Robert J. Martin
Sysop for the Compuserve
Forum, Ideas & Inventions
This is a report on the 11th annual Invention Convention® as seen through the eyes of Bob Martin, who is an internationally known and immensely respected engineer who also serves the inventive community through Compuserve as a Sysop.
I'm still foot-sore, rump-sprung, tired-out and waiting for my ears to stop ringing, but going to the Eleventh Annual Invention Convention in Pasadena was well worth the effort: one rarely encounters so many inventors, finished products, expert advisors, interesting speakers, investors, manufacturers and reporters gathering in a single congenial venue.
The inventions offered for sale, licensing and/or distribution ranged from a single elastic band (a variation on a money clip) on through a collapsible wooden truss (suitable for temporary buildings) and up to an airliner concept capable of seating a thousand passengers in three hulls. Some were as baldly functional as Richard Diaz's totally biodegradable camper's toilet, made from folded corrugated cardboard and weighing less than a pound, while others were rather deliberately aimed at the luxury trade, one example being a wristwatch made to cast personalized horoscopes in real time.
What struck me as most impressive was the combination of thorough attention to detail and diligent follow-through shown in dozens of inventions: "market-ready" was decidedly not just a buzzword. Education and training in the art of invention was heavily emphasized: the list of seminar speakers was both long and very comprehensive, including both our own Jim Harris and long-time member Pal Asija, activist/advocate Bob Lougher of the Inventors Awareness Group, and a long list of accomplished experts.
My own favorite activity, that of research and new technology, received ample attention. The Los Angeles Public Library had a spacious booth well-stocked with literature on the availability and use of the Patent Depository Library system, subscription information for the CD-Rom version of USPTO publications and complimentary copies of the Patent Gazette. In addition to this, there was information available on the large collection of business, technical and intellectual property resources maintained by the LAPL. Their Web page is well worth a look, so point your favorite browser to www.lapl.org for a closer examination.
There were many elegantly simple inventions. The Can Stacker, for instance, is no more than a plastic cassette with a center hole. When one is placed between two standard cans, the greater bearing surface provided makes a far more stable stack than can be formed by the can rims. An excellent example of simplicity was brought along by Jim Harris: the Rod Buddy is a pair of quarter-inch thick pieces of smooth, tough foam plastic which snap onto the separated halves of a two-piece fishing rod, thus holding the halves parallel and an inch apart, which allows for storage and shipping without line tangles or damage.
The best simple invention I saw was an electrical conduit box which not only acted as does the usual wire-pulling hub but was also of just the right size to hold a single gang switch or a duplex outlet, yet took up less room and provided access from either side. It was one of those ideas that is obvious only after one sees it, sticks in the mind forever, and should rapidly become a standard item in the construction industry.
Don Wilson and Lance Gettle of Bellevue, Washington brought their Truss-Plus Arch to the show and won an award with it. Think of the old-style folding carpenter's rule, scaled up to use stock 2-by-4 lumber and revised to form a truss with five included triangles. One series of photographs showed all the material needed for a 12-by-16 foot cabin stowed in the bed of a pickup truck with room to spare. The cabin could be unpacked and assembled (or disassembled and packed up) in about four man hours. Prototype buildings have withstood winds in excess of 75 MPH and snow loads of 50 pounds per square foot.
The media coverage was fairly comprehensive. KTLA sent a camera crew and gave quite a bit of air time to the coverage, actually walking the aisles and spending a minute or two in each of the more than a dozen booths. Their obvious favorite was the gasoline engine-driven PowerBlade, which enables a skater to cruise along at about twenty MPH on a pair of roller blades, but the reporter was also quite taken with Lip Ink, a smudge-free alternative to lipstick.
It was an expensive trade show for both exhibitors and attendees, but did give substantial value for one's dollars. I was able to attend two of the four days it ran, and would have liked to have been there all four days. When he's had time to recover, I'll be interested to see Jim's assessment.
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