The Inventor's Mentor
Everything I Know about Inventing I Learned Playing Sport
What do sport and inventing have in common? Both require you to be at the right place at the right time. In football, if you are a wide receiver, you need to start running as soon as the play begins, and place yourself in the expected path of the ball even before it leaves the quarterback’ hands. In inventing, you need to look at technical, social and market trends and file your invention early enough that by the time the patent is awarded – the delay could be several years - the technology is there to manufacture it and the market is ready to purchase it.
Be at the right place at the right time: too early and you have a premature invention. For example, MP3 players became practical only when manufacturers were able to produce RAM chips to record music less expensively than magnetic tapes. Even though memory chips did exist in the 70’s it would have been premature to patent such a music player. It would have been too expensive and bulky and no one would have bought it.
Another example of premature invention is sound on film invented by Charles E. Fritts, who filed Patent 1,203,190 in 1890. His invention could not possibly be manufactured because audio amplifiers did not exist at that time. Sound movies only appeared in the late 1920’s.
Another premature invention was the field effect transistor invented by J.E. Lilienfield who filed patent 1,745,175 in 1926. The field effect transistor only became realizable after the introduction of silicon planar technology.
The reverse is also true and an invention can be “postmature.” For example, don’t even try to invent a better sundial or solar compass. While these inventions might have been valuable in the 1800’s, today, GPS and solid state clocks render these inventions completely obsolete.
One of the first items in your business plan is answering this question: by the time your patent is awarded will the technology be available to build your invention and the market ready to purchase it? If yes, then apply for patent right away.
Why such a rush you may ask? The answer is that you are competing against a world-wide population which is growing and becoming better educated every year. The competition is fierce especially if your field is fast moving such as the Internet or biotechnology. In this situation, do not wait for all the technological and marketing ducks to be in a row. By the time they are, it will be too late and someone else will have beaten you to the patent office.
Trend awareness is important. Devices which may not be technologically or economically possible today, may be, in the future. Where are we now and where are we heading? To answer this question you need to be aware of technological and economic trends. Let’s examine a few current developments:
Recent technological advances include the iPhone, the iPad and the growth of social networks. Can you predict where Internet technology will be 5 years from now?
Latest climate related events have raised suspicions that oil consumption is causing global warming. Without oil, can you predict how transportation will be affected 5 years from now? How can you position yourself to take advantage of this trend?
Our nation’s addiction to oil is an increasing liability. It could be solved almost overnight by further encouraging businesses to allow their employees to telecommute to work. This suits professionals such as attorneys and accountants very well. It is also partially workable for engineers, some doctors (for example radiologists) and teachers. Imagine a world of telecommuters. What would be their needs? How would you solve their problems?
Telecommuting for employees leads to on-line education for students. The conventional educational model is too expensive for the service it delivers and has many competing alternatives available to replace it. On-line education can provide quality and inexpensive college education to a large segment of the population. Imagine a world where on-line education is the norm. What would the needs of the teachers and of the students be? How would you satisfy these needs?
The above is just a sample of trend examination. Keep up to date with the latest research. One of my favorite sites is www.sciencedaily.com where I scan the headlines every day. Another valuable resource is provided by Google at http://www.google.com/trends where you can study all kinds of trends associated with any particular topic.
And one more thing. Borrowing from baseball, watch the left field carefully. Someone could throw a curveball.
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