Monthly Archives: October 2009

USPTO rescinds lame continuation rules

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, under the leadership of new head and former IBM-er David Kappos, is rolling back some of the more onerous uspto_sealpolicies advanced under the former regime. We couldn’t be happier to see what’s happening at the patent office so far. Kappos and team seem like an enlightened bunch. The press release from intellectual law firm Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C., below illustrates one example:

The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) rescinded its highly controversial proposed Continuation and Claims rules on October 8.  The proposed rules would have imposed restrictions on the number of continuation applications and requests for continued examination (RCEs) per application family and would have also limited the number of claims per patent application.

The rescission of the Continuation and Claims rules is an important development, according to Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C., a Boston intellectual property law firm.  It ends uncertainty as to whether the proposed rules would be implemented and, if so, when. Current patent practice will not be altered—at least for now.

The PTO, however, will likely attempt to impose other changes in seeking to address its and the public’s concerns, Wolf Greenfield says.  Exactly how far-reaching such changes will be and whether the PTO will have or be given the authority to impose them is, unfortunately, currently unknown.

In the future, the PTO will likely endeavor through rulemaking to impose other changes to the patent system, with the same aim of reducing its backlog and streamlining the process and timing of patent examination.

Additionally, the PTO is seeking, and may be granted, the authority to make substantive—not just procedural—rules, which would make future challenges to rulemaking more difficult.

Even so, future changes are expected to be less restrictive than the rescinded rules, if imposed under the PTO’s current leadership.

Background

In the fall of 2007, the PTO was set to implement rules that would have been restrictive of the freedom patent applicants have when applying for patents and also would have imposed additional requirements when an application contains a large number of claims.

The proposed rules would have permitted only two continuation applications and one request for continued examination (“RCE”) per application family as a matter of right and would have allowed an applicant to file only five independent claims and twenty-five total claims per application. If more claims were desired, the applicant would have been required to submit a large amount of detailed information to the PTO to assist in the examination of the application.

Shortly before the proposed rules were to go into effect, inventor Triantafyllos Tafas (“Tafas”) and GlaxoSmithKline PLC (“GSK”) each brought suit against the PTO. The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia granted Tafas and GSK a preliminary injunction to stop the controversial rules from becoming effective and, in April 2008, further found that the PTO did not have the substantive rulemaking authority to impose the proposed rules and permanently enjoined them.

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that all of the rules except for the rule limiting the number of continuation applications were procedural and within the PTO’s rulemaking authority. In July 2009, however, the Federal Circuit granted a request that the full court of twelve judges rehear the case to reconsider the panel decision.

Inside INPEX and InventHelp

By Mike Drummond

Editor’s note: This story appeared in our September 2008 issue. Inventor’s Digest has no relationship – unofficial or otherwise – with the planning or production of INPEX.

Patent attorney David DeMay is seated alone at his information booth inside INPEX, the largest inventor tradeshow in the nation. He looks a little nervous.

He is among some 300 other exhibitors at the 24th annual, four-day event, held this past June at the bright, cavernous David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. About 1,500 people are on hand, including representatives from Bosch, Hasbro, Newell Rubbermaid and even The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

But that’s not why DeMay appears slightly ill-at-ease. He’s seated across from a member of the media. He chooses his words carefully.

At INPEX’s request last year, DeMay posted a link to the show on his Web site.

“Unfortunately,” says DeMay, “within 24 hours at least four or five colleagues called and said, ‘What are you doing having this on your Web site?’ That made me think about not attending.”

Invention submission company InventHelp, a trade name of Invention Submission Corp. (ISC), also known as Western Invention Submission Corp. and a division of Technosystems Consolidated, is the driving force behind the Invention & New Product Exposition or INPEX. InventHelp is among the major invention submission companies critics call a scam. In 1994, without admitting guilt, the company settled allegations of fraud with the Federal Trade Commission. InventHelp has been the target of lawsuits and consumer complaints. Entire Web sites are devoted to warning inventors to stay away from the company.

A LexisNexis search of court records shows that InventHelp has never been convicted of fraud or wrongdoing.

Yet when it comes to INPEX, there’s a risk of guilt by association.

DeMay is back for a second time. He says he’s “pleasantly surprised at the quality of the show and the staff, but disappointed at the amount of misinformation or incomplete information that the average independent inventor seems to have.”

Many don’t know the difference between a design and utility patent. Or think a provisional patent application is the same as a patent. DeMay is here to educate. Maybe land a client or two.

“I figured – what’s a nice way to put it – a doctor has to go to where the sick people are,” he says. “I’ve got the information.”

A few hundred feet away, past rows of booths where exhibitors plunked $1,300 to $1,800 a pop, sits the man behind the INPEX curtain, Martin Berger.

Veiled from public view by a wall of black fabric in the INPEX VIP lounge, Berger fields my questions about the show, his InventHelp business and his pariah status in certain inventor circles. In an interview spanning nearly two hours, Berger also takes aim at critics, particularly those affiliated with the United Inventors Association or UIA, which has had a longstanding hate-hate relationship with Berger’s privately held empire.

“Ninety percent of our customers tell us that our work is good to excellent,” Berger says. “Ninety percent. But if the invention doesn’t sell, you will see a complaint…. Inventors cannot believe it if companies are not interested in their inventions.”

