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cover2Cover Story

The Sky Is The Limit

   Indoor plumbing. Electricity. Computers. Cell phones.

   Though it may be hard to imagine living in the 21st Century without one of these devices, it took an inventor to bring them to the public consciousness. Now many consider their presence a “right” of living in America.

   While no magical cure appears on the horizon for AIDS, cancer or global warming, many believe bright minds will continually come up with inventions to postpone society’s inevitable collapse. The current focus on inventors rivets not only those wishing to gain fame, but those wishing to change the world. Some corporations hope to hasten the process:

  • Simon Cowell and the producers of “American Idol” will unveil “American Inventor” in Spring 2006. ABC’s primetime reality show plans to uncover the hottest retail products and make some struggling inventor’s dream come true. In typical “Idol” fashion, America will vote to determine which inventor is worthy of a $1 million prize. Individuals and teams auditioned in six cities for the chance to be on the show (an audition in Austin, Texas, had to be cancelled due to production concerns).
  • The History Channel, in conjunction with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Time Magazine and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, will announce the finalists of its Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge in February. The winner will receive a $25,000 grant and have her or his invention recognized as the 2006 Modern Marvel of the Year.

   Betsey Martin, an information specialist for the Arkansas Small Business Development Center, could not place an economic figure on the importance of inventors. But she pointed to something else.

   “They represent the spirit of being an entrepreneur in that they’re willing to conquer and cross new frontiers in doing things that have never been done before,” Martin said.

The public values the invention more than the inventor does. The inventor knows there is much more and better where this came from. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, American author, poet and philosopher

Here it is -- F. Richard Jordan, M.D., holds his epidural electrode for spinal cord stimulation. European doctors use the device for angina, which is cardiac pain (heart), and ischemic pain in the legs. (photo by Sitton)

Here it is — F. Richard Jordan, M.D., holds his epidural electrode for spinal cord stimulation. European doctors use the device for angina, which is cardiac pain (heart), and ischemic pain in the legs. (photo by Sitton)

   Dr. F. Richard Jordan, a North Little Rock neurosurgeon, needed something better. For over 30 years, Jordan and other doctors used a flat, rectangular epidural electrode for spinal stimulation in attempts to control chronic pain from a variety of causes.

   Adapted from pacemaker technology, this original electrode consisted of a wire with a single contact on the end, which made it difficult to find the correct point of stimulation on the spinal cord. An improved version offered wire electrodes with several contact points, but the dynamic structure of the spine would sometimes cause the wire placement to shift. Engineers came up with a paddle electrode, but Jordan said its shape was wrong for the space where it needed to fit.

   Instead of a rectangular electrode, Jordan designed a curved one to fit over the spinal cord. Tapered wings on his design prevent shifting and facilitate insertion, along with a tapered tip. Jordan said the curved shape focuses stimulation into the spinal cord better, while the wings serve as insulation to keep the current from spreading, thereby making the device more efficient.

   “It’s a battery-powered system like a pacemaker,” Jordan said. “Instead of replacing it every four-to-five years, patients can now replace it every six-to-seven years, which saves them money since it costs $30,000 to replace the stimulator. Over a lifetime, that can be a significant savings just from changing the electrode.”

Money -- Jordan's electrode has brought him world renown. (photo by Sitton)

Money — Jordan’s electrode has brought him world renown. (photo by Sitton)

   Although Jordan asked Medtronic for years to make his epidural electrode for spinal cord stimulation, the medical equipment company was not interested as Jordan ’s silastic electrode must be hand-molded rather than mass produced. So he turned to the engineers at Advanced Neuromodulation Systems in Plano, Texas, who helped build the device.

   “It’s a major leap in technology,” Jordan said. “Most surgeons who try it say they’ll never go back again. ANS sells in 30 countries. They were just bought by St. Jude Medical, which is in 130 countries. The market for this device has suddenly exploded.”

Necessity, who is the mother of our invention. – Plato, the philosopher, in “The Republic”

Co-Pilot -- Janice Scott received her invention through a dream from God. (picture courtesy of Janice Scott)

Co-Pilot — Janice Scott received her invention through a dream from God. (picture courtesy of Janice Scott)

   Janice Scott, a Gould resident and part-time minister, grew tired of the frustration from inadequate products for her monthly menstruation. So she prayed.

   Scott said God gave her promises in dreams and visions, and told her to return to Arkansas after living in Atlanta for seven years. In one dream, Scott said God told her to design the Comfort Maxi Pad, providing the plan and format of the invention.

