Ingenious Inventors; Patience Needed to Get Patents
Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
They also toil who strive to get their inventions into the public domain.
The legions of Washington's inventing worker bees include members of a local club called the Inventors Network of the Capital Area (INCA), a creative, eclectic group whose basic goals are patenting ideas and building prototypes. Both involve considerable amounts of time, money and skill.
Glen Kotapish of Baltimore, club president, estimates that just 3 percent to 8 percent of 100 current dues-paying members have made more money than they have invested in their inventions. Struggles along the way to successful manufacture
are legion. Becoming one of several hundred applicants whose requests are approved weekly by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria is only the first step, and it certainly is not the easiest.
Mr. Kotapish, founder and president of Planet Patent, a professional patent research firm, cautions against claims made by some marketing firms that promise more than a reasonable chance of success because "a lot of these companies oversell their services."
"Only 2 percent of patents, or maybe less, get a manufacturer - including those from big companies - and it is much harder for individual inventors," says Steve Barbarich, a marketing specialist who is president of Inventors Publishing and Research in San Francisco and author of a manual for amateurs about the various processes involved. His firm arranges licensing - sells ideas to companies - and introduces a few products itself.
While INCA members' inventions seldom include life-changing measures of a kind to ensure their immortality, they display great imaginative fervor and - just as important - diligence of a kind that would make Thomas Edison proud.
A sampling of their ventures shows great variety, with many of their projects building upon and improving a few already on the market. In many cases, the stories behind their work - including the struggles to bring a product to market - can be as compelling as the actual designs.
Mr. Kotapish, whose background is in aerospace manufacturing engineering, is most recently the co-inventor of a magnetic brain wave stimulator designed to enhance sleep. As shown on the network's Web site (dcinventors.org), other ideas have included a forearm splint system for preventing and treating carpal tunnel syndrome, a bubble ring generator, a naturally contoured shoe sole, and the Headbone and Backbone supportive pillow rests. (The Headbone is an adjustable device that hangs over a seat back to support the user's head and neck.) Nearly all have Web sites.
The pillow rests were devised by Victoria Closson, a graphic designer from Southern Maryland who originally sought a more flexible head support in her car. The bubble ring generator, created by David Whiteis of Germantown, releases underwater circles of pure, clean air similar to smoke rings. It is used by swimmers and scuba divers for fun and games but also has proved effective, Mr. Whiteis says, as an enrichment device for captive dolphins.
Another practical item is an emergency traction device designed by U.S. Department of Education accountant Palmer Robeson of McLean. It is easier to install than tire chains when snow, ice and mud are on the road. Mr. Robeson has three patents on this single invention; the third is an improvement over the first two.
"Sort of like Henry Ford, who started out with the Model A and wasn't happy until the Model T," he says.
He made his first prototype in his garage and, with the help of engineers in Wisconsin, is preparing a "more professional looking" one that he says will enable him "to go to a manufacturer and say, 'I have a way for you to make money,' then license my invention to them and have them give me royalties. …