He notes the show has helped inventors land licensing deals, including the Spin Pop lollipop and Rock Bottom Slots slot machines, among others.

“I think that we’re improving our reputation,” he says. “But you will always see people who are unhappy with our company, with virtually any invention submission company, whether the company was honest or dishonest.

“Why do we get complaints?” he adds. “It’s kill the messenger.”

InventHelp doesn’t evaluate products, he says. That’s for other companies and consumers to decide. InventHelp’s job, he says, is to present inventors’ products in the best possible light.

As he talks, industry experts are offering educational seminars upstairs on how to best commercialize products. In other rooms, representatives from the likes of Hasbro, Newell Rubbermaid and Bosch are evaluating inventions face-to-face with inventors. Elsewhere on the exhibit floor, a representative from Ronco is prowling for new products to add to the company’s iconic line. And a long queue forms where the crew from The Tonight Show is filming hopeful inventors.

Black and White

At 71, the white-haired Berger is spry and fit. Thirty years of racquetball will do that for you. He launched Invention Submission Corp. in 1984. A decade later, the FTC reached an out-of court settlement with Berger after a five-year investigation. The government claimed Berger’s company “misrepresented the nature, quality and success rate of the promotion services it sold to consumers.” Under the terms of a consent decree, ISC set up a $1.2 million account to pay refunds to customers.

“We don’t hide anything, we don’t disguise it,” he says. “We really have gotten better. If you were to ask me the one thing that allowed this company to grow, it’s that FTC consent decree.

“I thought we were winning the war,” he adds. “It was costing them and us a whole lot of money. They basically were reasonable. They said, ‘Look, all we want to be sure of is you guys are telling the truth to inventors.’”

FTC officials declined to comment for this article.

“We were then and are now a business that employs commissioned salespeople,” Berger says. “To make a sale of anything salespeople sometimes bend the truth. We have fired every salesperson who fails to comply with the FTC.”

Although it doesn’t name names, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office estimates that inventors stand to lose close to $300 million each year from fraudulent invention submission companies.

Before, during and since the FTC settlement, Berger has been battling accusations that his Pittsburgh-based company misleads inventors, who often pay $12,000 or more for InventHelp’s services. Complaints essentially accuse InventHelp of not doing enough to get products to market. InventHelp, the accusations continue, lures inventors to spend more money on marketing and other services of dubious value.

Two such complaints are on the USPTO Web site. The office does not investigate the veracity of those complaints; it merely posts them.

InventHelp’s Web site states: “From 2005 to 2007, we signed submission agreements with 5,959 clients. As a result of our services, 98 clients have received license agreements for their products, and 20 clients have received more money than they paid us for these services.”

Twenty out of 5,959. In other words, those inventors had a 0.3 percent chance of making more money in royalties than they paid InventHelp.

“Every one of our contracts has not one, but probably three or four boldface boxes that says – written by the FTC, by the way – that this is a high-risk expenditure. And we write in, you’re not likely (to achieve) success.

“Now, do our salesmen hit (prospective clients) over the head with a sledgehammer and tell them this?” he adds. “No.”

(In a follow-up conversation, Berger said his sales teams actually go to great lengths to describe the risks and reiterate the slim chances of market success.)

John Carpenter, a venture capitalist from Orlando, Fla., has invented a medical device worn on the wrist. He says he’s spent about $15,000 on InventHelp services, which included recommending he secure a utility patent.

This is his first time at INPEX, where he’s meeting about potential licensing deals. He says he investigated alternatives to bringing his product to market, including research through his attorney. He says the risks were fully disclosed, in writing, in the contracts he signed with InventHelp. He says he likes the “one-stop shopping” aspect of the company.

“You couldn’t get any more of a disclosure,” he says. “For someone to bitch that they gave money to InventHelp and they didn’t do what they said they were going to do, it’s their own fault.

“People have a way of ignoring what they’re told point blank. They say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t apply to me.’ But it’s my responsibility to have a good product,” Carpenter adds. “With all the disclosure, how the heck can I hold (InventHelp) responsible?”

Friction

Amid a slumping economy, anecdotal evidence suggests more people are seeking financial relief by developing homegrown inventions. Attendance and corporate representation at INPEX is up from last year. Companies increasingly are turning to outside innovation for new products. And invention submission companies report an uptick in business. As competition for these inventors and their new products increases, so seemingly has friction among those in the invention industry.

Bonnie Griffin Kaake, executive director of the United Inventors Association, has never attended INPEX but says she has heard from others that Berger uses the event to woo naïve inventors to InventHelp or its licensing arm, Intromark Inc.

Kaake also relates anecdotes of those who paid InventHelp $5,000 to $30,000 for what she deems virtually worthless design patents, which only cover the appearance of products, not their utility or uses.

“We don’t advertise INPEX or recommend ISC,” Kaake says. “We don’t agree with (InventHelp’s) practices. Because of that, we cannot recommend an inventor go to that show.

“Just mention ISC and INPEX,” she adds, “and bristles come up in the ‘informed inventor’ community.”

Berger insists Kaake is confusing his company for one of its competitors and that InventHelp doesn’t herd clients to secure design patents. He also maintains INPEX and InventHelp are separate. However, attendees are welcome to visit the InventHelp booths. Berger says INPEX exhibitors are mostly do-it-yourselfers. His InventHelp clients, he says, tend to want a full banquet of marketing, research and patent-referral services.