   “God gave it to me in a dream in December of last year,” Scott said. “The other part of it is I was tired of being frustrated every month. I was talking to the Lord about it and he inspired me in a dream. There’s nothing on the market of this type that I’ve invented.”

   Scott made sketches and sent them to Invent-Tech, a publicity and public relations company that was also in her dream. Invent-Tech turned the sketches into computer graphics and prepared the idea for marketing. Scott cannot discuss particular differences between her invention and others until a license agreement is secured with a manufacturing or production company.

An inventor is a man who looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees; he wants to benefit the world. – Alexander Graham Bell, physicist and inventor

   Ron Moore watched in horror with his wife one day in 1997 as a news broadcast in his Cave City home showed the grief of a woman whose baby had been sucked out of her arms by a tornado.

   “There was a lady screaming, ‘We had no warning!’” Moore said. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘Let’s put an alarm in a barometer.’”

   The next day, the vitamin plant manager contacted his friend Michael Collins, who owns a construction company in Charlotte . They knew low pressure produced stronger storms, and meteorologists helped the two determine where the pressure settings should be for their invention. Moore and Collins started working with barometers with emitters, but found they weren’t accurate enough.

   “Getting a barometer manufacturer to work with us was impossible,” Moore said.

   An ex-engineer from Frigidaire Corp. suggested they try electronic sensors instead. After nearly a year and a half of looking for the perfect sensor, another engineer in Mountain View helped them find the right one, Moore said. They built the prototype for their severe storm alarm, the StormTell, around 2002.

stormtell   The smoke alarm-sized unit plugs into electric outlets or runs on a 9-volt battery, which makes it portable. The electronic sensor automatically sets itself to any elevation or climate.

   “We developed one alarm with two different alarms built into it,” Collins said. “If a storm comes in really fast out of nowhere, like a summertime thunderstorm, then there’s an alarm for a fast fall of the barometer. Sometimes we have the fronts that come across – squall lines – where the pressure is slowly falling. When it gets to a set point, that alarm will ring with a steady tone. It lets you know in two different ways. Most storms occur after midnight and most people have no warning.”

   The StormTell indicates pressure at and around the home from air samples taken every 30 seconds, 24-hours a day, he said. In contrast, a weather-band radio only indicates county-wide warnings from the weather service.

   “Ours puts it right to your backyard, what’s happening above your head and in your backyard,” Moore said. “Our typical warning times have been 15-90 minutes depending on storm intensity.”

Doubt is the father of invention. – Galileo Galilei, Italian physicist and astronomer

   Calvin McGlothlin worried about his children’s safety during Halloween because of the lack of adequate lighting on the porch of his double-wide trailer. The Batesville resident invented a battery-operated Pumpkin Light, though he cannot discuss the specifics of his invention while Invent-Tech markets the product.

   “I came up with the idea four years ago,” McGlothlin said. “It came up out of the blue. I had put a candle in the pumpkin on the porch, but I was afraid it’d catch on fire. I came up with the idea of putting something else in it.”

   His Pumpkin Light goes inside the pumpkin, but provides a brighter glow than a candle without the risk of fire. McGlothlin said his girls thought the light would look good in their portable pumpkins, since it lit up like a lantern.

   “They used to have a flashlight in one hand and a pumpkin in other,” he said. “Now if they fall, they can catch themselves. They love it too. The other kids go, ‘Wow, their (pumpkin) is lit.’”

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. – Alan Kay, pioneer of object-oriented programming, personal computing and graphical user interfaces

   Robert Hall Jr., of North Little Rock , enjoys duck hunting on his property in Hickory Plains, outside of Des Arc. But a fairly large drainage ditch cuts across his land, funneling water from four counties to the White River.

   His John Deere Gator, a utility vehicle, cannot float, making it difficult to cross the ditch. So Hall often hooked his Gator to a trailer holding a john boat, which he pulled down to the ditch. He would cross the ditch in the boat, but that required him to walk once on the other side.

   “I wanted something that would carry a large payload or six-to-eight people and still float, as well as be maneuverable and drivable like the Kubota, the John Deere and the Polaris,” Hall said.

   A friend of Hall’s owned a piece of equipment similar to the Argo, but Hall described it as a fiberglass tub mounted onto a frame that drives like a tank and goes through water from the tread on the wheels acting like a paddle.

