefully, they naturally look for ways to reuse and re-purpose.

ID: What does the emergence of the DIY scene say about our culture?

EW: Part of the emergence of DIY is a backlash against mass-consumerism. Many people express their identity through the things that they use. If everyone has the same things as you, what does that say about you? DIY is a way to personalize and express individuality.

ID: What’s the coolest idea you’ve ever seen on the site?

EW: A “wheelchair” for Dachshunds

Billy Mays – RIP

As Seen On TV

Pitchman Billy Mays Retains a Bit of the Boardwalk


Billy Mays is unabashed about his bombastic salesmanship. "I'm loud," he says. "I beat up on ya."

Editor’s note: This appeared in our December 2007 issue. Billy Mays was found dead in his Florida home on Sunday.

Bold, brash and unabashed, Billy Mays is one of those guys who could sell icicles to the Inuit. Love him or hate him – and judging by the number of anti-Mays sites on the Web, many people dislike the bearded fellow – the king of infomercials has made himself rich with in-your-face pitches for OxiClean, OrangeGlo and other home-care products.

Mays is the thumb’s up chief executive and founder of Mays Promotions Inc., based in Dunedin, Fla. In the early ’90s, Orange Glo International hired him to promote their line of cleaners on the Home Shopping Network. Following the success of the HSN campaign, he has been featured in television commercials and infomercials, including As Seen On TV spots.

He’s now got a pool in his backyard, and luxury autos in his three-car garage. It’s a far cry from hawking Washmatiks – portable washing devices – on the scruffy Atlantic City boardwalk. He’s cultivated a near-urban legend surrounding his days as a sidewalk salesman. Listen as he rhapsodizes about those formative years.

“If you lasted more than a month, these old pitchmen, they’d call you aside and say, ‘Listen kid, I want to show you something,'” Mays says. “These guys, they gave me their lifelong secrets.

“They saw I was destined to do something,” he continues. “The longer I stayed there, they’d tell me a little more. I say I’m the last pitchmen schooled on the boardwalk on Atlantic City.”

Evidently you can take the boy off the Atlantic City boardwalk, but you can’t take the boardwalk out of the boy.

“I have the old-school qualities of a pitchman,” he says. “I’m loud. I beat up on ya. I’ll wear you down.”

From Sunday’s

Billy Mays had recently emerged from the infomercial ghetto with a reality show, “Pitchmen” on the Discovery Channel, in which he and his fellow pitchman Anthony Sullivan judged inventors’ proposals for new products. But Mr. Mays was already a major presence in the Web video world, where his own braying infomercials exist side by side with a thriving genre of Mays parodies, remixes and outtakes. Among the more popular: the “Mighty Putty Dub,” in which Mr. Mays appears to develop Tourette’s midway through his pitch, and the “billy mays gangsta remix.”

Ring of Fire

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

It’s  camping season, campers! Time to start rolling out the sleeping bags, filling up the canteens and preparing for a summer of wieners and s’mores.firering

An Ohio-based inventor has created a personalized way to enjoy those evenings by the campfire. Van Dyke’s Portable Fire Ring is made of four panels that interlock to form a square fire ring. Personalization appears on all four panels. Van Dyke’s Portable Fire Ring can be customized with your family name, city and state or other message.

Letters and characters are cut in the steel with advanced waterjet technology. This produces fine detail without weakening the steel like some other processes. This helps keep your message crisp and clean for the life of the fire ring.

The Van Dyke Portable Fire Ring also comes in its own travel case. No fuss. No muss.


Edison Jr. – Inventing Is in the Stars

Editor’s note: Devin White, 15, is our resident teen blogger.

Well, I’m back. Only one last exam to go as I’m writing this, and that will bring the end to yet another school year.

Devin White

Devin White

I hope all of you have had a good start to your summer. It’s not beach weather yet here in Connecticut, but the tennis courts and golf courses are in good shape. On top of that I met my favorite actor yesterday, Mark Walberg, he’s a good guy, and has a pretty good driver in his bag. Anyways, that’s what’s up with me.

So, down to business. Sometimes when I wake up I’ll go check email, and my Yahoo homepage will show me my daily horoscope. When I woke up today and the horoscope popped up, well I had to share, Gemini btw.

“Those big ideas? It’s about time you put them into action. Start making them real.”

Trust me when I say that I’m not paranoid over these things, but sometimes they do seem to give us some good messages. As you can tell, today, the gods are just telling us to go for it.

So, I told myself that I’m going to kick myself in the butt to get going on this idea that I’ve had in my head, today, because the horoscope told me I should.