“Are we out here marketing our services to the exhibitors? Shockingly, no,” Berger says. “Are we not doing that because we’re idiots? No! These aren’t the same people buying our services. You’ll look long and hard to find a complaint about INPEX.”

Lisa Lloyd, owner of Lloyd Marketing Group in Arizona and a former UIA board president, recalls that after the FTC settlement and her tenure at UIA Berger hired her to do some consulting work. He wanted to increase his company’s licensing success rate, she says.

“I was blown away he’d even call,” she says. “He implemented most of what I recommended,” which included adding educational seminars at INPEX, inviting corporate buyers to the event, and setting up INPEX booths at other industry tradeshows so inventors could display their products.

Lloyd had run-ins with her UIA colleagues. She says the UIA focused too much on bashing the Martin Bergers of the world instead of helping inventors commercialize products.

The UIA’s focus is to provide information, support  and opportunities for inventors and entrepreneurs. Kaake concedes the UIA had spent too much time worrying about invention submission companies. She says that changed in 2007, when she became executive director. It’s now more focused on fostering business acumen among independent inventors, she says. She cites the UIA’s recent partnerships with private enterprise and the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas.

INPEX Redux

Back on the INPEX floor, attendees and exhibitors from as far away as Malaysia are networking and booth cruising.

One exhibitor tells me he’s disappointed in the traffic.

“I thought there would be more company reps coming by,” says Peter Egigian, whose sister is showcasing her thermal wall cover invention.

Jerry Brandenburg, a longtime InventHelp client, grouses that his Dry Fast energy-saving blanket that speeds clothes-drying time isn’t displayed at InventHelp’s licensing wall at the front of the exhibit. He doesn’t recommend using InventHelp. “I’m not sure about their marketing efforts,” he says, “but there’s no hard feelings.”

As for INPEX: “I definitely would recommend it.”

Of dozens interviewed, none says they’ve been proselytized by InventHelp.

Brian Daigle of online inventor community and service provider IdeaTango is holding court at his booth. It’s the second day of the show, and traffic has picked up since yesterday.

For sheer concentration of inventors, new products and networking, INPEX is, in his estimation, “The best invention trade show by far.”

“Maybe InventHelp,” he adds, “is changing its ways.”

Jerry Wojcik, director of business development at Irwin Industrial Tools, and three colleagues evaluated some 50 products during INPEX. The company is taking a closer look at about a dozen.

INPEX is “the best I’ve seen and I’ve seen tradeshows around the world,” he says. “It’s better than going to the hardware show in Vegas. You see the same thing over and over again” there.

Wojcik says a larger contingent from parent company Newell Rubbermaid will attend next year.

“If you want to see what people who are coming up with and how to make things better and more efficient,” he says, “you’ve gotta come to this show.”

[Box

The American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 gives you certain rights when dealing with invention promoters. Before an invention promoter can enter into a contract with you, it must disclose the following information about its business practices during the past five years:

• how many inventions it has evaluated,

• how many of those inventions got positive or negative evaluations,

• its total number of customers,

• how many of those customers received a net profit from the promoter’s services, and

• how many of those customers have licensed their inventions due to the promoter’s services.

Check References

  • Ask the promoter to give you the names of many previous purchasers so that you can pick and choose who to call for references. Again, beware of shills.
  • Fraudulent invention promotion firms may promise to register your idea with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Disclosure Document Program. Although many scam artists charge high fees to do this, you can do it for $10 by filing your document with the USPTO directly. The disclosure is accepted as evidence of the date of conception of the invention, but it doesn’t offer patent protection.
  • Unscrupulous firms often promise that they will exhibit your idea at trade shows, but don’t actually go to these trade shows, much less market your idea effectively. Check with previous clients and trade show sponsors about whether their ideas were exhibited.
  • Many unscrupulous firms agree in their contracts to identify manufacturers by coding your idea with the U.S. Bureau of Standard Industrial Code (SIC). Lists of manufacturers that come from classifying your idea with the SIC usually are of limited value.

Tips Before Moving Forward

Contracting for the services of an invention promotion firm is no different from making many other major purchases. Apply some common sense.

  • Question claims and assurances that your invention will make money. No one can guarantee your invention’s success.
  • Investigate the company before you make any commitment. Call the USPTO at 1-866-767-3848, and the Better Business Bureau, the consumer protection agency, and the Attorney General in your state or city, and in the state or city where the company is headquartered. Under the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, invention promoters must give you the names and addresses of all invention promotion companies they have been affiliated with over the past 10 years. Use this information to determine whether the company you’re considering doing business with has been subject to complaints or legal action.

If a promoter causes you financial injury by failing to make the required disclosures, by making any false or fraudulent statements or representations, or by omitting any fact, you have the right to sue the promoter and recover the amount of your injury plus costs and attorneys’ fees.

In addition, while the USPTO has no civil authority to bring law enforcement actions against invention promoters, it will accept your complaint and post it online if you complete the form, Complaint Regarding Invention Promoter, at www.uspto.gov/web/forms/2048.pdf.

The USPTO also will forward your complaint to the promoter, and publish its response online. To read complaints and responses, visit Inventor Resources at www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/iip/index.htm.

