Spring and a young man's fancy turns toward—inventions! Every year at this time there are several events that recognize inventors and aim to help them think through their ideas and how to patent them.
In April, the Lemelson MIT Program (http://web.mit.edu/invent) announced the names of its most recent inventor awards: Nick Holonyak, inventer of the first practical LED, and Edith Flanigen, for achievements in molecular-sieve technology. The Lemelson Program was established by Jerome Lemelson, a previous Design News' Engineer of the Year.
Last month, the U.S. Patent Office (www.uspto.gov) participated in the induction of 20 new members into the National Inventors' Hall of Fame (www.invent.org). Among them was Ray Dolby, inventor of a noise-reduction system that has become known worldwide. Also inducted were Harry Coover for inventing superglue and Bradford Parkison for the Global Positioning System. Previous inductees were Harold Rosen (for spin-stabilized communications satellites) and Ray Kurzweil (for the Kurzweil Reading Machine), both former Design News' engineering awards winners.
And, later this month, the Minnesota Inventors Congress (www.invent1.org) will hold its Annual Inventors Exposition—three days of seminars and speeches on all aspects of inventing. Among the topics: What Inventors Need to Know About Patents; Manufacturing Your Invention; and The Product Prototyping Process.
Informational activity about inventions is growing, and naturally so. Almost everyone at one time or another has had an idea they think might be patentable. Engineers in particular see themselves as inventors, even if only in their subconscious. And why not! Every day engineers of all stripes invent new ways to solve old problems. Some of their ideas are patentable, some not. Most manufacturing companies have either patent attorneys or law firms that specialize in patent law to help their engineers file patent claims. For independent inventors, a virtual cottage industry has sprung up to provide guidance and support as they make their way through the labyrinthian patent process.
The recently re-launched www.globalspec.com has devoted a section of its website to patent information. And the National Society of Inventors (http://deafandblind.com/inventors.html) has a robust website with information on how to search and file patents. Its site includes a list of local inventors' organizations in virtually every state.
Bob Hausslein, a retired Polaroid, Amicon, and Hyperion engineer with 20 patents, is president of the New England organization (www.inventne.org). He says membership in inventor associations provides moral support to would-be Edisons. It's also a good gut check, he says: "Fellow members can be a good sounding board on ideas."
But if you don't want to join an organization, talk to people like Richard Pavelle, president of Invent Resources (www.weinvent.com). He and his associates are in the invention business and they can dispense good advice on a range of invention topics. Pavelle speaks at the June meeting of the Inventors' Association of New England.
Among the reasons engineers and others become inventors is the chance for immortality, says Joe Birkner, of the New England Association. "Your invention could outlive you," says the engineer-turned-patent attorney. That's reason enough to check out every patent site you can find.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.