   “It’s pretty unstable in the water,” Hall said. “It’s like a bathtub that floats. You have to balance it so you wouldn’t tip it. At times you’d have to get out and pull it across the water you are trying to cross because the thing will not cross it on its own. If it’s too deep, you couldn’t do it because the wheels would turn and it wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Revolution -- Robert Hall Jr., president of Hall Manufacturing of North Little Rock, stands with the prototype of the Bush-Whacker Revolution. The amphibious utility vehicle should cost around $17,900 for a basic package when released later this spring. (photo by Sitton)

Revolution — Robert Hall Jr., president of Hall Manufacturing of North Little Rock, stands with the prototype of the Bush-Whacker Revolution. The amphibious utility vehicle should cost around $17,900 for a basic package when released later this spring. (photo by Sitton)

   Hall said he felt like none of the available products on the market met his needs, and he figured other people must have the same needs. His company, Hall Manufacturing Inc., manufactures rotary mowers and is primarily known for its major product, the Bush-Whacker. From scratch, they designed the Bush-Whacker Revolution, a 6-feet-wide, 1,500 lb. amphibious utility vehicle with a 2,000 lb. payload that measures 12 feet from bumper to bumper. The Revolution drives like a vehicle, but its all-wheel steering option allows crab-steering in one mode. A second mode turns the wheels in the opposite direction, which almost provides a zero-turn radius allowing for tighter turns.

   “There’s no other vehicle like this,” Hall said. “It’s the only vehicle in its class. You cannot take a John Deere Gator and compare it to the Bush-Whacker Revolution. You can put my Gator in the back of the Revolution and drive it across that ditch.”

Everything that can be invented has been invented. – Charles H. Duell, commissioner for the U.S. patent office, 1899

   The Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office received a record number of patent and trademark applications in 2005, including 406,302 patent applications and 323,501 applications for trademark registration. Its fiscal year 2005 Performance and Accountability Report records 149 of 363 patent requests and 172 of 761 trademark requests granted to Arkansans.

   Mary Leckie, coordinator of state library services for the Arkansas State Library, said it’s important to be careful when reading the USPTO statistics as they can be misleading and do not necessarily represent all Arkansans. Some statistics include only independent inventors, but Leckie said a lot of people invent for companies or universities, which may then have a patent listed in its name rather than the inventor’s. That’s not the only problem when trying to determine some idea of the numbers ofArkansas inventors.

   “People confuse the state abbreviations, so sometimes if you do a search on Inventor State: AR, you will find patents issued to someone in Phoenix,” Leckie said. “I think some Arkansas patents probably are in AK. Some of this may be inventor error, and some data input error.”

What business analyst in the 1970s would have looked to rural Arkansas to find the future of retailing? And yet, that is where Wal-Mart emerged. – James K. Glassman, American Enterprise Institute, to the 2003 Medical Futures Forum

   While Arkansas’ place in tornado alley contributed to the StormTell, Moore said every state in the union averages one tornado a year.

   “It wasn’t our goal to be inventors,” he said. “I’ve been in fire service all my life and Mike has too. We had a real concern with people being killed in tornados all the time without any warning. With the technology available, something had to be done. Even if we could give 15 minutes warning, that would be helpful. We became self-made inventors.”

   Hall said the idea for the Revolution stemmed from his hobby of hunting on the farm, though the benefits exceed that residence.

   “It’s not just something for duck hunters. Farmers can use it, hunters, construction, fire and rescue, border patrol, FEMA,” Hall said. “It’s unfortunate for us and the people of New Orleans that we didn’t have this ready to go when Katrina hit because it would have been the perfect vehicle to have been down there.”

   Arkansas ’ inventors include students as well as those already established:

  • William Helms, a fifth grader at Ruth Doyle Intermediate School in Conway , earned a $5,000 US savings bond in the 2005 Craftsman/ National Science Teachers Association’s Young Inventors Awards Program. Helms devised a chicken feeder that operates on a pulley system to help people with arthritis feed chickens without lifting a heavy bag.
  • Students in Eureka Springs High School ’s Environmental and Spacial Technology program received a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant for $9,860.60 to design an affordable wristband that acts as a warning/monitoring device for people at risk for high blood pressure. In June, the team will present its prototype at the two-day InvenTeams Odyssey convention in Boston, Mass.

