Thursday, July 24

There are no shortcuts....

Websites Wooing Tomorrow's Thomas Edisons
An 'industry of failure,' flooded with folks trying to build a better spatula.


Everyone wants to be an inventor. So when I had the opportunity to test-drive an idea at Quirky, a company that helps people commercialize their product ideas, I jumped at the chance.

During a presentation at Quirky's industrial-chic Manhattan headquarters, 25-year-old founder Ben Kaufman wowed us with tales of how he took his first trip to China to sell the headphones he invented -- while still in high school. I found myself fantasizing that my own idea -- conjured up the night before -- could yield a globe-trotting business trip. I was soon to learn, however, that the odds of seeing my product on a store shelf were less than 1 percent, according to the United Inventors Association of America . And those odds are getting worse every day, thanks to a flood of would-be inventors and "want-repreneurs" egged on by reality TV shows and economic malaise, says Mark Reyland, the association's director.

Kaufman launched Quirky after he sold his iPod accessory company. Quirky relies on crowd-sourcing, or input from an online community of experts, to improve the design process. There are other websites with similar business models, but Quirky claims it's the only one in which its community of helpers can share in the profits. And you can actually find a few Quirky projects selling at the mall. Pivot Power, a flexible power strip, is sold at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Target sells Tether Stemware Savers, which protect wineglasses in dishwashers.

My brilliant idea was the Phone Finder, a clip-on device that would prevent kids from losing their cell phones by buzzing or vibrating when they got too far from their phones. Since my two sons have lost a dozen phones between them, I thought this could be a hit with parents.

Other than a $10 submission fee (presumably to screen out time machines), Quirky's system is free to inventors. Once uploaded, my Phone Finder would be reviewed for 30 days by Quirky's users -- there are over 200,000 registered, and about 24,000 qualify as "active." The community could give its approval and weigh in on how my device could be improved; the company picks two products a week to develop. Quirky owns the rights to any submitted product and pays for manufacturing and distribution costs. Inventors can collect as much as 10 percent of the eventual sale price -- a fair deal, compared with what the United Inventors Association of America says is the typical cut of 6 to 8 percent.

Excited as I was, I got a first hint of dismay when I toured the site to see the competition. My breakthrough was up against a knife holder, a fridge magnet notepad and a wet suit with zip-off arms and legs -- most of it looked like stuff you'd find in the SkyMall catalog. Quirky says its product line has a preponderance of household gadgets because it asks its inventors to solve everyday problems.

I waited to see what the community thought. And if my 30 days hadn't expired, I might still be waiting. The only two responses I received were from other Quirky "inventors," one of whom had a product that sounded eerily like my own. Neither wrote with helpful suggestions but encouraged me to check out their own inventions.

Crestfallen, I consulted a friend who's well-versed in technology. He helped me do some market research. I had originally tested my idea with a quick Internet search, and it turned out I had used the wrong terms. Honestly, the phrase "Bluetooth proximity alarm" never occurred to me. Now I found a whole page of results for my "unique" product, offered by assorted Chinese manufacturers. Worse, my product looked to be on sale for under $3. One is clearly aimed at children; the design featured a picture of a dopey little dog waving its paw. Waving goodbye to my profits, I decided.

Sulkily, I checked in with Quirky's Kaufman to analyze my failure. Promoting an idea on social networks is important, he informed me. "Did you tweet your idea?" he asked. Yes, but I, ahem, don't have many followers. My submissions page on Quirky was also not so well designed. And then there's the originality problem. "Frankly," added Kaufman, "I have seen a lot of things like this." Ouch.

The conventional inventor community takes a dim view of crowd-sourcing. United Inventors' Reyland says a patent challenge could theoretically come from crowd members who contributed to a licensed product. "It's a time bomb" to manufacturers, he adds. Quirky says its experience with large retailers belies the idea that big companies don't like crowd-sourced ideas; it also says the patent risks are fully disclosed in a five-page release form that inventors sign. As for the eventual payoff, Quirky says it will send out checks totaling $1 million this year to its community members; the average amount paid to an active member, however, is just under $50.

As for my own invention's results, I felt marginally better after Reyland reminded me that inventing is itself "an industry of failure." The market is flooded with folks working on a better spatula in their backyard, he adds. "The common denominator is hope."

