“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
Thomas A. Edison
Remember MacGyver? He was a different type of action hero in the '80s, who outwitted the bad guys every week with ingenuity rather than brute force, combining his extensive knowledge of scientific trivia with ordinary items that just happened to be lying around. A genius of improvisation, it seemed he could solve almost any situation, from escaping a locked room to short-circuiting a nuclear missile, with nothing more than a paper clip, a ballpoint pen, a couple of gum wrappers and duct tape. In real life, we often find ourselves in similar (though, hopefully, less dangerous) situations, where we are forced to “think fast on our feet” to solve a problem with whatever is at hand, perhaps by asking ourselves, “What would MacGyver do?” That is the essential characteristic of all inventors: the creative spark that enables one to see beyond the immediate problem to find a solution. Sometimes the solution is so elegantly simple that we wonder why someone hasn't already thought of it; in other cases, the solution may seem unorthodox or impractical, and may take much longer before it is accepted. Remember the Wright brothers? They weren't exactly an overnight success. Of course, not all inventions have such a profound impact on the course of human events. The vast majority of inventions are simply designed to make aspects of everyday life more convenient and enjoyable. This is the intent of Walter Tomalis. Although he has not marketed any of his designs, he is constantly brainstorming ideas to solve problems that he encounters on a daily basis as a bilateral, above-knee amputee, and he is eager to share them with others. Some designs, although not original, such as indoor and vehicle ramps, a wheelchair cup holder, or “cargo” pants pockets, can be easily made at home with ordinary materials, following his instructions. A couple of his other ideas may be considered more unique: an adult “teeter-totter” that provides an easy means of stimulating the circulatory system for seniors and people with limited motion and an adjustable pair of what Tomalis has termed “sub-shoes” for prosthesis wearers.
For additional information, call Walter Tomalis, 248/608-1529, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 1377 Catalpa Dr., Rochester, MI 48307.
David Rockefeller once said, “If necessity is the mother of invention, discontent is the father of progress.” Gary Kingsley's discontent with traditional crutches was the driving force behind his desire to come up with something better. Kingsley, who does not use a prosthesis, uses crutches every day and conceived the idea for his custom-made crutches when all of the other crutches he tried kept breaking, which was obviously a safety issue for him.He designed a heavy-duty set of crutches that can be customized for individual activity levels, weight and height. The crutches have very successfully met his needs for durability, stability and ease of use. They are made from titanium, a strong, lightweight material, and are equipped with double tips to provide a safer “footprint” for maximum stability – one tip is always firmly on the ground to minimize slipping or sinking into soft surfaces. The double tips feature aluminum caps to extend the lifespan of the rubber tips. The crutches are foam-filled to prevent water seepage and, upon request (or one's imagination), can be fitted with additional accessories such as a flashlight, cup holder, or a hook for carrying groceries or other items. A limited lifetime warranty is provided for all titanium and plastic parts (the motto for the crutches is “The last pair of crutches you'll ever need”). Kingsley has also applied his design to forearm crutches and is considering adapting canes and walkers as well. Customized conversion kits are available for do-it-yourselfers. An exchange program is also in the works for children, on an individual basis, in which kids who outgrow their original set of crutches could swap them for a second pair at a reduced price. To order a pair of crutches or obtain more information, call 506/636-9086 or 506/672- 0942, or go to www.sailmarket.com/ticrutch
Another critical characteristic of successful inventors is their resilience. They all have in common the ability to bounce back after mistakes and failures, consider what happened (or didn't happen), and try again. In fact, most of them consider such “failures” as learning experiences rather than setbacks. Every so-called failure is actually a step forward, an opportunity to improve. After 50,000 failed experiments on his new battery, Thomas Edison said, “Results? Why, I have gotten a lot of results. I know 50,000 things that won't work.” Louise Baker and Don Scheiman went through a similar learning curve in their development of the “Baker Rig.” Louise Baker is an attractive, healthy mother of four who lost her left arm above the elbow 25 years ago. In her first session with Donald Scheiman, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified clinical exercise specialist, she asked Scheiman if it would be possible to use a lateral arm rise machine. They initially used the machine alone, with successful, but limited, results. They then began to experiment with combinations of straps, rings, Velcro, and rubber bands (and, yes, duct tape) to enable her to use the machine more efficiently. Through this evolutionary process, they arrived at what they have christened the “Baker Rig 201,” although they continue to try out different modifications to improve the rig's performance. The rig is essentially a securely fitting harness that can be slipped on or removed quickly and easily, does not require a belt, and provides far greater leverage in strength training. Baker says, “I use the rig two to three times per week and am amazed with the results I've been getting. My left shoulder is now almost as big as my right and I don't see any signs of muscle atrophy anymore. Not bad, since I wasn't able to do any weight training on my left side for over 20 years before I met Don and he created the ‘Baker Rig.'”
For more information, call Don Scheiman, 408/245-6704, e-mail to email@example.com, or write to 1678 Wolfe Road, Sunnyvale, CA 94087, or call Louise Baker, 650/625-1800, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to 23615 Oak Valley Road, Cupertino, CA 95014.
Following are just a few of the many Web sites that you can explore for background on other inventions, honest evaluation of your ideas, assistance through the patent process, including protecting your ideas, marketing and manufacturing information, prototype construction and testing, and how to finance the startup of your product.
Inventor's Workshops of America, Inc.
United States Patent and Trademark Office
World Intellectual Property Organization
If you have an invention that you would like to see featured in a future article, please send a description and contact information to Editor, inMotion, 900 E. Hill Ave., Suite 290, Knoxville, TN 37915 or send e-mail to email@example.com