Inventing 101: Reinventing the Wheel – Improving Existing Ideas

Inventing 101: Reinventing the Wheel – Improving Existing Ideas

How many times have you heard this saying?

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”

According to the Free Dictionary, the idiom, reinventing the wheel is defined as follows:

Do something again, from the beginning, especially in a needless or inefficient effort, as in School committees need not reinvent the wheel every time they try to improve the curriculum. This expression alludes to the invention of a simple but very important device that requires no improvement.

“If it ain’t broke…”

Now, while it may be silly to recreate a product that does not require improvement, 90 percent of patents that are granted are improvements on existing patents. Improvement patents can add something to an existing product, incorporate new technology into an old product, or find a new use for an existing product.

Improvement patents can be further broken down into “addition” or “substitution” inventions.

  • Addition inventions. An addition invention adds something to what came before. The Gillette Mach3 razor, for example, had three blades where previous razors had two.
  • Substitution inventions. Jeff Bezos, substituted the “one-click” purchasing feature for the prior virtual shopping cart model — a substitution invention.

Even our namesake, the great Thomas Edison, rarely came up with pioneering inventions. As you all know, Edison’s most famous invention was the lightbulb. But in reality, Edison didn’t really “invent” the lightbulb, rather he significantly improved upon the technology by developing a lightbulb that used a lower current electricity, a small carbonized filament, and an improved vacuum inside the globe. Edison’s improvements lead to a reliable, long-lasting source of light. Before these changes, light bulbs only lasted a few hours. After Edison’s improvement,  light bulbs could last 50 to 60 days, making them practical for the first time. So while he did not come up with the original idea, Thomas Edison invented the first commercially useful light-bulb.

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Some examples of “reinventions” include:

Liquiglide:

LiquiGlide is the first and only company to create permanently wet slippery surfaces. There is no other durable solution that makes viscous liquids slide easily.

liquiglide

The Hövding, or invisible bike helmet:

Hovding

The Hövding is the brainchild of two students at the University of Lund. The Hövding is actually an airbag that uses a helium gas cylinder to inflate when its sensors detect a sudden jolt.The airbag is like a hood, except it’s shock absorbent and able to withstand multiple head impacts.

The Rekindle Candle:

benjamin-shine-rekindle-candle

As the candle burns, melting wax drips down from the candle and accumulates inside a transparent stem with a wick. Once the candle is completely melted, the mold can be cracked open, and a new, fully formed candle will be removed.

According to the Entrepreneur article, “Inventions: The Next Generation,” in order to secure an improvement patent, the following four criteria must be met:

The idea must be patentable.

To be considered patentable, the idea must fit into one of five categories: process, machine, manufacture, composition or “new use” of one of the other four. Some of the ideas that don’t pass this requirement include laws of nature and processes that use only the mind, such as meditation.

The improvement must be useful.

It is very easy to add something or take something away from an existing product. But just because it is added doesn’t make the product useful. We see this often with multi-functional tool products. Something else to consider is if the proposed improvement could be deemed immoral, illegal or unsafe.

The improvement must be new.

You may have heard the phrase “the idea is not novel.” The proposed improvement must differ from all prior developments. (In patent law, this is called “prior art.”) To prove an improvement is novel, an innovator must collect all the information related to the improvement and explain why the idea is different from the previous ones. The main method to do this is to perform a patent search on all existing patents to see if the improvement has been mentioned. Patent research is done in stage six of the Edison Nation evaluation process.

The improvement must provide a new and unexpected result.

This criteria is also known as the unobviousness test. An innovator must show that their improvement isn’t obvious to someone with ordinary skills in the area of your improvement. For example, if a piece of jewelry was improved by replacing the garnet with a diamond, a jeweler would not find this improvement new and unexpected. But if an improvement allowed the piece of jewelry to be used as a can opener, that wouldn’t be obvious to a jeweler and could qualify as patentable.

A few other things to consider…

Sometimes, the process of improving an existing idea requires combining existing functionality with the new feature. If the idea needs to be incorporated into an existing patented design, a licensing agreement would be required from the original patent owner. This is something to take into consideration when submitting an idea to the All Categories or ASOTV searches. In cases where Edison Nation is working with a sponsor on a search and the idea being submitted is an improvement to one of the products in the sponsor’s product line, no additional license is required.

Take a look around you: what products that you use every day could use an improvement? Get your next BING! moment yet?

Happy Inventing!


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