What I didn’t say was that the day before I had made a plan to get going on it anyways the next day.

So, when I saw this horoscope this morning, it got me thinking.

This should be the horoscope EVERYDAY!!

I learned that as soon as we get that big idea, “It’s about time you put it into action. Start making it real.” Go Hard, Go Big, why not?

Success is going to depend on your commitment and intuition for whatever reason you invent.

It’s nearing the end of the month, I WANT SPOTLIGHT ENTRIES. If you’re a kid who wants to be featured on this blog, contact me at Let’s Show the World, how to go big, Don’t Stop Thinking.

Nano Inventor Wins 500 Grand

From the Lemelson-MIT Prize release:

For Professor Chad Mirkin, good things come in small packages – specifically one billionth of a meter in size. Yet, as director of Northwestern

Chad Mirkin

Chad Mirkin

University’s International Institute for Nanotechnology, the impact of Mirkin’s work is anything but small. A prolific inventor and entrepreneur, his innovations have the potential to transform the future of medical diagnostics and patient point-of-care and to ignite change across many industries from semi-conductors to healthcare. For his revolutionary discoveries and sizeable contributions to science and invention, Mirkin is awarded the prestigious 2009 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.

Mirkin, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University (NU), will accept the prize and present his accomplishments to the public at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the Lemelson-MIT Program’s third-annual EurekaFest, a multi-day celebration of the inventive spirit, June 25-27.

As a leader in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, Mirkin is the author of 380 manuscripts and over 350 patents and applications, and is currently listed as the third most cited chemist over the past decade and the most cited nanomedicine researcher in the world.1,2 “Professor Mirkin’s cutting-edge, innovative work is greatly contributing to America’s economic competitiveness and will help ensure that the nation remains at the forefront of one of the most promising areas in science,” states Congressman Daniel Lipinski of Illinois.

Mirkin is best known for the invention, development and commercialization of two revolutionary technologies – the nanoparticle-based medical diagnostic assays underlying the FDA-approved Verigene IDTM system and Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN), an ultra high resolution molecule-based printing technique. Both inventions were born, in part, out of Northwestern University’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, funded by the National Science Foundation, and conceived, managed and directed by Mirkin. There, Mirkin’s research, with the help of NU graduate students and colleagues, has formed the basis of several start-up companies that are helping to bring his inventions from the lab to the market.

Seeking Nominees for 2010 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize

Applications for the 2010 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize are now available at The annual prize honors an outstanding mid-career inventor who is dedicated to improving our world through technological invention and innovation.

Robots Teed to Keep Golf Courses Green


This article appeared in the June 2009 issue of Inventors Digest.

The days of harvester-size, exhaust-spewing mowers may be numbered at golf courses.

Indianapolis-based Precise Path Robotics is beta-testing this season on greens in Indiana and Florida its new line of RG3s — silent, battery-powered robo-mowers that trim grass as fast as conventional, manned mowers but without the collateral environmental damage.

The GPS-guided RG3 is whisper-quiet, eliminating noise pollution. Another plus – the invention can be used at night. Several industry studies show that nocturnal mowing reduces disease, decreasing the need for fungicides.

RG3s, with a list price of $29,500, only work on greens and have a lifespan of five to seven years. The company is developing a line of robotic fairway mowers and bunker rakers, spokeswoman Lauren Littlefield tells Inventors Digest. GPS technology in these robotic groundskeepers will allow superintendents to apply less water, fertilizer and pesticides, she says.

Precise Path Robotics was founded in 2004 and its robot competed in the DARPA Grand Challenge. Although it didn’t win the contest, the company hopes to win over the nation’s estimated 16,000 golf courses.

While robo-mowers promise to reduce the carbon footprints of golf courses, this may not be good news for the Carl Spacklers of the world, the militant, Dalai Lama-quoting groundskeeper in Caddyshack.

The RG3 can mow in “perfectly straight lines,” says Littlefield, “which is virtually impossible for a human to do.” Moreover, she adds, golf course owners “can reduce staff.”

What about gophers? Will robots eliminate those varmints?


As Spackler says, to kill the gopher, “You have to fall back on superior intelligence and superior firepower.”

Inventor's Insight

Inside the Investor’s Studio

An exclusive view into an angel investor pitch

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

By Jim DeBetta


Jim Debetta

Sometimes there is truly no better way to learn about the invention process then by doing things on your own.

When I first started, I made so many mistakes that I cannot remember them all. I do, however, remember the money I lost along the way when making uninformed decisions. The adage “you learn by doing” certainly rings true in my experience.