Next came the Patent laws. These began in England in 1624; and, in this country, with the adoption of our Constitution. Before then, any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things. – Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States

   Of the six profiled inventors, most own patents or have their inventions patent-pending. Matt DeCample, a spokesman for state Attorney General Mike Beebe, noted inventions deal with proprietary information, requiring the inventor to be careful when sharing the secret behind the innovation.

   “At the end of the day, the patent is what you need if you’re going to successfully market an invention and keep someone else from ripping it off,” he said.

   Three different patents exist: utility (inventions), plant and design. Leckie said the utility patent costs more because it details how the item functions, where the design patent protects how the item looks, not the function. Patents must be unique, novel and something not obvious to a person skilled in that area.

   Leckie said the government gives inventors the right to prevent others from making, selling or using their invention for a specific period of time, now 20 years, in exchange for making the information available to the public. After that time, the invention becomes public domain and anybody can use it. She said patent-pending indicates the inventor filed the paperwork and paid the application fees, but that does not guarantee that a patent will issue.

   “Once it’s been patented, (the invention) cannot be patented again,” Leckie said. “If somebody had a patent on something that may have been years ahead of its time, you can’t get a patent on that because that patent is in the public domain. Improvements to the patent can be made and those additions can be patented—but that probably requires legal advice.”

   Before an inventor can file for a patent, the process starts with a lot of research to determine in an invention has already been patented or to find out how older equipment works. Leckie said at one time, inventors went to the Patent Office in Washington, D.C. to do patent searches. Since that could be time- and cost-prohibitive, the government established Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries to provide local access to the materials.

   Leckie said the Arkansas State Library, designated in 1985 as a Patent and Trademark Depository, holds all U.S. patents back to 1790 in microfilm, CD and DVD formats. Although these can now be accessed through the Patent and Trademark Office Web site, the depository assists people in learning how to access that information.

   “Patent searching is very complicated. We always tell people to allow several hours to learn the process and do the preliminary search,” Leckie said. “We can show people the tools and then they can do the search on their own. The important thing is to know how to access the search tools. At some point you have to get from the key word to the patent office classification scheme, which is really technical. It’d be better for inventors to come to the library for information and assistance if they have never used the patent classification system.”

   When an inventor files a patent application, the appropriate fee must be submitted. Once the patent issues, the owner must pay an issuing fee, Leckie said. In three and a half years, the patent owner must begin paying maintenance fees. She noted several things determine the fee structure, including the type of patent and the number of claims by an inventor.

   Four of the profiled inventors and Leckie recommended using a patent and trademark attorney to help with legal questions, filling out forms and assisting in the application process. The USPTO Web site lists two patent attorneys in Arkansas.

   “I recommend a patent attorney,” Moore said. “I would not try to patent it by myself because of the terminology that needs to be written. Yes it costs a little bit more money, but it’s definitely worth it to use a patent attorney.”

I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2,000-step process. — Thomas Edison (19th/20th-century American inventor), responding to a reporter who asked how it felt to fail 2,000 times before successfully inventing the light bulb

   Those who went through the patent process make it sound tedious.

   “It’s a very long process,” Collins said. “Looking at the inventor’s side, it’s a costly process. Once you file for the patent – I recommend getting a patent attorney – you’re looking at anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 initially, then every few years you have to keep patent current. The biggest thing I can suggest to anyone who has an idea … write it down, send it to yourself. That way you’ve got a legal leg to stand on if someone claims to have thought of it first.”

   Jordan received royalties for helping with other inventions, but never owned a patent before. He was the first person in the world to use one of the anterior cervical plates, and the first to use the posterior spinal system for Blackstone Medical. Though he’s devised several medical instruments, the companies he worked with took them and marketed them without a patent and without Jordan receiving any benefit.

   “We devised various retractors and things working with Synthes, which is notorious for (using inventions without credit),” he said. “That’s one of the big hazards. You have to guard your intellectual property very carefully. Basically, you only discuss it with the attorney you’re working with.”

   However, two of the profiled inventors trust Invent-Tech to secure their patents. McGlothlin signed a two-year contract that gives Invent-Tech 10 percent of the profits from his Pumpkin Light for having the company’s lawyers take care of the patent and marketing process. Scott does not have a patent on her Comfort Maxi Pad.

   “(Invent-Tech) is working on the patent on it,” she said. “I’m just trying to get it licensed over. That’s what I’m paying them for. They’re being paid now. They’re doing a great job. That’s their responsibility. God gave me that information, too. Invent-Tech has their own attorneys and everything. When I said (God) gave me everything, he gave it to me in a dream. He gave me all the specifics.”

