Category Archives: Inventions


The Hungry Mind

brain_in_profile_Clipart_FreeI recently read an article by Kaufman, Openness to Experience and Creative Achievement, that stated that “Openness to experience– the drive for cognitive exploration of inner and outer experience– is the personality trait most consistently associated with creativity.”

He ran a variety of tests to determine several aspects of openness, two of which seemed most pertinent to creativity in science/inventions: IQ, and Intellectual Engagement.

He defined Intellectual Engagement as those with a “drive to engage in ideas, rational thought, and the search for truth.”  and stated that these types of individuals tend to be more industrious, assertive, and persevering, and are more likely to seek out variety, question traditions, try new food/activities, appreciate reading, solve puzzles, and debating.

The surprising result of his research was that while IQ and Intellectual Engagement were related, it was Intellectual Engagement that was the better predictor of creativity.  In other words, just because you are smart, doesn’t mean that you are creativity, whereas, if you are constantly seeking out knowledge, you’re more likely to be creative, regardless of IQ.  (But it certainly helps to have both a high IQ and a high level of Intellectual Engagement).

This same conclusion was reached in the academic environment, by von Stumm, Hell and Chamorro-Premuzic (2011), The Hungry Mind : Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance

If you’d like to test your own openness, try this quiz at:

America Invents Act (AIA)

The America Invents Act (AIA) was signed into law on September 16, 2011, and was implemented in several phases.  The second phase was implemented on September 16, 2012, and included post-grant procedures, supplemental examination, changes to the oath or declaration requirement, and other various items.

The third phase of the AIA was implemented on March 16, 2013, marking the end of the United States’ first-to-invent process and beginning the first-to-file process.

The USPTO summarizes the changes that go into effect on March 16, 2013 as follows:

(1) Convert the U.S. patent system from a ‘‘first to invent’’ system to a ‘‘first inventor to file’’ system; (2) treat U.S. patents and U.S. patent application publications as prior art as of their earliest effective filing date, regardless of whether the earliest effective filing date is based upon an application filed in the United States or in another country; (3) eliminate the requirement that a prior public use or sale be ‘‘in this country’’ to be a prior art activity; and (4) treat commonly owned or joint research agreement patents and patent application publications as being by the same inventive entity for purposes of 35 U.S.C. 102, as well as 35 U.S.C. 103. These changes in section 3 of the AIA are effective on March 16, 2013, but apply only to certain applications filed on or after March 16, 2013.

Best Practices for Patent Review Teams

Patent Review TeamsRead about how to get the most from your patent review process in this free white paper, Top Ten Best Practices for Patent Review Teams.

Written for managers, participants, and administrators of an organization’s patent review team, it provides a framework for establishing a highly efficient invention review process. Whether you already have a team in place or are considering starting a team, the paper offers suggestions ranging from rewards to team composition.

When patent programs are established, organizations naturally consider the process for collecting inventions, concepts, and ideas—all of the up front issues, yet only give cursory thought to the review and management process.  Few seldom consider what they’ll do with the large number of inventions that often get submitted, believing that having too many will be a good problem. And while it’s important to make sure that you have a good supply of inventions, the real value of an innovation program is actually finding the best to patent.

The free white paper is located at

Accidental Inventions

Accidental InventionsThis article by Pamela Cyran and Chris Gaylord of the Christian Science Monitor, contains a list of 20 accidental inventions.  Ranging from matches to potato chips, it’s an interesting look at mistakes.  While it’s fun to imagine your own organization having the same sort of serendipity, it makes more sense to create a repeatable process for innovation.

Give Me Your Patent License

Patent Trademark OfficeFollowing the flurry of patent litigation recently in the smartphone market, talks were held by the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations agency responsible for ensuring phone-makers agree to standards so that their devices can interact with each other.

The basic premise is whether companies should be allowed to ban rivals’ devices if they do not agree to a license fee for using a patent.   There are many sides to the argument of whether this is good or bad, but essentially, it would require that patent holders of “standard-essential” technologies allow the technology to be licensed for a reasonable fee.  If you’re the firm that doesn’t hold this patent, it seems logical.  If you’re the firm that holds the patent, it doesn’t seem logical.  One side argues that it stifles competition by limiting the market to a few players (because of the patent), the other side argues that it stifles competition by not rewarding innovators.

Here’s a question.  You are driving down the road when you suddenly come upon a sign that says “road closed.”  What do you do?  Do you sit there and wait for someone to open the road for you, or do you find a way around it?   Innovators go around, and usually find an even better route.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

rollaboard invention

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, Don’t Look for Inventions Before Their Time, that talks about the reason why some inventions seem to take so long to invent.

The author gives an example of Bernard Sadow who applied for a patent on wheeled baggage in 1970, after dragging his heavy bags through an airport while a local worker effortlessly pushed a large wheeled cart past him. It seems that 1970 is very late to have invented something so simple, yet necessary, when you consider that people had been moving heavy bags to buggies, cars, trains, and planes for a considerable amount of time. The conjecture is that prior to this date, we never really needed it–there were luggage drop-off curves, bag attendants, and less frequent travel. Simply put, we didn’t have to drag our bags through the airport check-in lines ourselves until around 1970. Once we had to do it ourselves, the notion of how to make it easier (on ourselves), popped to the top of our minds–and wheeled baggage was invented. In other words, necessity was the mother of invention.

