Last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA, the best and the brightest film stars, directors, producers and more came together for the 86th Academy Awards. This year’s awards ceremony, hosted by talk show personality and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, was centered around the theme of honoring movie heroes, especially those acts which the camera doesn’t catch on the set.
The big winners were 12 Years a Slave, which came away with 2 Oscars including one for best picture, Gravity, which walked away with 7 Oscars, and Dallas Buyers Club, which saw Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto come away with Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.
But this is not an article about the Academy Awards per se. With all the hype about the Academy Awards we thought it might be interesting to see just how many Hollywood celebrities were inventors. Below is our list of the most interesting inventions from a number of well known actors and directors.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. Earlier this month Eric Guttag wrote The Black Edison: Granville T. Woods. What is below is part 2 of his article on George Washington Carver. To read part 1 visit God’s Scientist: George Washington Carver. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
George Washington Carver circa 1910.
Carver received a fair degree of recognition at Iowa State College as the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science. He also enjoyed a fairly comfortable income considering his very humble upbringing. By being the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science, many other universities also wanted Carver as a professor in that science.
Then one day in 1896 came a letter from Booker T. Washington, President of the fledgling Tuskegee Institute (its full name then was “Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute”). Booker T. Washington was a well-known and influential African-American educator, later to visit the White House at the invitation of then President Theodore Roosevelt. Like Carver, Booker T. Washington had been born into slavery and felt that African-Americans must be educated if they were to achieve economic, as well as racial equality in American society.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. This article is about George Washington Carver. Earlier this month Eric Guttag also wrote The Black Edison: Granville T. Woods. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
George Washington Carver in 1942.
Again, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, here is my second article on African-American inventors: George Washington Carver. Carver was not only a talented innovator, but was also an extremely gifted educator and scientist.
So as I usually do, let’s start off with a couple of questions. Before today, how many of you knew George Washington Carver was a scientist and educator? Now how many of you knew Carver was also a talented painter, as well as a talented musician? How many of you knew that Carver was a man of devout Christian faith? Well, before this article ends, you may learn quite a few things about Carver you never knew before.
I’ve divided this tribute to Carver into essentially six sections, which will be covered in a two-part series. I begin by giving you an overview of the early years of Carver’s life, including his family background, early education, as well as his developing Christian faith. Then we will move onto Carver’s activities as a young adult. In part 2 of this series we will then review the most well-known part of Carver’s career, as an educator and scientist at Tuskegee Institute, including the tremendous impact he had in educating young black students, and the local farm community near Tuskegee, as well as exploring and revealing the wonders of agricultural science, including innovating and developing the infant domestic peanut industry. We will then close out Carver’s career during his final years at the Tuskegee Institute. And, if it’s possible to do it justice, in the last section, I’ll wrap up with a final assessment of Carver’s legacy on those he touched directly, and also on those of us like you and me that he has touched indirectly.
EDITORIAL NOTE: The following article has been posted as an online petition you may sign by visiting IndependentInventorsofAmerica.org. On Friday the United States Senate held additional hearings and seem poised to act relatively quickly on the Senate version of patent reform. For information about how to directly contact your U.S. Senators please see Senators of the 113th Congress.
We represent independent inventors and small patent-based businesses across the country and we are against any patent legislation that includes provisions of the Innovation Act (H.R. 3309) and the many variations and additions under consideration in the Senate. This legislation will levy grave harm upon independent inventors and small patent-based businesses, as well as the investors we need to help commercialize new technologies and to protect our inventions.
The American patent system is a trade between an inventor and society. An inventor discloses an invention for all to see and build upon, and the government grants and protects for the inventor an exclusive right to the invention for a short period. The American patent system was intended to enable anyone, regardless of economic status, race or gender, to profit from the invention of something new and valuable. This system has worked as intended for over 200 years, fueling the creation of the greatest economy in the world.