I recently brought a client into a meeting with a potential investor in the hopes he would get the funding he so desperately needs to keep his invention idea on track. He has a great product and I see the potential in it, but being able to articulate that with facts and figures is another story.

Because I know this investor personally, I was able to give my client a heads up about my friend’s personality and what questions he would be ask. Having this advantage is a luxury, but unfortunately most people must be ready for anything when meeting with a potential investor.

As we settled in and finished the small talk, my friend asked my client if he had any idea how much money he needed to get his product fully developed.

My client said, “I think I need about 600K.” My friend immediately asked how he planned to find this amount and my client’s answer was exactly the opposite response he needed to give.

“Well, I need a few hundred grand for development, another 100k or so for marketing and some money for me, like a salary, because I will be running the company.”

Wrong answer.

When you approach a potential investor, you must clearly demonstrate exactly how their money will be spent and back it up with real numbers based on quotes and research that proves the actual costs of work you require.

Paying a salary is not something my friend is interested in doing. In fact, it is just the opposite. He wants to see you sweat and he also wants to see your personal and financial commitment to your product. He wants to know you are willing to put your money where your mouth is.

My investor friend then asked my client if he was able to show any proof that his product was viable and desirable by consumers and retailers. My client said he asked his family, friends and some co-workers and they all thought it was a sure thing. My friend simply said the opinions of those who know you and care about you are worthless to him.

My client reacted with a puzzled look. The fact is validating your product with strangers who have no vested interest in your success is critical to proving potential viability. Performing consumer surveys, focus groups and even talking with a few retail buyers can show that a demand for your product exists and that may make an investor more comfortable.

My friend asked my client many more questions and one that stood out was whether he had a solid business plan. Unfortunately, he did not have what is often referred to as an investment-grade plan, which includes detailed financial models, in-depth market research, an explanation of yourself and your advisory team’s qualifications.

Perhaps most important, the plan indicates when investors will see a return on their investment. If investors do not clearly understand the benefits of your product and a concise plan to earn a profit, then regardless of your product’s ingenuity they will not invest.

I warn all clients about what to expect in these types of meetings. Investors are looking to turn a profit. The inventor must instill this confidence in investors and be prepared for their numerous questions. Angel investors will not invest in someone who is unprofessional or lacks the ability to carefully budget, use and safeguard money. When you are seeking money, you need to instill not only the confidence that you can succeed, but provide all the facts and information that allows an investor to seriously consider making a formal offer to invest.

At this point in our meeting, things were not going well. I intervened by telling my investor friend I had done preliminary research and the initial results were promising. I also told him that my group would act as advisors to ensure that all aspects of development and commercialization would be handled professionally and by a team who has decades of relevant experience. This made everyone feel better.

Inventors need to pay attention to detail and professionally prepare for their new venture. They cannot solely rely on their vision for their idea, but meet the investor’s bottom-line agenda. This means taking cues and advice from industry professionals like me who have been down this road before. It seems that sometimes no matter what advice I offer, some inventors choose to do things their own way.

Ask the Commish

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

Q. I have heard I should ‘search’ a trademark before I apply to register it.  What does that mean and how do I do it?beresford

A trademark search is the process of identifying companies or persons who have sought registration for or are using your proposed mark or a similar mark in the marketplace.  Because there are different types of trademark protection available (namely, federal, state, and common law), a complete trademark search should include not only federal trademarks on file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but also state and common law trademarks. 

Consulting a variety of databases for the different types of marks can be very useful when evaluating whether a chosen mark is available for your use and/or registration, or infringes the rights of a prior user.  Although optional, a trademark search conducted early in the marketing and product development process can be invaluable in terms of time and money savings should you discover that someone else has already registered or begun using your mark or a similar mark in your field.

As noted above, you conduct a trademark search by looking for your mark and similar marks in databases containing federal, state, and common law marks.  You can conduct the search yourself using online and other available resources, or you can retain a private trademark search company to conduct the search for you and provide a report summarizing the search findings.

A search for federal trademarks, both active and inactive pending applications and registrations, can be conducted free of charge through the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), available on our website at  Be sure to read and understand the scope notes, help screens, and disclaimers before conducting your search.  You should also know that if you do file an application with the USPTO to seek federal protection for your mark, an examining attorney will also conduct a search of your mark in the USPTO database, and the search results may or may not be identical to the results obtain through your search.  Please note that state and common law trademarks are not included in the USPTO database.

Many states offer online searchable databases for state trademarks in their specific states.  However, state trademark agencies vary from state to state and, unfortunately, there is no one free Internet database that provides information on all state trademark registrations.  However, there are fee-based databases that do collect state trademark information.