Mark Reyland

Wednesday, July 23

A dream comes true

For the 1.6 billion people worldwide with no access to electricity—and at least a billion more subject to shortages and rolling blackouts—some form of lighting is essential; however, until recently the choice has been kerosene lamps or even dirtier choices, such as wood and dung. One company, Nokero, is bringing a healthy solar lighting and phone-charging option to people in 120 countries, many of whom would otherwise rely on dangerous energy sources. But in January of 2010, the company was only a dream. Quite literally, a dream.

“The date of conception of the first bulb was January 23, 2010,” says Nokero founder Steve Katsaros, recalling his flash of insight, in a conversation with Organic Connections. “I woke up with the idea and sketched it in the morning—something I commonly do.”

Katsaros is a life-long inventor, mechanical engineer, and patent agent by training; so perhaps it’s no surprise that he was able to sketch the bulb, file for a patent four days later, and have his company up and running within six months. In its first month of operation, Nokero sold $50,000 worth of its first offering, which features a built-in solar charger and hook so that it can hang to charge outside by day and then be brought in to provide lighting at night.

The funny thing is, Katsaros initially thought his design would be most useful on the modern American patio. “It was only after I conceived the product that I learned that one out of every four humans in the world has no access to electricity,” he confesses. “I found the problem after I came up with the solution!”

Always Inventing

What makes an inventor tick? “You should talk to my mom,” Katsaros says. “I was taking off doorknobs by the age of three, and at six I swapped out a new thermostat for the house. By the time I was in high school, I’d invented a ski tuning tool for sharpening skis, which I sold to shops to support my ski racing. In college I developed a bike rack and brought it to market, and after college I sold an invention to the ski company Dynastar, leading to the first shaped ski with risers.”
Katsaros received a BS in mechanical engineering from Purdue and in 2002 followed up his ski-related inventions with a design for RevoPower, a wheel with a built-in two-stroke engine that could be retrofitted to a bicycle, essentially converting it into a motorcycle. In 2012, he was recognized by his alma mater with the annual Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award for his work launching Nokero.
But at the moment in 2010 when the light bulb came on in his brain, Katsaros was working unhappily as a patent agent in a law office, and he was bored. Once he’d developed the concept for a solar light, Katsaros realized just how many people in the world could benefit from such an invention. All he needed was a name.

The Birth of Nokero

Katsaros brainstormed more than a hundred possible names. He wanted something that the company could clearly brand, and he wanted it to have meaning. Kero, he learned, is common parlance for kerosene, as gas is for gasoline. And kerosene, for many of the world’s poor, is one of the few available sources of light.

“The world’s poor are spending $38 billion annually on kerosene,” Katsaros points out, “but it’s really a lighting source of last resort. For fifty cents, they can buy enough light for a night or two. Yet there’s a huge amount of data on the carcinogens it releases and its effects on the respiratory system.
The United Nations has declared this the decade of sustainable energy for all,” he continues, “so this issue is really on the radar and the sector is taking off. But even though we’re seeing an acceleration of sales, we have a long way to go before we have five hundred million people with solar lights.”

Delivering Light

For the world’s poorest, the idea of spending eight to fifteen dollars on a solar light is unfeasible; though the purchase will break even in just two months, they simply don’t have the savings. To get their products in consumers’ hands, Nokero works both with humanitarian groups and with networks of distributors around the world.
“I classify our buyers in two big buckets—aid and paid,” Katsaros laughs. The humanitarian groups include ChildFund International, microlender EarthSpark International and many others, as well as countless church groups and smaller organizations that purchase bulbs to distribute during aid work.
But the paid networks are truly unique. “Our reseller networks are different all over the world,” explains Katsaros. “In India, we work with a famous old company with seven thousand door-to-door salespeople. In Nigeria, boys on bikes sell ice cream and solar lights. In Tanzania, a group of women entrepreneurs go out in the streets of Dar es Salaam whenever there’s a brownout. Rule number one is go where the market is.”
In four years, Nokero has grown to have a staff of fifteen—ten in its Denver home office, the rest in China and Kenya. In the near future, the company is aiming to ship a million units per quarter. “We’re a for-profit company,” Katsaros concludes, “but it’s about people and the planet, not just dollars. Our work is from the heart, and the stories we hear daily mean so much more than money.”
For people in 120 countries around the world, Nokero means light—clean, safe light that allows families to connect and children to study without breathing in smoke and fumes. And for Katsaros, Nokero is nothing less than a dream come true.