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success … Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything. – Nikola Tesla, Croatian inventor

   Even if inventors obtain a patent, they must find a market for their invention.

   “It can be a costly process to get a patent,” said Mildred Holley, a technology consultant for the Arkansas Small Business Development Center . “Before spending money on that process, the first question to ask is, ‘Will somebody pay for my invention?’ That means doing market research.”

   The ASBDC research center resides on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Business and Economic Development, which houses the college of business. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the research center offers resources to help the inventor design a prototype and market the invention.

   “We educate the public about what it takes to be successful in small business,” ASBDC information specialist Betsey Martin said. “We find sometimes inventors are too close to their idea. But you still have to run a business and be knowledgeable of the management aspect, money issues, etc.”

   Since the research center is a non-lending library, Martin and Holley encourage inventors to set aside time to view the new series of 20 DVDs called “Patents in Commerce,” which also cover trademark and copyright issues.

   Although Holley primarily works with university and business researchers, she occasionally works with inventors, too. She said most inventors fare better when partnering with others to get the invention to market, which could mean licensing the invention to a manufacturer and being paid royalties.

   “They don’t have to take on the responsibility to make the product,” Holley said. “If the inventor has good ideas and can recognize needs in the marketplace, they may want to focus their time and attention developing ideas, and let someone else market and develop the invention.”

   She recommended inventors invest in an invention assessment, which covers both marketing and technology. While some university-based programs offer invention assessments for a few hundred dollars, the technology consultant said inventors might spend thousands of dollars if they rely on promotion firms that have a profit motive. The Web site frompatenttoprofit.com puts the success rate of invention promotion companies at less than 1/100th of 1 percent.

   “The issues that we often see are inventors that may have gotten connected to an invention-promotion firm – that’s a problem nation-wide as I see it,” Holley said. “There are companies that operate on the fringes that charge a lot of money to help inventors do things that inventors can do themselves, or that others can help them with. These invention firms are profit driven, so the more services they provide to any inventor, the more money they’re making. They are not going to be an objective source to help an inventor evaluate their invention idea because they’re making money by helping the inventor do a lot of paperwork and put together patent inventions.”

   Scott seemed satisfied with Invent-Tech, the 10-year-old publicity and public relations company based in Coral Gables, Fla.

   “I’m trying to license (the Comfort Maxi Pad) over to a manufacturing company or production company,” Scott said. “We’re seeking manufacturers. That’s what (Invent-Tech is) doing on my behalf. Several companies have looked at it. We’re just waiting on the right company to do the licensing agreement.”

   McGlothlin said Invent-Tech takes his Pumpkin Light to trade shows in Las Vegas and New York , and sends out press releases via mail, email and DVD packages to marketers to try to get the invention marketed. McGlothlin said he paid for the patent research and the materials for the trade shows. He heard about Invent-Tech on television, and his uncle previously used the company. At this point, he does not know of any competition to the Pumpkin Light.

   “I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” McGlothlin said. “If there was any, the marketing people might know how to make money off it. People who’ve seen it think it’s a good idea. I mostly did it for the safety of my kids. But people who’ve seen it told me, ‘You need to get that patented, whatever that thing is.’”

   Adam Greene, a press and publicity representative for Invent-Tech, said most inventors find the company through television advertising or the Internet. The fee-for-service company offers a free product screening, though customers must pay for an invention research portfolio that consists of market analysis and a preliminary patent search.

   Greene said the company creates promotional materials for inventors and helps them get their idea to potential manufactures. Inventors must sign documents indicating they understand Invent-Tech does not render any legal advice, he said.

   “We don’t evaluate or appraise any product that we receive,” said Erica Johnson, an Invent-Tech inventor relations team leader. “Once it goes through the product screening, that’s when we decide whether the product is accepted or not. But we don’t evaluate any products.”

   Invent-Tech’s services range in price according the level of assistance provided to the client. According to the Arkansas attorney general’s office, Invent-Tech’s basic package costs $857 and an advanced package ranges from $3,950 to $8,450.

   Greene said Invent-Tech files the inventor’s idea at the patent and trademark office under the disclosure document program, which establishes the date of conception and a formal record of the idea. If a licensing agreement is secured with the manufacturer, he said the company will assist the inventor in applying for patent protection once the design details have been worked out.