Common law marks can be found through a variety of online and print sources, including telephone, business and manufacturing directories; print and online catalogs; trade journals and magazines; Internet search engines and portals; newspapers, press releases, and new product announcements.

When formulating your search strategy and considering what sources to consult in your trademark search, the general rule is the more comprehensive and inclusive the search, the better.  Many just search for the exact spelling of a trademark of interest.  For example, some mistakenly believe that if the exact mark does not appear in the USPTO’s trademark database, they will obtain a federal registration.

However, if there is a federal registration or prior-filed application that is not spelled exactly like your mark, but is sufficiently similar in sound, appearance, or meaning, and for related goods and/or services, your trademark will be denied registration.

Although there is no absolute certainty that your trademark search will reveal all potentially conflicting marks, a comprehensive search that includes federal, state, and common law references is the best way to evaluate whether a chosen mark is available for your use and/or registration.  Because there are several considerations involved in making this determination, it is generally advisable to consult an attorney who specializes in trademark law.  He or she can conduct and review the search for you and provide an opinion regarding the availability of your mark.

Obama Taps Kappos for USPTO

From the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office press release:

President Barack Obama on Thursday announced his intent to nominate David Kappos, a patent professional with more than 20 years of experience, as the new Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).kappos

“The United States Patent and Trademark Office faces significant challenges, and it needs an experienced leader like David at the helm,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “He will be a strong voice for patent reform and I have tasked him to reduce dramatically the unacceptably long time the office takes to review patent applications.”

Kappos has accrued knowledge of the patent system and broad respect from professionals across the field – including the biotech, life sciences and high tech sectors. He is currently vice president and assistant general counsel for intellectual property at IBM. Specifically, Kappos manages IBM’s patent and trademark portfolios – protecting and licensing intellectual property worldwide.

If he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kappos will take control of an office that provides incentives to encourage technological advancement and helps businesses protect their investments, promote their goods and safeguard against deception in the marketplace. The office continues to deal with a patent application backlog of more than 770,000, long waiting periods for patent review, information technology systems that are regarded as outdated and an application process in need of reform.

Kappos serves on the Board of Directors of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the Intellectual Property Owners Association, and the International Intellectual Property Society. He is also the Vice President of the Intellectual Property Owners Association. He has held various previous leadership positions in intellectual property law associations in Asia and the U.S. He has spoken widely in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. on intellectual property topics.

Kappos received his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California-Davis in 1983, and his law degree from the University of California Berkeley in 1990. He joined IBM in 1983 as a development engineer and has served in a variety of roles before taking his current position, including intellectual property law attorney in IBM’s Storage Division and Litigation group, IP Law Counsel in IBM’s Software Group, assistant general counsel for IBM Asia/Pacific, IBM Corporate Counsel and assistant general counsel.

Win a Laptop in Our Essay Contest!

Essay Contest Rules

Permission Form – Required

Official Entry Form – Required


In honor of National Inventors Month in August, Inventors Digest magazine and partners are sponsoring the 2059 Essay Contest for middle school and high school students.

Your assignment: What will the world look like in 2059?

In 1959, the internal pacemaker, the microchip, the Barbie doll and pantyhose were invented. Each was significant in its own right. But that was so 50 years ago.

Show us in 500 words or less what technology, tool, product or service will shape our lives in 2059 and why. The Grand Prize includes:

-A laptop computer

-Your essay published in Inventors Digest

-A year’s subscription to the magazine

-Possible appearance on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Everyday Edisons

-A killer T-shirt

-Brain-teaser games

Eligibility: All middle school and high school students ages 12-17 in the United States. Grand prizes will be awarded for best middle school and high school entries. North Carolina and South Carolina entrants also are eligible for the regional Grand Prize, an iPod, courtesy of

Entry rules: Download official entry and all permission forms below. All essays must be original work of the student. Only 1 (ONE) entry per student. Submit essays and forms to Inventors Digest, with Essay Contest in the subject line or mail to Inventors Digest, Essay Contest, 520 Elliot St., Ste. 200, Charlotte, NC 28202 or fax to 704.333.5115. Include your birth date, school, address and phone number.

Criteria: Entries will be judged on clarity and vision of how we will use new technology or products in the year 2059. Winning essays will demonstrate imagination rooted in science and engineering principles. In other words, the best essays will show what’s possible as well as practical.

Deadlines: Submit essays by Sept. 30, 2009. All entries must be postmarked by Sept. 30, 2009.

Winners will be notified on or by Nov. 26, 2009.

Contact us at or call 704.369.7312 ext. 219 for more information.