To learn about or purchase Nokero’s solar bulbs and chargers, visit

This article was emailed to me from a friend, unfortunately I do not know the author or its origin - Mark Reyland

Tuesday, July 22

I'll take a Taco ...plate

Walmart buys one million taco plates from inventor
By Scott Inman,

An Arkansas inventor is putting his creation onto Walmart store shelves.
Hugh Jarratt of Fayetteville says the retail giant put in an order for 1 million of his plastic taco plates Tuesday.

The plates are plastic, with slots made into them that keep tacos upright.

Jarratt was one of 800 inventors to go before Walmart buyers to pitch their products in the company's first-ever "Open-Call" for U.S. inventors.

It's part of a new initiative by the company to get more American products on store shelves.

"It kind of hit us for a second, I was like, 'OK, so we got to produce a million taco plates. Where do we start?" Jarratt's wife Nicole said.

Jarratt said he and his wife, who is also his business partner, are working with a local plastics molding company to produce the plates.

Mark Reyland

Monday, July 21

What's YOUR name?

Choosing a name is one of the parts of a startup I find the most difficult. It’s also something you can easily get hung up on. We all know that the key thing is to move on to actually building something we can put in front of users.

Here are three steps I would take if I was naming a new startup:

1. If you can, stick to two syllables

Often constraints are good when undertaking a creative process like naming your startup. One of the best constraints I’ve found with startup naming is to try to stick to 2 syllables. It’s something I remember talking about a lot with my previous co-founder and good friend Tom. Generally following this rule results in a great name. Just look at some examples of two syllable names:

  • Google
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • DropBox
  • Pocket
  • Tumblr
  • Flickr
  • HipChat
  • Sparrow
  • Tweetbot
  • Reeder

All great startups. There are always exceptions to any rule, but I find it much harder to think of many successful startups which have names of more than 2 syllables than those with names with 2 syllables. There are some great single syllable names too, but that’s even harder:

  • Square
  • Path
  • Box

2. Make it easy for yourself

I used to try to be very clever about naming my startup. I’d try to combine words in a smart way and come up with something really catchy that sounded great.

Unfortunately, I’m not the most creative person. I have a good idea from time to time, but they happen much less frequently for me than some other people I know. For example, my friend Tom is really great at thinking of short, clear names like Skinnyo, SlideReach or Quotespire.

Therefore, since I don’t have that creativity, I take a slightly different approach. I simply think about a real word that describes the service or a key feature of the service the startup will provide. This is how I arrived at the name Buffer.

I also like the “real word” approach for a couple of other reasons:

  • You’re more likely to end up with a name that can be “spoken” without confusion. I can assure you it’s not fun to spend the years on your startup having to always clarify the name.
  • It’s much easier to stick to the two syllables rule if you’re using a real word rather than combining words to create a new one.

3. The domain name doesn’t matter

I see many, many founders limiting themselves with the domain name. One thing I’ve learned and embraced with naming my own startups is that the domain name doesn’t matter at all. The name itself matters much more than having the same domain name. Pick a great name, go with a tweaked domain name.

My current startup is named Buffer, but the domain name is

My previous startup was named OnePage, but the domain name was

The most interesting part is that having a matching domain name seems to have no bearing at all on whether you will succeed with your startup. Chris Dixon said this a while back, but it's still relevant:

Just take a look at all these successful startups which either had a temporary domain name, or which still have a different domain name to their name:

  • Square was
  • DropBox was
  • Facebook was
  • Instagram was
  • Twitter was
  • Foursquare was
  • Basecamp is
  • Pocket is
  • Bitly was/is
  • Delicious was
  • Freckle is

Pick a great name, then add something to get a domain name. It really doesn’t matter all that much –whether you get the domain later or don’t. Then get building!

Joel Gascoigne: Joel is the founder and CEO at Buffer. He is focused on the lean startup approach, user happiness, transparency & company culture.

Mark Reyland

Friday, July 18

Hey....that's GI Joe

Do you remember GI Joe?

I do - in fact I was the kid in the basement making my own, shall we say, “special accessories” for ol' Joe. Don’t get me wrong, the toy manufacturers did a great job outfitting Joe with the latest in Vietnam gear, but they would never sell him with things that could make it blow an arm off - you had to make those things yourself. 