   Johnson said Invent-Tech’s patent attorneys assist inventors with the process. The company works on patenting after securing a licensing agreement once the final design details have been worked out, Greene said.

   “We want their patent to reflect how their product is being manufactured and sold,” he said. “We make it very clear that we will only apply for a patent after the final design details have been worked out.”

   Johnson said manufacturers must sign a non-disclosure agreement prior to seeing a concept. While the idea is in the conceptual phase, she said Invent-Tech will not disclose any photos or pictures that might jeopardize an inventor’s patent rights.

   “Whether or not they have a prototype or not, as far as Invent-Tech is concerned we are 100 percent successful in what we claim to do, i.e. to assist individual inventors in researching, documenting and presenting their ideas to companies that would be willing to market them,” Greene said. “We let inventors know that new product development is not a get-rich-quick or overnight success-type industry. According to the patent and trademark office, only 2 percent of the products registered to them each year actually get into the marketplace.”

   At first, Moore and Collins took the StormTell to flea markets and made radio and TV commercials inJonesboro . After hooking up with an invention-promotion company, they took the StormTell to the world’s largest inventor’s tradeshow in Pittsburgh, Pa.

   “That process is around $10,000 as well, but it gets you out there and saves you legwork,” Moore said. “The more you got done, the cheaper it is to go through those guys. You could spend $15,000 if you’re not far along.”

   The cost leads some inventors to complain, if they feel they do not receive the services that invention-assistance companies promise. Although the state attorney general’s office has not received complaints of invention-promotion firms sharing invention secrets, DeCample said complaints occasionally arise about services that promise to help get the inventions off the ground (e.g. Arkansas inventors have filed four complaints against Invent-Tech; DeCample said three of those came in 2005). In some cases, the attorney general’s office recovered money for the consumers.

   “If someone’s going to assist you in the process when you work with the government, we advise that before they pay someone to help them, they go directly to the source first, in this case the Patent and Trademark Office,” DeCample said. “Because a lot of times, these government agencies will have free assistance in place, or there will be independent resources you can find or use for free. Before you sign on to pay someone for a service, make sure there’s not already assistance you can get for free or steps you can take on your own.”

   A federal law requires invention-promotion firms to disclose information to consumers, including how many customers they’ve had in the previous five years, and how many of those had a net profit from using their services. DeCample said a complaint against Pittsburgh, Pa.- based Invention Submission Corp. indicated in the five years prior to 2001, only 21 of ISC’s 8,685 customers made a net profit after paying for ISC’s services.

   “Obviously, that’s a very low percentage,” DeCample said. “Of course, that’s not all put on the submission company. If (the product’s) not going to work, it’s not going to work.”

Energy and persistence conquer all things. — Benjamin Franklin, 18th-century American Founding Father, inventor and statesman

   Going through the invention process from conception to production and distribution requires patience and hard work – lessons echoed by nearly all of the profiled inventors.

   “If you have an idea, the biggest thing is do not give up on it,” Collins said. “No matter how hard it gets, do not give up on it because with the good Lord’s help it will work out in the end.”

   McGlothlin benefited from seeing someone else go through the process first.

   “If you invent something, it’s not going to happen at once,” he said. “My dad went through seven or eight years and it’s still going slow. That’s what I learned from my dad; have patience and someone will like it.”

   Moore said his first invention will be his last because of the time and money (including savings) spent going through the process. In their ninth year working on the StormTell, Moore and Collins finally are getting closer to getting a manufacturer and marketer to help.

   “Financially – it’s probably the most difficult thing,” Moore said. “If you’ve got the money and a backer, you’re in pretty good shape. For this type of product you’re looking at a lot of testing and a lot of research. We sat up ‘til 2 a.m. tracking storms on the weather channel, putting our data together. It puts a wear on you trying to get there. It’s really tough. You’ll find your frustration levels very quick.”

   Besides guarding intellectual property and the difficulty of getting a patent, Jordan recommended using smaller companies, because they are often more willing to help and are more open to new ideas.

   “Large companies just tend to eat you up,” he said.

   Since manufacturing is his company’s business, Hall has taken the Revolution from an idea to a design to a prototype to a redesign to a manufacturable vehicle to manufacturing and marketing it.

   “The lesson I’ve learned is you have to have good project management,” Hall said. “As far as being an inventor, don’t allow yourself to be held back. Don’t let people say, ‘You can’t do that.’ Let them say it, but don’t believe it. I’m sure if you asked Benjamin Franklin how many times he was told ‘You can’t do that,’ he wouldn’t have been able to count it on his fingers and toes.”

