Mothers and fathers of invention
My former father-in-law invented Screw-Saver. My ex still has fond memories of assembling thousands of Dad’s little packets, each illustrated with an exceedingly cheerful, anthropomorphic screw. A few of these found their way into area Radio Shacks, but the vast majority languished in a corner of the basement. It was a cruel reminder that true genius can wither in the harsh light of the marketplace, a concern the members of Inventors’ Alliance Sacramento know all too well. Each month, usually on the first Sunday (check www.inventorsalliance.org), members meet at Café Bernardo to lend support to each other’s attempts to create and refine inventions and finally bring them to market. Ed Silva (shown here holding a colleague’s invention) is the group’s vice president.
What have you personally invented?
Well, I’ve created numerous things. But I’m actually writing up my first patent for a new household appliance, and I can’t really divulge what it is right now because I’m not far enough along with my patent. We already had a rough prototype, and we’re looking for a smaller motor for the prototype right now.
So, you have a partner with this?
I don’t have a partner. I have a retired engineer from IBM that is part of our group that is putting the electronic circuitry together.
How many people come out to your meetings?
Right now, it’s between one and two dozen people. There’s folks that do have a vast amount of experience and have patented their products.
What kind of products?
Well, let’s see here. We have a child-safety device, a trash-compactor apparatus and medical-industry devices.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a drywall contractor. I’ve had my own company, State of the Art Drywall, for 12 years.
And the other folks in your group, do they come from all walks of life?
Yeah, you have—oh my gosh—retired military folks; retired individuals from the high-tech industry, such as [Hewlett-Packard], IBM, etc.; we have nurses—I mean, pretty much a wide spectrum of every profession.
So, the retired military people, can they do reverse engineering?
You know, where they take UFOs and reverse-engineer the alien technology.
[Laughs] No, no.
What sparked your interest initially? As a kid, were you always interested in inventions?
I think it pretty much grew out of the fact that I had been wired to solve problems and to be an idea person. That’s part of my natural makeup. And I thought of a few ideas back about ‘96 and just started to pick up books and read on the subject. But I was lost. I needed some mentors, people with some experience to guide me, without it being someone who wanted to charge me. It’s OK to pay as long as you have an education as to what you’re getting yourself into.
So, two years ago, I started attending meetings of the Inventors’ Alliance of the Bay Area at Santa Clara University, where you can sit in a classroom from 9 in the morning ’til 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I think it’s like $10 or $15, and it includes lunch, and the whole time, all you’re doing is learning from experts. You can also go to the Sunnyvale library, which is the central patent-depository library, and they offer so many courses on every topic you can think of. And then after attending for a little over a year, I founded or became the facilitator for a smaller branch of that in Sacramento. We make no money from doing it; it’s an all-volunteer resource and educational help group.
So, you’d say a first step for someone with a good idea is to drop by one of your meetings.
Absolutely. And we’re also very fortunate that here in Sacramento there’s a patent-depository library. It’s right in front of the state Capitol, and the librarian there will guide you in looking on the U.S. government patent Web site. They will show you how to do a patent search. They won’t do it for you, but they’ll get you started on your own patent search, and they also have manuals and records of patent inventions and items that are pending at this time.
Everyone has a great idea, but how to get that from concept to sitting on a shelf is a hard process. It’s not easy until it’s broken down by people who have traveled that road before. So, what happens is you just start taking it in steps and understanding the process. And the more you understand, the more the fear subsides. There’s a process called getting a provisional patent, which costs $80. And you can read some books out there, like Patent Pending in 24 Hours, which is very thorough on how to fill out the forms. So, for $80, you can take your prototype and go out there and find out if it has any legs and see if anyone is really interested—before you take a second mortgage out on your house and stock the garage or stock a shop full of these things and find out you can’t sell one.