One of my favorite things to do with Joe was to make handkerchief parachutes and throw him from a tree or when my parents weren’t looking – the roof of the house. After what felt like thousands of “launches” from the roof, it dawned on me Joe was having all the fun. So I got to thinking about how I could take the parts and pieces I used to get Joe airborne and apply them to myself – after all, it’s just an issue of scale – right?

So off I go, I need some rope, I’ll have to replace the handkerchief with a flat bed sheet and just like Joe, I’ll tie the ropes around my shoulders. Done…that wasn’t so hard to figure out.

To the roof…..

After making the climb I had done 100 times before, from the ladder to the garage roof, and up again to the upper story, I position myself at the very top - pointed towards the back yard surveying the landscape of toys and privacy fences. I tie the ropes around my shoulders as tight as I can, (I asked my friend Jack to come up and help me but he was having none of that roof stuff) I'll just carefully lay the “parachute” out behind me, take a deep breath and run off the roof. Simple….the movie guys do stuff like this all the time.

Here I go…. a running start, the parachute starts to trail and get a little air…and off the edge of the roof I go…..5 seconds later it was over. I “land” like a pile of 12 year old, covered by the sheet like a dead body, to the sound of Jack yelling “he’s dead... he’s dead”. - I was not dead. In fact, I got myself up, quickly calculated that although the parachute didn’t fully open, if I reduced it’s size I could get better inflation in a shorter distance….. and went back to the roof.

Although poor Jack was a nervous wreck that day, and the sheet never did fully open the way it did for Joe, I had 3 very successful “flights”- or controlled falls I guess would be more accurate - before I broke my arm. (As you may guess, it was just one of many broken bones I had as a young boy) but that’s okay, my sister ratted me out anyway and I got grounded - I wasn’t used to that…

But I did it….like the young inventor I was, I took a group of parts and theory, mixed them with some inspiration, and applied them to solve a problem. I know although maybe not jumping off your roof, many of you had similar experiences growing up as you struggled to harness the creative feelings that would later bring you to inventing.

Mark Reyland

Thursday, July 17

Soups ready...

In 1869, fruit merchant Joseph Campbell and icebox manufacturer Abraham Anderson started the Anderson & Campbell Preserve Company in Camden, New Jersey. By 1877, the partners realized each had different visions for the company. Joseph Campbell bought Anderson’s share and expanded the business to include ketchup, salad dressing, mustard, and other sauces. Ready-to-serve Beefsteak Tomato Soup became a Campbell’s best seller.

The Birth of the Campbell's Soup Company
In 1894, Joseph Campbell retired and Arthur Dorrance took over as company president. Three years later, soup history was made when Arthur Dorrance reluctantly hired his nephew John Dorrance. John held a chemistry degree from MIT and a Ph.D. from the University of Gottengen in Germany. He turned down more prestigious and better paying teaching positions to work for his uncle. His Campbell's salary was only $7.50 per week and he had to bring in his own lab equipment. However, John Dorrance soon made the Campbell's Soup Company very famous.
Soups were inexpensive to make but very expensive to ship. Dorrance realized that if he could remove soup's heaviest ingredient water, he could create a formula for condensed soup and slash the price of soup from $.30 to $.10 per can. By 1922, soup was such an integral part of the company presence in America, that Campbell’s formally accepted "Soup" into its name.
The Mother of Campbell Kids - Grace Wiederseim Drayton
The Campbell Kids have been selling Campbell's Soup since 1904 when Grace Wiederseim Drayton, an illustrator and writer, added some sketches of children to her husband’s advertising layout for a Campbell's condensed soup. The Campbell advertising agents loved the child appeal and choose Mrs. Wiederseim’s sketches as trademarks. In the beginning, Campbell Kids were drawn as ordinary boys and girls, later, Campbell Kids took on the personas of policemen, sailors, soldiers, and other professions.
Grace Wiederseim Drayton will always be the "mother" of Campbell Kids. She drew for the company advertising for nearly twenty years. Drayton’s designs were so popular that doll makers wanted to capitalized on their popularity. Campbell's gave the E. I. Horsemen Company the license to market dolls with the Campbell label on their sleeves. Horseman even secured two U.S. design patents for the dolls’ clothes.
By Mary Bellis, guide 
Mark Reyland

Wednesday, July 16

Tim Berners Lee who?