TOP TEN

WARNING SIGNS

What to watch for when working with an invention submission company

Slick ads on radio, TV and magazines.

Refusal to respond to your questions in writing signed by a company official.

Salespeople want money right away …up-front.

You are told to describe your idea in writing, mail it to yourself and don’t open the envelope.

You are promised a patent search but no patentability opinion by a patent attorney/agent.

You are guaranteed to get a patent or your money back.

You are advised to apply for a design patent.

You can’t reach salespeople or company officials without leaving many messages.

You are told that your idea is a “sure-fire” hit!

Refusal to provide client references or copies of forms and agreements for your review.

To file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Source: USPTO, FTC

What’s up with the UIA and InventHelp?

Four of nine United Inventors Association board members have quit or have said they are going to quit – three on Wednesday, Oct. 14, in the wake of a newsletter sent under the auspices of InventHelp, an invention-submission company viewed by many as an industry pariah.

The UIA and InventHelp, formerly Invention Submission Corp., have been longstanding industry foes. (See our special report.)

In the newsletter, which looks like it comes from the UIA, InventHelp encourages people to take advantage of a 50% discount to become UIA members. See a copy of the newsletter.

Patent attorney, founder of IPWatchdog blog and UIA vice president Gene Quinn quit the board publicly, citing what he felt was an inappropriate alignment with the UIA and InventHelp. Specifically, he was loathe to take part in a proposed “fact-finding” tour of InventHelp.

UIA executive director Patrick Raymond said today he’s sorry to see his “friend” resign. He added that InventHelp offered to send the newsletter encouraging UIA membership, and the UIA accepted.

“As the industry watchdog, it was our duty to get more information,” Raymond said of the proposed tour of InventHelp. “Many have been invited on that tour, including yourself. Gene was skeptical, supportive, and then scared. I think he believes even setting foot in the building would reflect badly on him. But that’s what watchdogs do, they oversee.”

(Raymond has asked me and Inventors Digest publisher Louis Foreman to take part in the tour. I’m interested in doing a story – again – on the invention-submission industry. I’m not interested in conducting my journalistic duty as part of a UIA tour. Foreman likewise has expressed no interest in joining this proposed tour.)

There’s an animated GIF on the bottom left corner of the newsletter. Gleaned from a 10-part video Web series shot at our building this year, the GIF cycles images and names of Foreman, By Kids For Kids founder and former UIA board member Norm Goldstein (who resigned earlier this year), marketing/licensing agent Trevor Lambert, and UIA president Ron Reardon.

The four represent key areas of the invention industry: publishing, youth innovation, intellectual property, and the UIA itself. None of those people pictured, with the possible exception of Ron Reardon, approved of their likenesses being used in the newsletter.

“There are 15 people in that miniseries,” said Raymond, who approved the content of the newsletter, prior to InventHelp hitting send. “Those four people were picked completely at random. You could take any of those 15 and find a pattern as well. I regret not having called those four, who had signed releases.”

Joe Lininger, director of marketing at InventHelp, said the first four subjects in the animated GIF from the UIA’s site were selected to keep the file size small enough for an e-mailing and that there was no selection process.

InventHelp paid a $1.2 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in the 1990s for misrepresenting the success rate of its promotional services. InventHelp founder Martin Berger last year told Inventors Digest, “We really have gotten better. If you were to ask me the one thing that allowed this company to grow, it’s that FTC consent decree.”

The company has not had any run-ins with federal authorities since. Its ubiquitous cave-man ads continue to run on ESPN and other networks. Yet the company has been unable to shake a reputation that it preys on naive inventors, wresting escalating fees for what critics say are marketing materials of dubious value.

InventHelp president Bob Susa told Inventors Digest that, “Our success rate isn’t where we want it to be, but we keep getting better and better. We work really hard to market inventions. We have a lot of good stuff going on.”

He said product developer Jim DeBetta invited him to a meeting with invention-industry players at an event he hosted in Las Vegas earlier this year.

“(DeBetta) basically said, ‘Can we set aside rumors and innuendo and figure out ways to move forward in the industry?’ He and I had a long conversation. He asked me to come along, but couldn’t promise me what kind of reception I’d get.”

Susa said he and Reardon hit it off in Vegas.

“I really liked him,” Susa said of Reardon. “I thought he had some good ideas for the future of the UIA. I was able to talk to him about us and invited him and anyone he wanted to bring along to get to know us better.”

Susa said he had a subsequent conversation with Raymond, which went equally well. Susa said he offered to send a mailing on behalf of the UIA to InventHelp’s subscribers, which Susa said numbered 180,000.

“It was an olive branch to say, ‘Hey, we want to work with the UIA,’” Susa said. “I think (Raymond) is trying to grow his membership, which may not be enough to pay the bills. We didn’t try to take advantage of this for PR purposes. I feel terrible that he’s taking so much heat for this.”

UIA board member Bonnie Griffin Kaake officially resigned yesterday. Another board member told Inventors Digest yesterday he would resign. That has yet to happen, so we are not printing his name.

Reardon is traveling in Peru and is expected back on Monday, when Raymond said they’ll all address the imbroglio.

Raymond said there is no quid pro quo regarding InventHelp gaining certification, a program Raymond conceived to help bring invention companies “into compliance” with best business practices. See our story UIA Certified – Is It the Real Deal?

