THERE ARE two types of inventors. One works for an organization such as a manufacturer, public utility or branch of the government. During the course of conducting their duties, whether it is a part of their work or they just happen to come up with an idea, they will report the concept to the management, which will decide whether to file for a patent.
Concepts born under these circumstances tend to be a part of a large scale product or system, and they tend to be related to other patent applications supporting the product. If anything, these concepts tend to be more refined, precise and often well-described. They are called defensive patents.
The second group are so-called amateurs — people who are curious, inventive and wish very much to own a patent or two. They dream of various solutions — real or imaginary — and work hard to develop conceptual solutions.
In my career of inventing, I have witnessed and advised many inventors of this type, who have either spent a large sum of money to patent counsels (intellectual property lawyers) and finally received a patent or two. The only problem is that nobody shows up at the door wanting to either buy, license or be a partner to that patent. Namely, the inventor after all that effort and expense, cannot monetize the accomplishment.
During the coming series of this column, in which a technology to automatically prevent texting while driving will be submitted to apply for a patent, those amateur inventors will be able to witness the process through which their ideas will be scrutinized first and then written up and applied for a provisional patent as well as a patent.
The process will be called Inventics, a methodology developed at American Invention Institute that I have founded at my home in New Castle. Inventics is a common-sense approach in methodology to make sure that the concept is appropriate to solve a problem, and there is a certain commercial market for the product/service once a patent is granted.
First of all, let us make sure the problem is real. This is the most important step in Inventics. Is there large enough number of people actually suffering from this problem? Are these people suffering with so much inconvenience that they are willing to pay some money to obtain the solution?
Many new products we encounter in our daily life are not based upon genuine problems. There are so many high-tech products announced daily that it can bewilder you. Check out www.gizmag.com, a site that reports such products.
Most of the products shown in the site either disappear shortly from the market or never make it. Most of them are based on either a perceived need by the people who developed it, or a false premise that the market would develop once the product appears in the market.
That is wishful thinking. One prominent example is a car that can also fly. Do you actually know someone who is suffering painfully because they can't have a car that could also fly? A car that can be driven in such places as Boston, New York and L.A. downtown traffic, and can take off given a runway as an airplane?
Some people might have a fleeting thought that such a product might be nice and convenient to have around, but I doubt that anyone would seriously consider plunking down several hundred thousand dollars to buy it. Such a product probably is not a good car, and not a good airplane as well, let alone the various problems that would arise from the complex regulatory governance for airplanes and automobiles.
Amateur inventors often are attracted to pseudo-problems like this, and would respond to the challenge to solve the problem. That is the death wish of amateur inventors, and often they end up bankrupting themselves.
Shintaro "Sam" Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.