This guy looks pretty normal, like any of us, but who is he? 

Tim Berners Lee has invented something which affects us all on a daily basis, and something which we take for granted, despite being a relatively new concept. Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web.

Born on June 8th, 1955 in London, England, Tim was the child of two computer-mad parents, who both met whilst working on a computer to be commercially sold for the first time. This passion rubbed off on Tim as he matured, encouraging him to think logically and innovatively. He studied at the Queen's College at Oxford University.

At 21 years of age, he began working on his own computer using equipment lying around his home. His job at Plessey Telecommunications Ltd., included working with bar code technology and messaging systems all of would soon contribute to his world changing idea.

Time Berners Lee Internet voyage began at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, in Geneva, in 1980 where he invented the language which we still use today to create web pages, Hyper Text Mark-up Language (HTML). The first web page was located at, where the theories behind his idea were detailed. The site was a directory, search engine and website all wrapped up in one. All the tools were already at his disposal, but it was Lee who pieced them all together to produce a working solution.

The concept of the Internet stemmed from a program Lee had written called "Enquire Within Upon Everything". It is because of this man that the entire world remains connected, but Lee did not benefit financially from this invention, failing to even consider filing for a patent. He founded the W3C in 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium, in Massachusetts where he is the Director. The purpose of this organization is to ensure the Web grows to its full potential and remains stable.

Tim Berners Lee is not globally well known, but has won numerous technological wards on both a national and international level. For example, in 1995, Tim Berners Lee won the award for "Young Innovator of the Year" courtesy of the Kilby Foundation. He has also received awards in both America and Japan.

The British have honored Lee by giving him a Knighthood. In 2004, he was given the rank of Knight Commander. He received the title of Greatest Briton in 2005, for displaying the main British qualities of "diffidence, determination, a sharp sense of humor and adaptability."

Lee is not the kind of man to revel in the spotlight, but prefers to keep a low profile and spend time with his wife, Nancy Carlson and their two children. He will long be remembered as the man who invented the Internet and as the Web continues to grow, it will all be as a result of Tim Berners Lee fantastic idea.

From InventionReaction

Mark Reyland

Tuesday, July 15

If you've never failed… You've never lived

We often hear about going the extra mile. In sports it means work harder, in business it means work longer, but in inventing it could mean many things.

To an innovator, one who is presenting a hypothesis, the extra mile may represent taking the time and effort to prove that hypothesis through the process of inventing. For an inventor, one who has proven an hypothesis, the extra mile may mean developing a new product. For both the innovator and inventor the extra mile could at some point mean entrepreneurship.

The common denominator is that at a given point in time to anyone who goes the extra mile it will mean failure.

Although failure and success are often disproportionate – they are always inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. Much like the contrast between light and dark, warm and cold, and tall and short - failure and success are interdependent, for it is failure that provides us the education required to achieve success.

As inventors the education failure provides is an instrumental part in guiding us to the solution. But to be useful we cannot be scared of it. We must embrace the failure in order to learn from it. We must experience the failures in order to achieve the successes. And in our darkest hours, we must use the gift of failure as the fuel to take us that extra mile.

Monday, July 14

No way....Really?

Professional inventors get contacted by people all the time asking advice, or looking for contacts.

For the most part all the professionals I know are kind and more than willing to help in any way they can. But sometimes there is simply nothing you can do.

This is an email exchange between an “innovator” and a professional inventor friend of mine. We’ve changed the names, but you can judge for yourself.

" Hey Mr. Smith I’ve been trying hard but no luck yet. I was wondering if maybe you can help me with my invention for a baby bottle consider it a double upgrade of all baby bottles I’m willing to sign as co inventor and I only want two checks so you may keep all the royalties no bull…"

"…I appreciate the opportunity, but I am swamped with projects right now and am not taking on any new projects. Baby products are extremely hard to get a company to accept due to all the safety and health issues. It will take you some time to find the right company."