I’m still the same person, thinking the same way, so it’s possible I will invent something. – Erno Rubik, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube

   Most of the profiled inventors intend to stick with their day jobs even if their inventions make money. Although the economical benefits may not be much, inventing provides other perks.

   “It’s sort of neat now that my name is known in Japan and other countries,” Jordan said. “I’m a known person out of ( Arkansas ). That’s sort of cool when they say, ‘This is Dr. Jordan ’s electrode.’”

   But at least one of the inventors hopes her invention will provide financial freedom.

   “My plans are to go into full-time ministry,” Scott said. “From the money from this, it will support me the rest of my life so I can do ministry only. That was one of God’s promises. As a minister, you don’t have time to do other things, but only time to do ministry. As a chaplain I will have time to work with the youth and do my calling.”

I can see the time when every city will have one. – An American mayor’s reaction to the news of the invention of the telephone

   While possible personal benefits entice the inventors, the societal benefits excite them. McGlothlin hopes his Pumpkin Light will make consumers feel at ease while their children trick-or-treat. Though he only makes 3 percent of sales for his epidural electrode on a spinal cord stimulator, Jordan said he believes consumers will save a lot of money since they will not need a new stimulator as often.

   While looking for a manufacturer and marketer, Moore and Collins have been manufacturing limited quantities of their StormTell alarm and selling it for $54.95 on their Web site, www.stormtell.com. Customers use the invention along the Gulf Coast , in Kansas City ’s Arrowhead Stadium and even overseas.

   “It’s awesome as far as protection from severe weather and storms,” Moore said. “The 15-90 minute warning is unheard of. The effect it will be for the public is saving lives. That’s what it’s been from the beginning. Not so much the monetary value, but the human life value is what we’ve put on this from the first as far as getting it done.”

   Hall plans to release a basic Bush-Whacker Revolution this spring with a suggested retail price of $17,900. Optional equipment will increase the price.

   “I hope it makes their life easier for one as far as hunting fishing, work, play, whatever application it is,” he said. “That’s the whole reason for inventions and technology improvements: to make our lives better and easier.”

   Scott said she believes her Comfort Maxi Pad will solve a lot of problems for women around the world. But she does not plan to pin all of her hopes on one invention; she’s working on seven more.

   “If you’ll believe in your dreams, you’ll go for it at all costs,” Scott said.

Perpetual Notions:

Arkansas Inventors Not a Joke

Where was the toothbrush invented? Arkansas. If it was invented anywhere else it would have been called a teethbrush. – Internet joke

Arkansas may not be the likeliest place to find inventors, but the state has had its share. I’m not talking about telephone inventor Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and his deaf wife visiting the Arkansas School for the Deaf in 1898. Nor do I refer to car magnate Henry Ford considering the idea of owning and operating a diamond mine at what is now Crater of Diamonds State Park. Nope: the inventors on this Top 10 list grew up, settled or went to school in Arkansas.

10 – Robert M. Mauer – Born in St. Louis, Mo., Mauer graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1948. Working with other Corning Glass researchers in 1970, he helped invent fiber optic technology, which provided the groundwork for a global multi-media telecommunications network. Even though he’s in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, he didn’t stay in Arkansas long enough to be higher on the list. For more information, go to http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/99.html

9 – William Baltz The Pocahontas resident built the “wonder horse” — a spring-supported riding toy enjoyed by millions of children. Anything that makes a lot of kids happy must make the top 10 list of inventions!

8 – Fred Marshall – The Little Rock native blended an Indian sitar with a guitar to create the Megatar in the mid-1960s. Marshall holds patents on the Megatar and an amplifier, and was instrumental in the development of the Zeta Uprite portable bass. For more information, go to http://www.radford.edu/~wehyde/fredmarshall.html.

