Everyone Can Be An Inventor: Our Invention Ambassadors Share What You Need To Know

At the Invention Ambassador Capstone Panel Discussion at the start of June, our Invention Ambassadors for 2018 – 2019 discussed how invention is being used in ways relating to health, diversity, and inclusion. A significant part of the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors Program is to foster an interest in invention, and encourage the participation of invention in every community. We firmly believe that everyone can be an inventor, and we need as many backgrounds as possible, creating different solutions that will help move our world forward. 

Below, a few of our 2018-2019 Ambassadors offer advice to emerging inventors on their innovation philosophies and processes. 

 

Fang (Florence) Lu is a Senior Solutions Architect working at IBM Research. In her 17 years at IBM, she has filed more than 200 patent applications encompassing a range of areas. 

How can someone become a great inventor like yourself? 

“Often times, I hear people say, “Oh. I’m not a software developer. I don’t have any engineering background. I’m not going to become an inventor. I cannot come up with any patentable ideas.” When I hear this, I just tell them that everybody is smart. Everybody can become a great inventor, just like me. I’ve come up with a new personality type, the SMART Personality, which stands for See, Meditate, Articulate, Research, and Tackle.

Essentially, if you can constantly observe the challenges around you, can meditate possible new solutions to this particular problem, can actually conduct research, and then clearly articulate the challenge you want to solve and the solution you want to create, you will be able to become a wonderful inventor.

I also just want to thank the Lemelson Foundation for creating all these wonderful programs, to help people realize that anyone can become an inventor. If you care, if you want to solve the challenges around us, then anybody can become an inventor.”

Do you have any advice for new inventors? 

“I think that it’s very important to actually find mentors to get started. When I started patenting more than a decade ago, at the very beginning I submitted several documents for the internal review process. Some of them actually passed, and IBM filed those patents. 

But for the rest of them, they got rejected for a variety of different reasons. It discouraged me for a while. But I found myself a wonderful mentor that would talk to me and help me understand what the key factors are that will be used when the patent examiner evaluates patent applications. From that point on, I was able to become more successful. Because of this, I have mentored lots of people along the way as it’s my responsibility to share my experiences with other inventors, and soon-to-be inventors as well.”

In your experience, what is the best way to come up with ideas for patents?

“I have run many patent brainstorming sessions internally, and what I have found is that some of the most effective ways to come up with new ideas is to ask people to sign up in smaller groups.

I recommend between three to five people per team. Within that, you need a group-appointed a team lead, to drive the process. This is because everybody is super busy with their day job. If nobody leads the team, then this whole project is going to fall apart.

Typically, one person will drive the process of idea development through the use of agile processes. For example, in the first week, the group comes up with some products. Then they need to go back to do their research to review and renew. 

Finally, one person will be able to roll out the first draft of the patent application. Then the team will conduct a review and try to enhance the idea. After three to four weeks, the team will be able to develop several patentable ideas.”

 

Stephen Key is the co-founder of inventRight, a personalized coaching company that helps people license their ideas. He has helped others licence more than 60 ideas for new products, and he, himself, holds 21 patents. 

How can an inventor create profit?

“I can tell you one thing about being an inventor, especially a full-time inventor. It’s exciting and it’s nerve wracking.

I think with licensing, you can be an individual, you can have a team, you can be a student. It doesn’t really matter. You’re filing a provisional patent application for your idea, and that’s extremely affordable. Because what you now have is ownership over your idea, and you can now license that idea to others. 

The traditional business model of bringing a product to market is to start a company. That requires raising money. It needs a business plan, a manufacturing plan – a plan for everything. For a lot of people, including myself, that’s maybe something they don’t want to do. It’s a big risk, and there’s a fear there. But licensing really takes the fear away, and I think more inventors should consider it as a viable option. 

You can contact companies that have distribution, that have shelf space. Then, when you partner with them, they do all the work. They take it to market.” 

What is the best way to form partnerships for licensing? 

“To find these partnerships, you have to sometimes just jump in. There’s a lot of very large companies that have embraced what we call open innovation. Where they’ve realized they have to work with people outside their walls.

They realize that people working within those companies don’t always have the best ideas. I would always suggest reaching out to those companies, and look at their policy of solution of an idea. I think you’ll be shocked at how many companies out there, large, small and mid sized, have now embraced us. They’re looking for that one idea. 

Part of what I do is I go to trade shows. I’ve interviewed CEOs of various large companies. I ask them, “How important are inventors, are licensors? What is your policy of open innovation? How can we work with you?” 

What I’m hearing, and what more and more of these companies have realized, is that they need us. They need our input. Because, we’re going to be different than the people that are working inside. 

I think you just have to expose yourself to it. Find those companies that want to work with you.”

 

Don McPherson is the Chief Science Officer, Co-Founder & Inventor for EnChroma, a company focused on helping people with color-blindness see colors. With a focus on children and students, he has produced glasses, contact lenses and is currently trying to insert his glass technology into light bulbs. Since starting his company, Don has chosen to focus on the issue of color blindness in children, and its role in learning. 

What encouragement would you give for people wanting to become inventors?

“If you define a problem well, you have a very good chance of solving it. Or, maybe even more importantly, finding out really quickly that you can’t solve it. So, I think that this is where invention really begins.

I think anybody who wants to be an inventor, well, you if you’ve solved any problem, you probably already are. You just need to continue to find ways to solve problems at larger levels.

You should question the reason about why do you want to invent. It shouldn’t be for money. Invention is way bigger than that.”