“This is a flap over an invitation” for a fact-finding tour, Raymond said. “Nothing has happened. (InventHelp) has not applied for certification.”

He added that the newsletter offer via InventHelp was a one-time event.

Inventors Digest will continue to monitor developments.

Just an Idea for all you Teachers

By Devin White

So, I was just thinking in class today, I feel like I don’t have enough time to devote to my inventions with school, sports, and such. DevinWhiteThen I had a sort of light-bulb moment, well not exactly. Who says innovation can’t be a class? Why not? I’m sure it’s out there somewhere but here it is.

My school runs on a two-day schedule, four classes a day, rotating times. Stonington High School runs two semesters; all core classes are full years and electives are half years. Our classes are 1 hour and 18 minutes. Now if you ran an innovative elective, one semester, that gives you 45 classes. Forty-five classes times the 1 hour and 18 minutes gives you 58.5 hours of class time. If I had that kind of time to innovate during the school year, I don’t know what I’d do with myself. I wouldn’t know what idea to pursue first!

Now the class itself can be as real as it would be if you weren’t in school. It’s my experience in school that the best programs and classes go far beyond the classroom and go into the community, into exploring the world, and into real world successes and accomplishments. You can have different steps such as:

  • Idea and Brainstorming
  • Design/Product Development
  • Business Plan
  • Marketing Proposal
  • Manufacturing Proposal
  • Product Proposals
  • Patent Applications

This curriculum of real-life innovating would not only nurture innovation skills but teach other skills such as public speaking for presentations, business ethics, financial product analysis, marketing, professional presentations, etc.

The possibilities to a course like this are endless: A student’s product makes it to market, a group of schools with similar courses get together and have a contest on the top ideas … who knows. Students deserve a chance to innovate, even during the school year when time is hard to find. Let’s Show the World…Don’t Stop Thinking.

Devin White

edisonjrblog@gmail.com

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

No Pain – No Surrender

Last year the National Professional Paintball League approved inventor Richard Phillips’ “No Surrender” vests for official tournament competitions. Some vests can deflect paintballs, a no-no in tourney play. If the ball doesn’t bust, the shot doesn’t count. No Surrender vests protect players without compromising point scoring. Unfortunately, the NPPL declared bankruptcy last year. Phillips is undeterred. Like his vests say, “No Surrender.”

By Richard Phillips

I came up with the idea for the No Surrender vest back in the late 1990s when I was with a sheriff’s department in Texas.NoSurrenderVests

We had a team that played other departments. This was back when you only had to wear goggles and fully automatics were allowed.

One of my first games ended with the whistle being blown at the same time another player popped up eight feet in front of me, drilling me about 20 times across the chest with his full auto.

While spending the next two weeks recuperating from the bruising and soreness, I had many thoughts running through my mind as to how to eliminate such severe pain and suffering.

Wanna see our editor take a paintball to the chest? Click here.

I started by experimenting with packing peanut materials, eventually migrating to all known varieties of foams. I figured a light-weight foam vest would be easy to wear.

Over years of experimenting, (mainly by shooting my nephews at 20 feet away with different samples under their shirts – poor guys) I failed to find chemical foam that could stop a projectile that small and at that velocity without the foam cells collapsing flat.

I was at a dead end, and my nephews starting charging me $20 every time I wanted to try something new. (Couldn’t blame them).

I refused to give up.

I eventually discovered a special foam with a particular cell structure that actually funneled the blast of a paintball in hundreds of different directions like tiny tunnels, instead of letting the force go through to the body and cause a bruise.

But I still had the collapsing foam cell problem.

I decided to incorporate a solid laminate on top of the foam to spread out the blast force over a wider area, absorbing the pressure without the cell structure flattening.

I put together a sample and called over my nephew to test it. After paying him in advance, he walked out 20 feet and braced for the shot.

After the first shot, I was impressed that he did not drop to his knees clutching the hit area like in previous experiments. He also was not cursing and screaming at me – another promising sign. He then started to walk toward me, stopping halfway and said, “Shoot me again.”

I warned him he was too close, but he said go ahead, so I shot him.

He just looked down at the hit, walked toward me again, this time stopping five feet away.

“One more time,” he said.

Thinking I would really hurt him this time, I refused. He also probably would have charged me double if it didn’t work. I finally agreed and fired one more shot.

My nephew looked down at the hit area, reached into his pocket, pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to me. I asked him why.

“No pain, no pay,” he said. “Uncle, you did it!”

It was a night of celebration for us. Followed by a lot of fine tuning to the panels, finding the right materials for the cover, tweaking the vest designs, locating a suitable manufacturer, dealing with import costs, shipping fees, advertisement, and more.

A lot of work has gone into this vest. Last October the National Professional Paintball League approved it for official tournaments. I never dreamed my design would go so far. Unfortunately, the parent organization of the NPPL declared bankruptcy in December 2008. The U.S. Paintball League, which assumed the role of the NPPL, told Inventors Digest it will resurrect the NPPL beginning 2010.

A lot of work, a lot of failing, a lot of redesigning – basically just a lot of not giving up is what it took.

I have loved each and every step it has taken from paper, to prototype, to patent and finally to product for sale in stores.

So, when did I feel I had finally made it as an inventor? Was it when I got my patent? When I sold my first vest? Was it my first purchase order from Academy Sports and Outdoors? Was it when I named my company International Survival Inc.? Was it seeing the vest mass produced for the first time? Was it when paintball fields started buying them to use as rentals?