7 – James Black – The New Jersey native moved to
Washington, Ark., when the state sat on the Mexican border. An 1841 newspaper account called him the inventor of the Bowie knife, used by Alamo legend Jim Bowie. Black may have also made the Arkansas Toothpick, a heavy dagger with a pointed, straight 12-20 inch blade. His Washington residence hosts the world’s only School
of Bladesmithing. For more information, go to http://users.aristotle.net/~russjohn/bowie.html and http://www.americanbladesmith.com/ABS_School1.htm

6 – Charles McDermott – Born in West Feliciana Parish,
La., McDermott owned extensive lands in the Arkansas Territory and became the namesake of the town Dermott. He gained national recognition for his inventions, including the common iron wedge, a cotton picking machine and an iron hoe. Yet his most influential invention, patent no. 133,046, influenced history. McDermott built an airplane, which he exhibited at the state fair in Little Rock and at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. Using his feet, he actually got his plane in the air. The Wright Brothers used his design for their flight at Kitty Hawk. For more information, go to http://www.seark.net/~sabra/der.html.

5 – Sequoyah – Born in Tuskegee, Tenn., this Cherokee warrior and silversmith lived near the Arkansas River in the Arkansas Territory off and on beginning in 1816. Finishing his work of 12 years, he invented the Cherokee alphabet while living in Arkansas. He introduced his syllabary of 86 characters to the Cherokee Nation in 1821. Seven years later, the U.S. government pressured Sequoyah and the Cherokees into giving up their Arkansas lands and moving to Oklahoma. For more information, go to http://www.manataka.org/page81.html.

4 – Paul Klipsch – Born in Elkhart, Ind., Klipsch moved to Hope in 1941 and never left. From a tin shed, he invented Klipsch speakers, considered by many audiophiles to be the best in the world. In his lifetime, Klipsch gained three patents in ballistics, eight in geophysics and 12 in acoustics. While Klipsch’s name adorns buildings, lecture halls and auditoriums, his most distinguished honor came when he was inducted and enshrined in the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame in 1997. For more information, go to http://www.engology.com/eng5klipsch.htm.

3 – Charles Gray – The Fountain Hill native first tried to make engines go further on a gallon of gas while in high school. As an Environmental Protection Agency employee, he played a leading role in the establishment of the first fuel economy standards in 1975 and the tightening of clean air rules in 1990. In the 1990s, Gray designed a hydaulic Supercar, which would get nearly 80 miles per gallon. His six patents on hydraulic work yielded more than $150,000 in royalties. With W’s election in 2000 and the funding cuts to the EPA, Gray’s hydraulic Supercar sits in the garage of history while we pay more than $2 a gallon for gas. For more information, go to http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/car/one/chi-startingup-special,0,7249692.special.

2 – Freeman Harrison Owens – The Pine Bluff native changed the movie industry when he added synchronized sound to motion pictures. Among his 11,812 inventions and 200 patents, the World War I combat cameraman patented the A.C. Nielsen Rating System and the plastic lens (used by the Eastman-Kodak company). A member of the Arkansas Entertainer Hall of Fame, Owens can be seen in a Pine Bluff mural at 209 Main St. He also has a plaque set in the concrete of the Arkansas Walk of Fame in Hot Springs. OwensMural_fcropFor more information, go to http://www.geocities.com/freemanhowens/.

1 – Wallace Coulter – The Little Rock native invented the Coulter Principle, which provided a methodology for counting, measuring and evaluating microscopic particles suspended in fluid. His invention led to medicine’s most prescribed test, the Complete Blood Count, which became routine, affordable, accurate and fast. Inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2004, Coulter co-founded the Coulter Corporation with his brother, where they made significant advances in hematology, immunology, cytometry, cancer and infectious disease diagnostics and fine particles analysis. For more information, go to http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/218.html

If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run – and often in the short one – the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.  –  Arthur C. Clarke, British author and inventor

For more information:

http://www.asl.lib.ar.us/patents/ – Arkansas ’ patent and trademark depository library

http://www.uspto.gov/ – United States Patent and Trademark Office online

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/iip/index.htm – USPTO’s inventor’s resources

http://inventorsdigest.com – Inventors’ Digest, “the magazine for idea people”

http://www.frompatenttoprofit.com – “From Patent to Profit” Web site by Bob DeMatteis

http://www.historychannel.com/invent/ – The History Channel’s Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge

http://www.invent.org/ – The National Inventors Hall of Fame

http://www.invent.org/collegiate/ – The National Inventors Hall of Fame also sponsors the Collegiate Inventors Competition, which encourages undergraduate and graduate students to enter their inventions beginning in February.

http://web.mit.edu/invent/ – The Lemelson-MIT Program

http://www.totallyabsurd.com/ – Totally Absurd Inventions – America’s Goofiest Patents


This article originally appeared in the Jan. 1-31, 2006 issue of the Little Rock Free Press.

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