Obtaining a patent can be the best decision you could possibly make, and may even be the best business move you could make. On other hand, the patent path may wind up costing you time, energy and a lot of money. The investment placed into getting a patent may be wise, but it is important to realize the no one is simply going to show up on your doorstep with a money dump truck and unload lottery like winnings onto your stoop. The road to riches in the invention world is hazardous, has many detours and seldom goes as planned. That is why the first question you absolutely must ask yourself before you rush off to your friendly neighborhood patent attorney is this: why do you want to get a patent?
The unfortunately reality is that most patents do not make inventors money. When I first started out in the business estimates were that perhaps 2% of patented innovations made money. That estimate has grown over the years to anywhere from 2% to 10%, but this increase isn’t due to the fact that inventors have gotten so much better, but rather is a function of the massive portfolio licensing that goes on at the top of the industry. It is extremely difficult to know which patent or patents out of a 1,000+ patent portfolio are the ones worth acquiring rights for, but you likely don’t have to spend time wondering because if you want to license the valuable patents you probably have to take a license to the entire portfolio. So even by the bloated estimates you might hear today the underlying reality has not changed. No more than 2% of patents individually would be considered viable moneymaking propositions.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. This article is the continuation of The Black Edison: Granville Woods. Mr. Guttag also wrote God’s Scientist: George Washington Carver as a part of this series. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
Granville Woods, circa 1887.
Now we come to what I consider the “fun” part of this article: Granville Woods’ inventions and patents. There are some who say that the number of patents Woods obtained is at least 60, may be even much higher. But from Professor Fouché’s book, I’ve only identified 45 patents for Woods which is still a pretty awesome figure. These patents may be divided into essentially 4 technology categories: (1) induction telegraphy of which there are 8 patents; (2) electrical railways of which there are 20 patents; (3) other electrical devices of which there are 13 patents; and (4) 4 patents on “other inventions” that don’t fall into any specific category.
I’m going to address in this article only the first category of inventions, induction telegraphy, for which Woods is most famous for.So why is induction telegraphy important? Well, here’s a hypothetical problem, one that Woods would understand quite well: A train station needs to communicate with train #1 to prevent a collision with train #2 heading towards train #1. (By the way, like Woods, I’m very fond of trains and railroads.) If the train station doesn’t communicate with train #1 about this impending collision with train #2, you might get the unfortunate scenario shown in the illustration above: the dreaded telescoping train crash. What you see here is the “head-on” variety of such a crash, but an even more deadly version may occur when a following train crashes into the rear of another slower or stationary train. So if we want to avoid this “bad boy” of train crashes, our train station has got to communicate with train #1 and quickly.
Benjamin Franklin may be the most famous American inventor, owing to his dual role of world famous inventor and Founding Father and Statesman, but the most prolific and influential American inventor of all time was undoubtedly Thomas Alva Edison.
134 years ago, on January 27, 1880, Thomas Edison received U.S. Patent No. 223,898, which was simply titled “Electric Lamp.”
Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 223,898.
In addition to be the greatest inventor of his time, Edison also had a way with words and explaining concepts. He is famously reported to have quipped that failure really isn’t failure at all, but a success in disguise, reportedly saying: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” He also famously explained: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
The unfortunate truth is that many inventors and entrepreneurs have had their share of difficulty with the various invention promotion companies out there. You have probably seen them advertised on television, usually in the extreme late night or extreme early morning hours. They promise free information, and tell you that they will help you patent your idea, make your invention and/or market your product. Many inventors and entrepreneurs have learned the hard way that some of these companies talk big and perform little. Unfortunately, a lot of times even for those that offer few results the cost will be quite high.
I have had some people contact with what I can only characterize as horror stories. One particular inventor told me that he was interested in a design patent and was quoted $12,500. I don’t know the particulars around the quote, maybe there was a lot of product design work associated with this quote, but what I can tell you is that $12,500 for a design patent is outrageous — nearly 4 times what it would likely cost from start to finish.
It is true that inventing and pursuing a patent can be expensive, and usually is if you do it properly from start to finish, but inventors need to be particularly careful when there are those in the industry that price gouge. There is no substitute for arming yourself with information and being cautious. Finding valuable, legitimate services isn’t all that easy and unless you are dealing with a patent attorney or patent agent directly the invention services market is largely unregulated.