To all these questions, the answer is “no.” The answer is simple. The moment I felt like a real honest-to-God inventor was the night we laughed, cheered and cried after hearing those eight simple words:

“No pain, no pay. Uncle, you did it!”

Visit www.isuri.com

NCIIA's New Undergrad Competition


The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) announced the launch of BMEStart, Graduatean award recognizing undergraduate excellence in biomedical innovation. BMEStart stands apart from the NCIIA’s other biomedical competition (BMEidea) because of its focus on younger inventors who do not have as much experience with product development.

The BMEStart competition welcomes submissions from undergraduate students at all NCIIA member colleges and universities.  Each team must include at least one engineering student, but teams are encouraged to incorporate members from diverse fields such as business, law, medicine, life sciences and physical sciences or similar disciplines, as long as the ultimate submission solves a clinical problem. In alignment with the NCIIA’s focus on helping student projects from concept to commercialization, submissions should also meet technical, economic, legal and regulatory requirements; feature novel and practical designs; and show potential for commercialization.

“This prize will allow undergraduate students the chance to shine on their own,” said Phil Weilerstein, Executive Director of the NCIIA.  “But at the same time, we’ll be judging teams by standards similar to graduate students, such as how feasible and eventually marketable their ideas are.” The top team will be awarded a $10,000 grant to support further development of its product, with grants of $5,000 and $2,500 being rewarded to the second and third-place teams, respectively. Teams may register for the competition and submit their materials on-line here: http://www.nciia.org/competitions. Submissions open November 1.

BMEStart was announced at the annual BMEidea workshop, held this year in Pittsburgh.  Recently home to the annual G-20 summit, Pittsburgh has seen an economic resurgence in recent years, ranking as the United States’ most livable city in The Economist. Before the BMEStart prize announcement, Renal Solutions, Inc. (RSI) founder Peter DeComo, a Pittsburgh- area native, addressed attendees—biomedical engineering faculty from around the country—about advancing the development of Life Science companies.

The BMEidea competition is sponsored by the NCIIA; the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA); the National Science Foundation; and Boston Scientific; and is endorsed by the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and the Council of Chairs of Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering Programs.

A Style Change for Your Pocket Change

When fashions collide, Wallots keep you color coordinated

By Edie Tolchin

ShannonGreenfield&Wallots

Shannon Greenfield

Listen up, fashionistas. It’s easy to coordinate your shoe color with your purse. Say you have a fuchsia sandal and a matching fuchsia handbag. But you have a very non-matching lime-green wallet. What to do, what to do.…

Ask Las Vegas native Shannon Greenfield, an employee in the accounting division of the City of Las Vegas for nearly 20 years. Shannon, 37, came up with the idea of a removable wallet insert with interchangeable wallet skins in 2005.

“It was a combination of my own frustration of not having time to change my wallet each time I changed my handbag,” says Greenfield, “and my observation of other women who obviously took time to match their handbag with their outfit yet often revealed worn or clashing wallets.”

She thought a wallet should allow you to easily change the outer appearance of a wallet without removing the contents. So she invented the patent-pending Wallots.

“Wallots provide women with the flexibility and ease of changing our wallet as often as we change our handbag,” Greenfield says.

The product works by using a series of snap fasteners strategically positioned on the exterior section of the insert and interior section of the wallet skin. It allows the removable insert to be detached from one wallet skin and inserted into another wallet skin of a different color without removing any of the contents.

The first step was to create a prototype. Greenfield searched the Thomas Register to locate small leather goods manufacturers in the United States.

She contacted several companies and sent drawings along with product specifications, to no avail. She tried to secure prototyping and production domestically. But either it was too costly, they didn’t have the resources, couldn’t meet time lines or did not work with small projects.

Ultimately, Greenfield made her first prototypes by taking a traditional wallet and removing the interior compartments. She then hand-stitched liners and positioned the snaps. It took two weeks and lots of trial and error to produce 10 working prototypes.

Shannon contacted me through an inventor’s resource Web site she frequently visited. She provided several prototypes and product specifications, which I arranged to have sent to manufacturers in China for quotes and product samples.

After selecting a company to work with, we began receiving samples. We went back and forth with changes and adjustments until we were sure that we had a viable and quality product. Her first order was delivered in October 2007.

Greenfield believes the main pitfall in dealing with a factory in China is the language barrier, which can be frustrating when communicating product specifications and enhancements. However, she believes the biggest advantage is pricing, which in her case was about one-third of what it would cost to manufacture in the United States.

Initial market research included several informal focus groups consisting of active and fashion-conscious women, her target market.

The results were overwhelmingly favorable.

However, in December 2007, Greenfield’s first attempt at selling Wallots proved to be disappointing. She and her best friend, Darcell Hutchinson, prepared for a highly anticipated Christmas season sales extravaganza at their church. Multiple vendors signed up for the event with various items for sale, such as custom-made jewelry, artwork and self-decorated apparel.

The event was projected to attract church members and community shoppers. They stayed up late into the night preparing an ornate display and stocking, literally, hundreds of Wallots. The day had arrived as they frantically tied up loose ends –table decorations, brochures, product arrangement, office supplies, and logs to keep in touch with customers.