" How about I sell you my idea for a toaster for 2 mill you can launch it whenever you want or a sandal idea it’s also revolutionary for 4 mill . 1 mill first then the rest when you launch them of course we can arrange a payment plan if you think its price or don’t have the money for it this will be my last offer thank you for your time sir"

Is this innovator crazy? I’m really not sure, but I do know he’s unrealistic. What he's really saying is. "Mr. Smith, I would like you to pay me a large sum of money, and then go find out if I’m as smart as I think I am".

undefinedUnfortunately this is a conversation had between innovators/inventors and business people every day. They don’t want to do any work. They don’t want to risk any money. They don’t even want to see if the idea could function let alone sell. What they do want to do is shift all the risk and cash a check.

Like it or not, every time an inventor has this conversation with a manufacturer they damage the reputation of our industry and each of us as inventors.

Think about that next time you see someone run off to cash in that great idea they had in the shower.  Slow them down a little and encourage them to do at least enough research to deal professionally with the business end of our industry.

Friday, July 11

Now that's a list of terms....

Non-Disclosure (NDA)- A document that both parties signs agreeing to keep any information discussed or shown confidential. Each party must get a signed original for their records of the document.
Minimum royalty payment- The lowest amount per your contract you will receive quarterly in royalties no matter how many units of the product are sold.

Upfront payment or “advance on royalties”- payment made prior to the product going to market to the Inventor. Once the product is on the market the Inventor does not receive any royalties until the advance is equaled in royalties paying the company back for the advance.

Exclusivity- An agreement between the Inventor and the company stating that the company will be the only party entitled to manufacture and sell your product. It can be written for one market or all markets.

Non-exclusive- An agreement that the company has the right to manufacture and sell your product, but the Inventor is still able to make the same agreement with other companies.

Letter of intent or MOU (memorandum of Understanding) Either document is used to state each parties intent and course of action to meet a common goal. These documents are normally followed by a formal contract between the two parties once everyone is in agreement.

Licensing agreement- Document stating the terms of payment both parties agree to for licensing the product. These can include, minimums, advances, royalties, payment schedule, length of contract assigned rights and whatever can be negoiated by both parties.

Sell sheet- A one or two page document with drawings, and benefit explanations specific to the product. This allows the reader to get a full overview of the product and its marketability.

Prototype- functional model that can demonstrate your products features. It can be crude or manufacture ready in quality.

Licensing agent or Broker- A Person that represents you and your product to possible investors, manufacturers, and licensing companies. They get a percentage of the royalties of any licensing deal accepted as part of their services.

Patent attorney-Writes patent claims, researches the patent , and works to help the client obtain a patent on their idea/product.

Patent agent-works with the product developer/Inventor to negotiate patent agreements. Does similar work as the Patent attorney, but is normally not a lawyer.

Proof of Concept- The ability to demonstrate via a prototype, engineering model, 3-D animation, etc that your product actually will work as claimed.

Investor/Angel Investor- Person(s) or group that invests money for the development and production of your idea/product. This investment is normally for a portion/ownership of the company/product.

3-D printer- Utilizing CAD drawing input the printer makes a 3-D solid model of the design.

Wholesale price- (sometimes called "Sell In" price) The price the manufacturer charges distributers, vendors and stores for the product. This price is what is used to base the inventors’ royalty percentage payment.

Retail Price- Price stores charge the consumer for the product.

Product launch- date the company plans to have the product on store shelves available to consumers.

An option - A payment made to the inventor that allows a company to keep your product/idea longer for further evaluation or development without the Inventor sending it to another company.

Cold calling- contacting a company for the first time to pitch your idea/product and not knowing anyone within the company.

Minimums- Clause in the contract that states whether your product sells X-amount units or not, you still get paid X-amount per year.

ROI- Return on investment- This is what investors look at before putting in any money. What will the return in profits to them be versus how much they have to put in? This is where they decide what the risk factor is.

There are obviously more, so add to the list.
Mark Reyland

Thursday, July 10

What do you think?

As many of you who read this blog know I start each day with a cup of coffee sitting at my desk writing the Daily Inventor Education blog.

What some of you may not know (and what I didn't realize until yesterday) was that I've been writing this Inventor Education Blog for eight years!

That's right, the first posting was in July of 2006, making this the eight year anniversary.

Almost 1300 articles later, 400,000 pages read, and as many as 16,000 readers a month not counting the hundreds who receive the blog in their email each day - I think we've helped get some quality education out to the people who need and deserve it most - Inventors.

Well, at least I like to think so...but in the end I just write the stuff, you read it, and its your opinion that matters, not mine.

