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March 17. 2013 8:09PM

Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Know the steps before you get started


 
LAST WEEK, we discussed this new column, "Let's Invent," as a year-long instructional series. The first 12 installments will focus on the system of inventing, from inception to market. The columns will address building a prototype, applying for a patent, fending off litigation, monetizing the intellectual property, manufacturing and marketing.

Keep in mind that anybody can become a good inventor. Education in the field might be helpful, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient. It takes unending enthusiasm, determination and patience to solve a problem.

Through the course of a year I usually receive up to 10 inquiries from people who want to either invent something or become an inventor. They are usually quite enthusiastic.

However, I then hear nothing else from them.

Wondering why, I called a few former inquirers.

To my question as to what happened, their replies were always the same. They gave up because the project looked too formidable, too complex, too expensive, or all of the above.

Some said they got too busy and didn't want to be sidetracked.

Much of their failure was caused by not knowing the system and the steps of invention.

By knowing the process, the progress becomes visible.

Step 1: Find a problem.

An invention doesn't have to solve an existing problem. However, doing so increases the invention's meaningfulness and potential profitability. Today we will discuss inventions that solve existing problems.

A Portsmouth Herald article on Nov. 22 mentioned my invention of a clock with a lever to advance/retard the hour hand. The lever easily changes over to daylight-saving time and back to standard time. I always hated to take the wall clock down by climbing up the step ladder, turning the hour hand and rehooking the clock onto the nail that I can't see. That created a problem for me twice a year.

Step 2: Define the problem.

A problem is caused by devices or processes that lack reliability, create inefficiencies, safety issues, higher costs, or other miscellaneous inconveniences.

This is typical text that could be written by a tech-writer belonging to the 1 percent. It isn't exact and it gives you a vague understanding.

Let me rephrase: A problem is something you do not like to face or do. If you don't like something, chances are there is a problem behind it.

If you lick an envelope and cut your tongue, next time you won't lick the envelope. Instead, you'll use a wet sponge, possibly cursing the envelope brand at the same time.

If your mop handle gets loose while mopping the floor, you have to stop work, and tighten the handle by turning. That is a loss of productivity.

Our lives have so many daily problems that the opportunities for invention seem limitless.

Step 3: Write it down.

One important thing you must do, if you want to invent, is get yourself a notebook. Its size doesn't matter, but it should be hard-bound and not have detachable pages.

Write down everything related to your idea about problems and potential solutions. Start with the date. Next, clearly write down your thoughts. If possible, jot down a sketch of the item you are thinking about, or the process you are considering. Namely, anything relevant to your invention activity should be written with the day's date.

The importance of this notebook will be evident in the upcoming patent and litigation section of this weekly article.

Next week's column will address a few case studies in "Solution to a Problem." The case studies will continue until they individually arrive at their own conclusion.

Shintaro (Sam) Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at sasano@gmail.com.

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