Similarly, I consider these same forces for today’s inventive process.  Think about the last time that you were challenged with a laborious task–didn’t you wish you could invent something to make it easier?

Creativity Test with Rabbit Duck Illusion

Most likely you’ve seen or heard about the Rabbit Duck illusion. If you look at the picture you can see either a rabbit or a duck, depending on how you look at it. Most people see the duck first, but can flip to see the rabbit. The measure of creativity is whether you can easily “flip” between the two pictures.

In an article published by the British Journal of Psychology, the authors tested a person’s ability to first come up with uses for a random object, such as how many ways they could use a paperclip. For example, in addition to using it to hold papers together, you could also make it into a key holder, or combine several to make a dinosaur. Creativity people (as defined by how many different ways they could use a paperclip) were not only able to use the paperclip in more ways than their non-creativity counterparts, but they were also able to easily see both the rabbit and the duck.

The hypothesis is that when you switch between the duck and rabbit, you are experiencing a small creative insight, by viewing the same object in a different way. In the process of creativity, people are often called on to improve or change an existing product/service to make it better. Creativity people are able to look at an object and easily imagine different uses–in the same way that they could look at the picture and see different images. So, which do you see, and how easily can you see both the rabbit and the duck?

Practice makes perfect

Practice creates expertise

Practice creates expertise

I found an interesting research paper about the effect practicing (learning) has on expertise. The paper analyzed the differences between good and excellent violin players, considering all types of variables such as practice time, teachers, frequency, and success. While you might expect that more practice would yield greater results, it was only partially true. They found that top performers practiced no more than 4 hours per day, in no more than 80-120 minute sessions, with a break between sessions. Those who practiced more, did not get “better”, but rather burned out–so knowing your limits is important. When looking at all areas (not just violin players), they also found that athletes work most intensely in the mid-afternoon, and that scientists and novelists almost uniformly prefer the morning. I think this research also confirms, to some extent, the need to balance work and play, as they demonstrated that practicing more actually yielded less. However, the “play” time for most of the top people was spent within the domain of expertise. So, while the violin players weren’t practicing more than 4 hours per day, they were spending their other time in other related activities such as competitions, or group playing.

In another article discussing the same types of skills needed to become an expert, they found that although natural talent is helpful in achieving expertise, that overall determination and practice time is a better determinant in success.

Are you Educated?

When I was in school, I knew two mechanical engineering students. One of the students was a 4.0 A+ student, in arguably one of the most difficult programs at our school. He was a rarity, as few had ever achieved this remarkable feat. The other was a 2.0 C student taking the same courses and barely staying in school. Eventually, both of these students graduated from school, however, the 4.0 student used to snobbishly brag about his grade point average, while the other obviously didn’t. During one particular telling event, our 4.0 student was asked to put up a chin-up bar in a rather difficult place–a seemingly easy task. While no other really paid much attention to his design or approach, he eventually put up the bar for our use. Meanwhile, our 2.0 student casually laughed that he’d never even try it because it was built incorrectly. Most of us looked at the bar at bit perplexedly because of the overly complex design, but didn’t really care what it looked like. So, obviously what happened, is the bar collapsed after only a few uses (don’t worry no one was injured). Of course, our 4.0 student had many, many logical reasons for the failure, but the plain point is that he believed his high grades and academic standing somehow made him better. Later that year, this 2.0 student would build a completely functional replica of the Space Shuttle arm for his senior project. It worked perfectly.

I’ve met far too many people who believe that their academic degrees or years of work, makes them believe that whatever comes out of their mouth is the absolute truth–with no consideration of other ideas or view points. You’ve met these people repeatedly–they can rarely defend their own opinions with more than empty words. Don’t be one of these people, act educated! Read the article here.

Subconsciously Smarter

I’ve long suggested that you can solve a lot of problems by letting your brain subconsciously figure out the solution over time–subconsciously smarterSubconsciously Smarter. For example, I’ll often work on a crossword puzzle, but along the way, I’ll reach a point where I just have no idea what the answers are and will set it down. The next day, when I look at it again, I’ll suddenly have the insight to solve many of the words, however, I spent no time consciously trying to solve them. My hypothesis has always been that my subconscious does the work for me.

A 2012 to-be-published study byBenjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler, psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has shown that taking the time away is not really what causes the sudden inspiration/insight, but rather it’s letting the mind wander.

From an evolutionary perspective, mind-wandering seems totally counterproductive and has been viewed as dysfunctional because it compromises peoples performance in physical activities. However, Bairds work shows that allowing the brain to enter this state when it is considering complex problems can have real benefits. Zoning out may have aided humans when survival depended on creative solutions.

A recent article, Secret Life of the Mind, in Discover Magazine (September 2011, p.50) suggests that this is exactly what is happening. They give the example of Nolan Ryan’s 100mph fast ball. The ball takes on 0.4 seconds to go from the mound to the plate–far less time than the human conscious mind can actually process the information. Theoretically, if batters used their conscious mind, they would never be able to process the information fast enough to hit the ball. However, batters can hit fast ball pitches, indicating that the subconscious mind is at work even when we don’t know it.

Next time that you’ve got a difficult problem to solve, try letting your subconscious give you some help. Study the problem early, and then let it sit. Repeat the process until you’ve got your answer!