So tell me what you think - Use the comments section of today's blog to let me know your thoughts on the value of the education, the material, the topics, and what you want to know about.

If you have a topic you want to see covered, an expert you want to ask a question, or something about the industry you want to sound off about ... let me know by emailing me at and I'll do my best to write something or get you an answer.

To the many of you who have asked that the blog be put into a book or some kind, I'm still considering it, and maybe when I get some extra time I'll work on it.

Thanks for the last eight years of reading my thoughts, I hope it's helped, and here's to another eight years!

Mark Reyland

Wednesday, July 9

A Prototype?...

"The original or model on which something is based or formed" 

I think Webster has it partially correct. However for most inventors a prototype is far more.
In practice a prototype is both a learning tool and a puzzle. It’s rather like an artist with a lump of clay. The inventor is “molding” the prototype into his/her vision of that invention in their mind. Along the way it will teach them about the theory and ultimately prove or disprove the hypothesis.
That’s what happens in general – although there are several kinds of prototypes. At some point most inventors will come in contact with one or more of them so let’s take a quick look.
Basic Prototyping – This is generally a home built effort. It isn’t pretty and it’s often made from things lying around the house, but it will prove the theory and it is the first step in making the distinction between Innovation and Inventing. For most of us this involves breaking the problem down to its basic functions and assembling parts that replicate those many functions into a new form.
I often walk the aisles of a retail store with a mental list of the functions I am trying to replicate and purchase items that have those parts. Then I retreat to my shop where I dismantle the items from the store and re-purpose those parts from my list. Remember, it doesn’t have to be pretty, it has to work.
Advanced Prototyping – Normally a little better looking than a basic prototyping effort, an advanced prototype is generally done with the help of a professional trade. That is, you have taken your basic prototype to a machine shop, or a plastics shop and had parts of it made professionally to assemble back in the garage. You sometimes hear this referred to as a “Looks Like – Works Like” model.
Manufacturing Prototype – This is where it gets a little more complicated. A manufacturing prototype is one that is EXACTLY like the final manufactured product.  That is, it’s the exact shape, size and function of the final product. What sets this apart from other prototyping is that it can be used to create the machine tooling actually used in the manufacturing process.  
In the old days this was it – you created a manufacturing prototype and you sent it out to a company who then took it apart and made all the tooling from it. That still happens today, but as technology advances the process has changed a bit and it’s not done that way as often as it used to be.
Virtual Prototyping - Created in a computer, this relatively new form of prototyping represents both good and bad to the inventor.  At its most primitive, this form of prototyping is a 3D file that can be used to output data to a tool making machine.
Great for a simple part, but as your invention gets more complicated you will need to work in more complicated programs. These programs will allow you to do things like motion studies, flow dynamics, and in essence digitally create a manufacturing prototype.
This is very important because many inventors are being sold “virtual prototypes” that are nothing more than 3D pictures of their invention. This is NOT a prototype, it’s a picture, and unless you can output the data to the tool maker to actually create your product, don’t spend the money. Ask the company doing the files for you if their result can be used to create tooling.
As you can see the word “prototype” is a broad brush to paint with. Take the time to figure out not only where you are in the prototyping process, but where you’re headed. You can spend significant amounts of money in prototyping – make sure it’s the best money on the best process.
Mark Reyland

Monday, July 7

A good read...

Although I get asked a lot to endorse and advertise books about inventing, I normally don't.

You see, for the most part the books in our industry are garbage. From those bright yellow covers, to the orange homemade looking graphics, the content ranges from reprinted free advice they got on the internet, entirely bogus advice, to self serving dribble designed to lure the unknowing inventor who can be easily separated from his/her money. After all, you don't know any better, so to you it's all good advice....right?

So you ask, why are you telling me this Mark? Because I ran across this book about the industry I wanted you to ponder.

It's not one of those useless advice books, or some self serving ego booster, and although it's a bit "whiney" at times, it illustrates an important reality. You see, this guy made almost every mistake you can make - and maybe by reading about his journey you will save yourself and your family some real heartbreak.

Like I said, I don't know this gentleman, or the circumstances of his story. I'm not endorsing his book, or vouching for it's validity. What I am doing is encouraging you to open your eyes to the reality of this industry before you get yourself in a position to write your own book.