But Mother Nature had other plans.

“An unpredictable downpour eclipsed the sales event,” Hutchinson says. “The tiring preparations and optimism were to no avail. The evening, along with our high hopes, deteriorated with very low consumer attendance and dismal weather conditions. We packed up and returned home with a truckload of product.”

Fast forward to INPEX, June 2008, in Pittsburgh. INPEX is billed as the nation’s largest inventor trade show. Enter Wendi Cooper, CEO and creative director of C Spot Run Productions. She creates marketing positioning for her clients.

“At the end of the day (inventors and marketing companies) need each other – for this neither one should take advantage of the other – but understand the value that each brings to the table,” Cooper says. While a 2 percent royalty may seem meager to an inventor, “2 percent of a million is much more than 10 percent of nothing,” Cooper says.

Cooper saw Wallots at INPEX (www.inpex.com) during a Direct Response TV panel review. Although nixed by her peers, after some trial and error, Cooper pitched the idea herself to AllStar Marketing, who took the pitch directly to Buxton – the accessories giant – that sells via Homeshopping Network (HSN) and Direct Response Television (DRTV).

Bingo!

AllStar Marketing is the exclusive partner with Buxton for the highly successful Buxton Organizer.

“I’m thrilled to work with AllStar,” says Greenfield, “because they have had tremendous success, most recently with Snuggies, Patch Perfect, and TopsyTurvy.”

The plan is to test Wallots on HSN late this year, then create a short-form direct response commercial similar to that of the Buxton Organizer. Because Greenfield’s licensing agreement is non-exclusive, she can sell under the Wallots brand as well. Projected sales, as with anything, are difficult to determine, especially in this economic climate.

However, according to MarketResearch.com, “the total domestic demand for the women’s handbag and purse manufacturing industry in 2008 was $3.1 billion. So Greenfield is confident with a successful test on HSN, her invention could sell several million units.

She learned that a successful inventor can’t be a people pleaser.

“When hiring professionals, make sure they can suit your needs, and tell them exactly what you want,” Greenfield says. “Don’t be afraid of offending someone by asking for references and always obtain an estimated completion date.”

She also feels you should avoid naysayers, and surround yourself with positive people or other entrepreneurs who can relate to your triumphs as well as your struggles.

“For me,” Greenfield says, “this has been a journey of 1,000 miles and I reached each mile marker with prayer, meditation, hard work and determination.”

Visit www.wallots.com

Poking Fun at Patents

PatentlySillyCover

By B. Collins

When I got my review copy of Daniel Wright’s Patently Silly (First Lyons Press, 2009), I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The small, square book based on Wright’s patentlysilly.com Web site contains some 200 of the most ludicrous, hilarious contemporary patents the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has ever granted.

Cordless jump rope. Check.

Spinal cord removal tool with adjustable blades. Check.

Vibrating, body-piercing jewelry. Ch-ch-ch-check.

Complete with patent number citations and divided into 11 chapters, from health and hygiene to religion and death, Wright’s book often delves deep into the patently prurient. Almost every section contains patents involving bodily functions or ways to improve or manipulate various body parts. Yes, there is a patent for a reclining toilet. And the “Self-Administered Two-Handled Probe for Treating Prostatitis, patent # US 7077817,” should not be viewed during meals.

Yet the author merely is working with abundant material the USPTO has to offer – he ain’t making this stuff up.

Wright is a stand-up comedian with an engineering degree who informs readers he once searched USPTO archives to conduct prior art research for his boss. He says in the introduction that he has looked at more than half a million patents.

Thankfully, he has put his comedic and research acumen to splendid use.

Consider this entry: “Method for Introducing a Powdered Substance Into a Nostril, patent # US 6811543.”

“A straw for introducing a powdered substance into a nostril? Surely this was invented in the 80s. By the way, I love the use of the word ‘introducing’ here. ‘Nostril, meet cocaine. Cocaine, nostril.’”

For the record, this patent was filed in 2002 and granted Nov. 2, 2004.

Wright delights in ridicule, and given the absurdity of the patents showcased in his book, a collection of the ridiculous would be enough to justify the listed $14.95 retail price. But Wright’s work also is educational.

To receive a patent, he notes at the outset, “an invention has to be deemed useful, unique and unobvious.

“Undoubtedly,” he adds, “to have one’s work certified by a government agency as entirely new in the history of human civilization must inflate the ego …. And that’s where I come in to pop the bubble.”

Indeed, Wright could have pricked a little more. Patently Silly is an understated indictment of the U.S. patent system. Should examiners really be devoting time to evaluating lap dance liners for men’s underwear or thong diapers?

There were about 1.2 million total pending applications last year, with the backlog trending up.

Patently Silly, without coming out and saying so, makes a case for creating another tier for non-examined patents (see Patent Reform: Nothing But a Pipe Dream? May 2009). Each patent listed in Wright’s book consumed time and resources of the overworked, cash-strapped USPTO.

Perhaps the time has come to divert certain patent applications into a lesser category – one that merely registers inventions that are not likely to be commercially viable. Maybe institute an absurdity test. This would free patent examiners to evaluate valid inventions and innovations.

Such reform, of course, would take serious government action.

Until then, we can always marvel at the truly odd array of intellectual property housed in our nation’s growing collection of patently silly patents.

