Read these 8 Inventions Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Invention tips and hundreds of other topics.
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't heard of one of the most recent science inventions--Viagra. Unlike inventions such as the airplane, light bulb or door lock, which all have only one inventor listed on their patents, Viagra has a long list of inventors. The pill, which helps men with erectile dysfunction, was first offered in 1998 by Pfizer. The company boasts that of millions of men have been helped by the drug and at least 9 tablets are dispensed every second worldwide. The description of how Viagra works reads like a long science journal complete with formulas no one else could reasonably understand. Unlike historical inventors and inventions, the makers of Viagra have had to spend unknown amounts of money trying to monopolize its market reach. Also unlike previous famous inventions, Viagra has had to face serious market competition, especially from another similar scientific drug known as Levitra, sold by GlaxoSmithKline. They've also faced court battles including one by Eli Lilly and the ICOS Corp who were developing Cialis, still another of the same type of science invention. In that battle, the United Kingdom's High Court ruled that Pfizer's European patent was invalid. It's likely that still more similar drugs will try to capture the market share Pfizer thought it had secured. This new invention offers a compelling story about how the landscape of inventions and patents has changed. Today's inventions have to be much more carefully patented or they will be challenged by competitors who state they were the first to discover the same new idea. That's why it's important to consider hiring a patent law firm if you are an inventor so you can prevent such litigation. Otherwise you'll spend valuable time and money in court trying to fight other inventors instead of taking your product to market.
Who knows? Unfortunately, a potentially patentable item--that will likely never fade away--has no named inventor. There are famous inventors for everything under the sun: the Pez dispenser (Oskar Uxa to assignor Eduard Haas), the drinking straw (Marvin C. Stone), the peach (Luther Burbank) and the Chia Pet (Ron Manoah). But all that has been reported about the ice cream cone is an old story. In 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri, an ice cream vendor named Charles Menches brought his date some flowers and an ice cream sandwich and she couldn't hold both at once. She used the cookie wafer to help keep the ice cream from dripping on her dress. Alas, the first official ice cream cone. It was only a few days later that Abe Doumar, a salesman from New Jersey, told another vendor that he could charge more money and save on dishes with the idea. Although the story is documented, the woman's name remains unknown to this day. This is one mother of invention who will never get to reap the rewards for ingenuity and quick thinking on her feet.
Perhaps you think you just discovered the mother of invention, an idea so great you'll go straight to the top of the sales charts and be a famous guest on Oprah or Dateline. But, just because you have been a consumer of products all your life and have never seen your idea in a store does not mean it doesn't exist. It also doesn't mean that someone else tried to market it before and found that a significant market did not exist or that people weren't willing to pay a high enough price for the product to justify its mass production costs. If you think you've created the latest invention to hit the streets, you should keep a detailed log book regarding the date of the conception and the product's development to date. This will help you establish yourself as the authentic inventor later on in case someone else has the idea or steals it from you. But, before you embark on creating a prototype and filing for a patent, you should do some market research. This initial stage of research can be done online or at the library. A reference librarian may even help you search more efficiently. You don't have to reveal the details of your creation to the librarian, just initial ideas about the market segments you hope to reach. During this stage of market research, you want to find everything you can on the invention's related markets, customers and current manufacturers and sellers already in the market segment. Unfortunately, you might find that the product already exists or your idea is not enough of an improvement on a current product to make much difference to the buying public. If that's the case, you can continue working on other ideas you have instead of wasting time and money pursuing a patent that is likely to be turned down. You might even get a better idea to work on next. If your initial search reveals a place in the market for your unique product, you can then approach the next steps including filing for a patent, creating a prototype, making adjustments, obtaining funding and selling your idea to stores who will market it. Then, you can use what you learned to better present your idea to those who will need to believe in it as much as you do.
Early in this century, sleeping sickness was still ravaging Africa causing inflammation of the brain and a constant state of drowsiness in its victims. Researchers had figured out the cause of disease to be a parasite transferred to humans by the bite of the tsetse fly but no one had yet found a cure. Although it was considered unusual for women to be scientists at the time, Louise Pearce travelled by herself to the Congo to treat sleeping sickness and is now considered the one who largely cured the illness.
An outstanding physiology student, she was one of the first career medical researchers. She graduated from Stanford in 1907 and then received an M.D. from Johns Hopkins. Pearce and her partner, Wade Hampton Brown speculated that an organic compound containing arsenic--that had also been successful in cases of syphilis--might work. Then they isolated an additional compound and Pearce formulated a plan to treat the disease in humans. Her science invention did the trick and, for her efforts and bravery, Pearce was awarded $10,000 and the honor Order of the Crown of Belgium.
