Where is your home town?
I grew up in the small town of Greeley, Nebraska. As chance would have it, I also lived for a short time in the small city of Greeley, Colorado.
Horace Greeley, of “Go west, young man” fame, would have been proud.
Where do you currently reside?
I’ve been back in Nebraska, in Omaha, for the past eight years, after spending many years living in assorted other states, where I’d chased jobs and education in a totally disorderly fashion.
What is your professional background?
I’ve worked in a variety of fields. I never seemed able to settle down in one career path for more than a few or several years at a time. I have an Associate Degrees in Veterinary Technology and Computer Information Systems.
I’ve worked in construction as a carpenter’s assistant, in civil engineering as a surveyor’s assistant and draftsman, and in veterinary clinics and zoos as a vet tech and animal keeper. I’ve been a laboratory technician, a computer network technician and an airport and baggage security officer. I’ve also had short runs working in oil fields and as a semi truck driver, but these last few years, my health started to decline and I found it harder to work.
The past several years I’ve been on disability due to an autoimmune disorder combined with a handful of other health problems.
The silver lining is that at least I have more time and energy for inventing and other things I love.
How did you initially hear about Edison Nation?
I found EN while doing an internet search to investigate possible new pathways to licensing for my patented idea. What a find! I’ve never looked back or elsewhere since.
Have you ever collaborated with another inventor(s) on a project? If so, how was that experience for you?
I’ve never done a real in-depth collaboration with an experienced inventor, but I am working on a couple of promising ideas that one of my sisters asked me to help her with. I’ve done some initial research on both ideas and started work on one of the prototypes, though submission readiness is a ways off due to my workshop being three hours away in her garage. My small apartment on the sixth floor just doesn’t cut it for some types of inventing.
What are some general industry trends you have noticed recently?
I can’t speak with any true authority on this topic, but I do have a few observations as a science and technology and innovation nerd. One is that technology to me just seems to keep growing and growing as a share of the marketplace, while the technology itself is getting smaller and smaller – i.e. it continues to miniaturize and combine. Look at the evolution of cell phones to smart phones, the rise in what’s being called “wearable technology” like fitness (wrist)bands, smart watches, and virtual or mixed reality goggles, and video-camera-toting drones. There’s also home security systems merging with smart lighting, HVAC and appliances, along with remote programming and control of these systems via the internet. And, I won’t even get into automobiles and the astounding advances and merging of technologies going on there.
Another observation I have is that more and more, shopping by consumers is being done online. More merchandise is being shipped directly to the home. I think inventors in many categories will perhaps benefit more than ever before by keeping ease-of-(low or single-quantity) shipping in mind when developing their ideas.
I could also go on about advances in materials such as stronger and lighter and more environmentally-friendly plastics and alloys and composites, smart fabrics, carbon-containing nano-materials. As well as the rise of 3D printing capabilities in the home and small business, which I’m sure will have both benefits and consequences for inventors in multiple respects.
Our nation’s and the world’s crumbling infrastructure is also starting to get more of the attention it deserves – everything from roads and bridges to the power grid to water distribution and sanitation to renewable energy. I bet there are immense opportunities for innovation at every scale when it comes to rebuilding and enhancing these aspects of our civilization.
Oh, and then there’s climate change and space exploration related technologies, from sea walls to water filtration to moon and mars habitat modules. There’s also the growing (pun) need for distributed urban agriculture. But I’d better stop now.
I’m not saying that I think inventors will need to learn more high tech, the sciences, or become engineers or architects. I think we’ll have expanding opportunities for innovation at every degree of complexity, even in the most high-tech places.
Do you find that invention ideas come to you or do you have to go after them?
Mostly I’d say the ideas come to me. Usually they’re based on some long-standing problem I’ve perceived in my everyday life. Occasionally a sponsored search will grab my interest or give me the germ of an idea, but I generally have to give my subconscious some time to gel and see if something promising comes out of it, which I can then grab and work with.