Take No Prisoners

In search for new product ideas, Skol is opening its doors to inventors

By Mike Drummond

For more than 20 years, Skol carved itself a niche manufacturing light fixtures for prisons.skol

Making lights functional yet inaccessible to inmates is imperative for prison and civilian safety, a fact recently underscored by the increasing problem of convicts smuggling, hiding and using cell phones in the slammer. In at least one episode, an inmate arranged the assassination of a witness. Other reported crimes linked to prisoners with mobile phones have prompted states and the federal government to restrict cell phone coverage at penitentiaries and increase penalties for possession of the devices.

Convicts are, by nature, crafty. Texas officials found 78 cell phones welded inside an air compressor being delivered to one lockup.

While Skol, a Chicago-based sheet metal fabricator, has found prison lighting to be a steady business, the ongoing recession and contraction of manufacturing has compelled the small company to think outside the poky.

This year as part of a larger effort to make eco-friendly fixtures, the company launched its Green Roof Ultra Clean Edge, a product for rooftop gardens on new and existing buildings.

Now, Skol is opening its doors to inventors. Like many companies, it hopes to find new products with the help of open innovation.

“The shift in the economy has forced most businesses to reevaluate,” notes Andrew Shykofsky, Skol’s director of business development.

All of Skol’s 15 employees have worked at the company for 20 years or more. Shykofsky is a newcomer from the solar industry in California.

“I thought maybe the metal fabrication business wasn’t focused on going green,” he says. “I thought we could pioneer something here and see what happens.”

While there are signs the economy is thawing, domestic manufacturing remained in a deep freeze this year.

The Federal Reserve reported this summer that the nation’s industrial output operated at 64.6 percent of capacity. That means manufacturers were producing at more than a third below their potential – the worst rate since they started keeping records on this in 1948.

Want more bad news? Since the start of the recession in December 2007, U.S. manufacturers have shed more than 1.9 million jobs, according to the U.S. Labor Department. There were 14.9 million total unemployed as of June.

New Thinking, New Opportunities

Chicago, as it turns out, is the nation’s capital for green roofs. Mayor Richard Daley began the city’s green roof initiative earlier this decade after he saw gardenlike roofs in Europe.

Green roofs are generally composed of a low-maintenance, drought-resistant plants. These roofs typically are less than four inches thick. Some are be planted directly or laid down as pre-vegetated mats, others use modular tray systems. Green roofs can absorb up to 60 percent of the rainwater that falls on them, alleviating run-off contamination in storm drains, streams, lakes and oceans. Green roofs also can help lower ambient heat in urban areas.

In addition to Skol’s green push, the company also is looking more aggressively for new products from inventors.

Skol hopes to build on the success it had with a directional cooling fan for dairy counters – a product an inventor submitted to the company several years ago. Skol wasn’t looking for new ideas from outside its walls, but the experience has whetted its appetite.

“The inventor had great big plans,” says Shykofsky. “He had prototypes and really worked hard to perfect this thing. We’re very optimistic about it.

“We don’t have the mindset to create these types of things. We’re not inventors,” Shykofsky adds. “But I think I have a good sense of assessing marketability. We would love to have a regular stream of people sending ideas to us.”

Skol is a good example of a traditional company approaching the down economy as an opportunity – a chance to seize new markets when others are hunkering, waiting for the storm to pass.

Yet fortune, as the Roman poet Virgil noted, favors the brave.

“You have to have faith,” Shykofsky says. “When you look at it historically, times like these end. And when they end, there will be a strengthening of the companies that are doing what we’re doing.”

Skol Search

Skol is looking for products that involve some sheet metal. New innovations can include electrical components, which the company can assemble. It prefers energy-efficient or green products.

Skol at a glance

Founded: 1945

Location: Chicago

Owner: Ray Skol

What it does: Custom sheet metal fabrication and assembly

Employs: 15

Revenue: $2 million a year

Web site: www.skolmfg.com

Did you know?

At Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurantgoat is Sister Bay, Wisc., the roof is covered with grass. In 1973 the owner began grazing goats atop the restaurant and continues to do so every May through October.

Vanna Go to the Moon?

Some of you may recall the piece we wrote on Vanna Bonta, the inventor/innovator from California who developed a suit to helpvannarocket humans copulate in zero gravity.

The 2Suit anticipates the day when we colonize space. (See Sex and the Stratosphere.) Her work is part of the growing reach of commerce and private enterprise into the cosmos.

She’s a big fan of Inventors Digest and wrote us over the weekend to update us on her latest achievement. Her team is the latest entrant in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Four teams are now officially entered in the race for the remaining purses. Team BonNovA, stationed in Mojave, Calif., will be flying its Lauryad I & II vehicles on October 26-27, 2009 at Cantil, Calif. We are definitely excited to see what they have in store for the competition.

“I’m back from Florence, Italy, they mentioned Inventors Digest in the presentation ceremony honoring my poetry and literary work!  It was televised, too, hope you can get some news on it,” she said in her e-mail to us.

The NASA-sponsored Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge seeks the next-generation of vehicles that can land on the moon or other planets. The level-two purse is $1.65 million. BonNova’s lunar lander is called Lauryad, after the spaceship in Bonta’s novel Flight (Meridian House, June 1995).

The other teams are:

Follow the BonNovA team on Twitter: @bonnova