Did you know that zippers were first invented as a way to tie one's shoes? Patent number 504,038, issued to Whitcomb L. Judson of Chicago, Illinois on August 29, 1893 was called a Clasp Locker or Unlocker for Shoes. The strip of interlocking metal teeth, know used for clothes, purses and other types of fabric was an invention of necessity just as most new inventions are. Judson was a man of fairly wide girth and he had difficulty tying his shoes. He displayed the device at the 1893 World's Fair but most people found it too ugly. At that time, the interlocking parts were much farther apart than the zippers we know today. In 1917, another inventor improved on Judson's idea by increasing the number of metal parts per inch. Like most inventions, someone else had actually thought of the zipper first, the inventor of the sewing machine, Elias Howe. Howe had received a patent for a similar enclosure but did not market the device. In fact, many of the most famous inventions we know of today were actually just improvements to earlier models of the same idea. What it takes to become a successful inventor today is much the same as in previous centuries: One has to persevere through beyond the patenting process and keep improving on their latest invention or their name will likely get lost in the history books. Someone else is always waiting in the wings to make a successful invention even better.
At first glance, patent number 4,739,574 might seem like a strange invention. After all, it's called a Turtle Excluder Device. What would turtles need an invention for? And, why would they need to exclude anything? However, patented in 1988 by Noah J. Saunders of Biloxi, Mississippi, the Turtle Excluder Device has the ability to save sea turtles when they get caught in the nets of shrimp fishermen. Shrimp aren't just popular on the coast; they are eaten everywhere. Catching shrimp is a worthy commercial venture. But many environmentalists try to stop and impede such practices because shrimp fishermen ended up accidentally hurting other sea creatures. Now, U.S. environmental policy requires that Turtle Excluder Devices or TEDs, be used when trawling for shrimp. When effectively used, TEDs are successful at excluding up to 97 percent of sea turtles when they are accidentally caught in large shrimp nets. Shrimp nets extend in a broad arc as shrimp get caught in the neck of the net. A grid of parallel bars allow sea turtles to be caught in the net while shrimp are brought on board. The turtle shell activates a release hatch opening a trap door and allowing the turtle to be released. New improvements to to TEDs include ways to reduce shrimp loss while this occurs. As with most patented inventions, TEDs were initially invented by others before Saunders obtained his own patent for them.
"If you buy a lava lamp you won't need to buy drugs," Edward Craven Walker, inventor of the conversation piece, is reported to have said. If you didn't grow up in the 1970s, you might think the lava lamp is a weird invention, but they have actually sold continuously after a pair of Americans bought the rights to manufacture the lamp in the US. Walker earned his patent in 1971 and was known to be a nudist in the hippie days of the UK. Once you see a lava lamp, it's hard to turn away. It utilizes dyed water, mineral oil, paraffin wax and carbon tetrachloride--all sealed into a glass container. In the base of the container is a light bulb. When heat is generated by the bulb, the substance inside--often the color red--rises, but as it moves away from the heat source, it begins to solidify again, sink and break up into a pleasing pattern of pieces. Each time it does so the pattern changes. One company has used the lava lamp to study random numbers. When London shopkeepers first saw the lava lamp, they were skeptical but it eventually caught on and was often seen in nightclubs and private flats. Its American manufacturers, obtained the trademark, Lava Lite (r) before marketing it. Walker died in 2000. Before his death, he told the Associated Press that he thought lava lamps were like any other cycle of life and death, and that they would always be popular. It appears he was right. The patent number for a lava lamp is 3,570,156.
Believe it or not, patent number 81,437 granted to Franz Vester of Newark, New Jersey on August 25, 1868 was for an escapable coffin. A strange invention indeed to those of us living in the 21st century but maybe not such a bad idea back then. Medical diagnosis not being what it is today, some victims of comas might have been sent to their graves prematurely. In fact, Vester's invention is included in a series of such coffins produced at that time that featured escape hatches or a means to signal if one were in the unfortunate circumstance of being buried alive. Vester's invention included a square tube that extended above the grave site allowing air inside the coffin. It also featured a way for above-ground onlookers to peek inside the coffin below, as well as a bell and cord that the buried chap could use to let everyone know he was still breathing. The tube even came complete with a ladder. This is certainly an invention story to illustrate that new inventions can be as weird as the human race and still be worthy of patent protection.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|