What advice would you tell newcomers to the innovation scene?
Research, research, research.
Read and learn not only about inventing and intellectual property in general, but also study your particular field(s) of interest with regard to product design and manufacturing and marketing. I’m not an expert in any of these things, but I have a passing understanding about what’s involved.
Next is the idea itself. You may think you have a million dollar idea, but it’s vastly more likely, without research, to be a dime-a-dozen idea. Everybody has ideas. It’s your research to find anything and everything that is similar to your idea that’s already on the market and/or has a patent, and your refinement of your idea based on those things (if it still appears to have significant promise), that will start to add value to your invention and raise it up out of the pack.
Think of it this way: Submitting your idea to a company for possible development without doing your research is a bit like buying a lottery ticket. Yes, you have a chance, but it’s minuscule. And if your ticket doesn’t win, you wouldn’t get angry and write nasty letters to the lottery commission raging that you knew your ticket was a winner and they must have messed up the drawing and obviously don’t know what they’re doing. You’d shrug and realize that is the way of things, and maybe try again next time. In other words, don’t react poorly and blame the outside world when your own research could have saved you the heartache.
Now, on the other hand, the more you do your research, the less like a lottery ticket your idea becomes, and the more it turns into something like an investment. Research will allow you to assess and minimize your risks and have a better understanding of potential rewards.
What inspired you to start inventing?
It’s a bit odd, I suppose, but my interest in inventing initially started out as a desire to someday have a patent on something I created. A roundabout way for my creative mind to sort of initialize, I know, but it was the patent itself, the fancy sheet of paper, so to speak, that I thought would be so cool to have. That was even before I’d had my first major idea for a product. The patent itself was like an item on my bucket list, one of the pinnacles I wanted to reach in life.
When did you come up with your first great idea?
It was 1992 when I had that breakout idea that I thought would make a great product. I did my own research and then hired a patent agent to do a professional search, which showed promise. I didn’t go further at the time, but I kept the idea to myself and about a dozen years later I made some design improvements and had the resources to go after that patent I wanted. I procured the services of a patent attorney and a couple of years later was granted that fancy piece of paper. Unfortunately it’s still not a product on the market, though it’s come close a few times.
You have been an EN member since 2013, can you provide us with some details around your experiences and journey to date?
First I’d say I’m extremely happy I found Edison Nation. They provide a great avenue for me to pursue my dreams of inventing. Being a member and an Insider continues to be a great experience for me and I hope to be around for a long, long time.
Having said that, I think it’s important for newcomers to realize the journey of submitting ideas can be a roller coaster ride, sometimes in very slow motion . . . so it takes patience (lots and lots of patience), not knowing what’s around the next curve, or if there’s a sudden drop at the top of that hill you’ve been grinding up for weeks or months. Every ride can be disappointingly short or very long, and you may never know which when you climb on board. So the need for patience and resilience cannot be overstated.
As for me, I’m a very low volume inventor compared to many of the great folks around here. In my three or so years as a member I’ve submitted a total of 7 different ideas. As some of those ideas were submitted to multiple searches, that leaves me with a current total of 12 submissions to searches and once to the Insider Licensing Program. That mix currently includes four declines at stage 4 and four declines at stage 8. My patented idea spent a little over two years in the open (all category) search. Did I mention the need for patience?
What are some other fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with the EN community?
I have a private fixed-wing and commercial helicopter pilot’s license, and really wanted to be a professional helicopter pilot when I was a young man, but life turned in other directions and I never managed to get back to flying. I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if I’d been able to stay with it.
I also discovered a love of writing fiction in my twenties and over the years wrote a bunch of short stories and a novel, but so far haven’t been persistent enough to turn it into a vocation.
The best thing I ever did was adopt a little girl from China, back during my married years. She’s ten years old now, and lights up my life more than Edison ever could. No offense, Thomas.
We thank Joe for sharing a bit of his journey!