I have always wanted to create things, most children do, so it's a shame that many never get to experience the rewards of invention in later life. There are many pressures that prevent one from following a course that lets one just think. Time to think and space to allow the ideas happen are, for me, the ultimate luxuries.
Inventors also have to develop a wide range of skills or the ideas will never go anywhere. Apart from being able to visualise ideas and reject those that are poor, you have to be able to communicate them to others through sketches, technical drawings and explanatory texts.
Building prototypes is central to the process of invention and is something I really enjoy doing. You have to prove to yourself that an idea will be something that people want to use by using it yourself. Even the most basic prototype will start to feedback into the design process and improve it. Live with your idea for while and see if meets your own requirements. If it does, you can think about doing some research to see if it's original.
Searches of online databases are good place to start - you can submit a raft of queries that you have tuned to pick up as much of interest as possible. If you find some prior art - well, that's probably the end of the road for that idea.
However, if you see a gap in the existing intellectual property where your idea might live and you are ready to spend a little money, a Patent Agent is the next port of call. He or she will help you to identify the key inventive step and the best way to protect it. Intellectual property is a complex area and you need to have the support of a professional who will also see the invention objectively.
If proper searches of patent services reveal that you are really onto something, then you have get your wallet out. Obtaining a patent is long and rather expensive enterprise and it's at this moment that your resolve begins to be tested. It often takes years of expense with no results before an opportunity comes along that allows you to exploit your invention. You just have to stick it out.
The most important lesson I have learned is persistence. The moment at which you have the idea may be out of sync with what the market and the economics are doing, but one day it may be just what someone is looking for. If you feel your idea has genuine merit, never give up.
Dumb persistence has begun to pay off with some of my inventions but it has taken 7 years of courting potential licensees to get products onto the market.
Sometimes you also have to know when to let go of an idea. Either the continuing expense or the developments in the area around your invention makes it a dead duck. No matter, there are always plenty more things to do!
Here are some of my inventions, some runners, some not.
Hand-held Computer Stylus
Soon after I became a Newton user I felt that the supplied stylus, with its hard tip, was completely wrong. All stylus-based hand-held computers feel like writing with a ballpoint pen on glass. I looked at the articulation of the fingers when writing and it was clear that as the pen or stylus is manipulated it wants describe small arcs into the writing surface. When the hand is constrained by a hard writing surface not only does it feel wrong and is uncomfortable but the pressure varies considerably and this is a bad thing when the writing surface is a pressure sensitive screen.
I spent months understanding exactly what dynamics were required and they turned out to be far more complex than they first appeared. I went through all the usual mechanical arrangements until I hit on one which gave exactly the right springing and damping properties.
Now I had something that worked I started showing it around (under non-disclosure agreements) and the response was just fantastic. Newton users didn't want to give the prototypes back after just a few minutes of trying them.
I approached Apple Computer and they generously helped to fund some more elaborated prototypes and on the strength of those we were on the verge of agreeing to use the technology on future Newton devices when the whole Newton project was cancelled. Three years of work gone.
As Palm devices began to proliferate I could see that there could be a real potential for the technology and with the fantastic support from Clinton Logan and the good people at Landware, Inc. <http://www.landware.com> a shipping product was born, now six years after the original idea. A patent application is making its way through the system.
If you want a stylus for your Palm or Handspring device that will feel like writing on paper, be silent in operation and, through its pressure regulating mechanism, give better traces on the screen, visit the folks at Landware and look at the current products.
Conductive Foam Switch
Here is one idea I rather like but it didn't make it into a product. The concept was to have a large area momentary electrical switch which, instead of metal contacts, used conductive foam and a specially designed set of contacts that made the contact reliable.
It provided its own spring return force in parallel with the diaphragm that supported it and had a very light operating force of less than 80g. It would be ideal for switches that need to be intrinsically safe and easy to operate with gloves and was completely silent in operation. The switches could be ganged for multipole switches and was very tolerant of manufacturing tolerances so was cheap to make.
I obtained a granted patent but gradually the technology became less relevant and the renewals were getting too much for the value of the idea. Capacitive and elastomer switches began to take over in the years following the idea and it became clear its time was past.
Still, it's on the record for anyone to use - it would be nice if it found or led to an application one day.
When I was around recording studios I couldn't believe the number of cables all over the place. Identifying them was a nightmare. As they were already terminated with their connectors, it was difficult to use the usual techniques with heat-shrink tubing and other sleeves that had to be slipped on before termination.
Even had that worked the writing area was small and fiddly and having them printed was too expensive. What was needed was a cable tag that could clip to any size of cable and have a generous, flat writing area which could also take a label. Other factors were that no damage was to be inflicted on the insulation of the cable but at the same time it should grip it so as not to slip.
I have developed and patented such a device and I am now in full production with three sizes to cover cables from 1.8mm to 10.7mm
Click here for more information.
If you have a place for a product that can identify cables or small bore pipes that is easy to use, can be attached with one hand, can be written, labelled or printed on and will adapt automatically to a range of cable sizes - contact me.
You can now buy packs of 18 cable tags (six of each size) from Expert Verdict where sales have been going well.
If you have problems with the link you can find it under Home Innovations > Practical Solutions.
Other retail and distribution agreements are being discussed.
Hand Tool Rack
I use a lot of small hand tools like screwdrivers, pliers, cutters and tweezers and have always had problems storing them safely and yet being able to get at them instantly. Having a wall covered with nails, hooks and magnets is not my scene and the available commercial solutions all have one or more defects that put me off. Either the tool gets scratched or magnetised or it's held in a stiff clip or it flops around in a hole. Most systems are also pretty inefficient - the tool density is low.
I have come up with something which I have patented which has none of the faults described above. Tools are retained positively and presented at the right angle for the user to grasp them easily, no magnets or clips are used and the tool density is much higher than any other solution bar piling them all in box. The system can be easily reconfigured for any type of small tool and can sit on a work bench or be attached to the wall to make a larger array.
I am currently looking for interested parties to move the invention forward.
If you have any comments about the above inventions, please contact me:
joel (at) inventors-emporium dot co dot uk
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