Mark Reyland  

Friday, July 4

Hey....I'm a friggin genius!

Many times society associates successful inventors with the term Genius. I can’t tell you if that’s a correct association or not. What I can tell you is that although normally very creative – most inventors I know are not geniuses. But then again maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd.
What scientists theorize about “genius” is that it normally applies to one area of intellect and that it’s hormonally driven and developed through environmental exposure starting at a young age and continuing over a long period of time. That is, you may have the right genetic makeup of a genius, but without the environmental reinforcements you may never develop the mental strength to use it.

Scientists think it works something like this.

Our brains have an overflowing amount of information - think of suds overflowing from a washing machine. This is far more information than we know how to manifest verbally, emotionally, or even physically. To offset this flood of “bubbles” our brain also has a suppression function. A hormone designed to keep the brain from overflowing parses the information to us as we need it, and as we can handle it.

So what happens in the brain of a genius? It’s simple really; the genetic wiring in the brain allows the body to produce less of the suppression hormone, resulting in an increased flow of information – or bubbles if you will.

That’s the hormonal component, but what about the environmental influence? Well that’s all about focus.
You see, when the brain is allowed to let more bubbles out it doesn’t instinctively know how to apply the additional information. You have to train your brain to focus this increasing amount of data into action.
To the rest of us that combination of a decrease in hormonal suppression and data focus take on the form of what we have come to know as “Genius”.
This is starting to sound a bit familiar. I know lots of inventors that are overflowing with creativity – but many of them are also completely unfocused. They have an idea, then another, then a change, and before you know it they jump to something entirely different. This could simply be the manifestation of an overload of information without the ability to focus.
As I’m sure many of you have, I hear inventors say “It’s like I can’t turn off my brain” all the time. Could this be they have the genetic makeup of reduced hormonal suppression but they have never learned to focus all that information into a task?
What about you – do you see yourself in this explanation of Genius?

Mark Reyland

Thursday, July 3

Well I Declare.....

As is often the case in the inventing industry there are little things we may not know about that can drastically effect the way a set of events play out.

Such is the case when an inventor finds themselves on the wrong end of a Declaratory Judgment.

Declaratory judgments, sometimes called declaratory relief, are often sought in situations involving contracts, deeds, leases, and wills. An insurance company, for example, might seek a declaratory judgment to clarify whether a policy applies to a certain person or event. Declaratory judgments also commonly involve individuals or parties who seek to determine their rights under specific regulatory or criminal laws.
Declaratory judgments are considered a type of preventive justice because, by informing parties of their rights, they help them to avoid violating specific laws or the terms of a contract. In 1934 Congress enacted the Declaratory Judgment Act (28 U.S.C.A. § 2201 et seq.), which allows for declaratory judgments concerning issues of federal law. At the state level, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws passed the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (12 U.L.A. 109) in 1922. Between 1922 and 1993, this act was adopted in forty-one states, the Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Most other states have varying laws that provide for declaratory judgments. Most declaratory judgment laws grant judges discretion to decide whether or not to issue a declaratory judgment.
What a Declaratory Judgment (or the right to seek one) means to an inventor is watch what you say.
Declaratory Judgments can be used by companies to drive the inventor into a hardship associated with defending his/her rights, or backing up what the inventor may have said in the heat of anger.
Let's look at a practical example. The inventor living in New York finds a company who they believe stole their great idea. The inventor's right is to file a case in NY seeking relief since that's where they live. However, the inventor is angry and lashes out at the company who resides half way across the country in Iowa (using email, mail, phone calls ...) with threats of a law suit.
Unbeknownst to the inventor,  their threat of a law suit has just opened the door to a Declaratory Judgment action.
The company in Iowa now has the right to ask the Iowa court to grant them a Declaratory Judgment allowing them to strike first by filing suit in the Iowa courts against the Inventor.
This preventive action by the company may cause the inventor to act more quickly than they may have planned, have to hire an attorney in Iowa, and since the proceedings are now in Iowa, force the inventor to fly from New York to Iowa for every hearing.
What started out as an emotional threat (likely never to be acted on) has now drug the inventor and their family down the legal rabbit hole by triggering a mechanism the inventor may not have known even existed. 
The moral of the Declaratory Judgment story is very simple - don't throw a punch unless you are prepared to get into a fight.
Mark Reyland