Byline: Kat Zeman Daily Herald Staff Writer
Lots of people talk about thinking "outside the box."
In business. In sports. In science.
But how many of us really do it?
In Naperville, 364 residents thought so far outside of the box during the past year that they ended up in a government database.
They thought, they researched, they invented and, finally, they turned to the federal government to get patents for their creations.
Oh, and what creations Naperville residents developed: from a speedometer for roller skates to a "pooper-scooper" cleaner for cat litter.
Someone even invented a new reason for people to wear undergarments.
True, their inventions have yet to hit the market and take their places on store shelves next to singing plastic fish and Chia pets.
But if they do - when they do - the inventors will have 20 years to profit from them - the expiration time for a patent.
According to records from the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., 771 patents were issued during the past year to people living or working in Naperville. By comparison, 830 were issued to people living or working in Chicago.
Many of those inventions came from residents working at area firms known for, well, inventing things. Lucent Technologies employees, for example, filed for several dozen patents, ranging from cyber-world improvements to electronic gadgets.
That's all very nice, of course, but it's the independent entrepreneurs who really stand out.
"It's usually those people who invent stuff on their own that have the wackiest inventions," a patent office spokesperson said. "Some of them take off and others are quickly forgotten."
As offbeat as some of the inventions may seem, most of the people behind them take their creations very seriously.
Case in point is Naperville homemaker and cat-lover Karen Kowalczyk.
Kowalczyk said she spent roughly $10,000 in attorney's fees and about 10 years of her time on research before claiming her patent, which became official in November.
Her brainchild: The "pooper-scooper" cleaner for cat litter boxes.
"I talked to hundreds of people, did a lot of surveys and testing," she said. "It took a very long time."
Her invention is a specially made container that stores a fecal litter scoop in a disinfecting liquid - keeping the litter box clean, odor-free …