Inventors are eccentric,
frazzle-haired old people who stay up all hours of the night
inventing in their garages.
Reality: While many people think that
the typical inventor looks like Albert Einstein or the gray-haired
Doc Brown character played by Christopher Lloyd in the "Back to the
Future" movies, the truth is that inventors look no different than
the rest of us. In fact, there is no such thing as a "typical"
inventor. There are several reasons why inventors work out of their
garages: Some are mechanically minded, the garage provides them with
a better work environment than the living room, and it's cheaper
than renting additional work space.
Men are better inventors than
Reality: Simply put, there are more male
inventors than female inventors. There have been fewer opportunities
for women; in fact, there was even a time during the 1700s and early
1800s when the law required that all patents be listed in a man's
name, regardless of who invented the item.
Today, women account for fewer
than 20 percent of the patents issued in the U.S., but they tend to
have more success, on average, than their male counterparts. One
possible explanation for this comes from the editor of Inventors'
Digest magazine, who says, "Women are more organized and tend to
work together better. Plus, they tend to be better at the marketing
of their inventions." The editor's opinions are based on 15 years of
experience in dealing with male and female inventors.
Is the editor of Inventors'
Digest magazine an inventor, too? No, but she is a woman.
The following inventions were
all created by women:
The first washing machine
(1871), the first dishwasher (in 1872), the first car heater (1893),
the first medical syringe (1899), the first windshield wipers
(1903), the first refrigerator (1914) and the first engine muffler
(1917), as well as bulletproof vests, fire escapes, laser printers,
flat-bottomed grocery bags, Liquid Paper®,
and COBOL computer language.
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second column in this article]
When a person receives a patent
on an invention, he is likely to become wealthy from it.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as only about 2 percent of
the 100,000 patents issued by the U.S. patent office each year
become profitable. Proof can be found in Ted van Cleave's book,
"Totally Absurd Patents," which shows examples of such patents as a
pet petter, a Santa Claus detector, a motorized ice cream cone and
toilet seat landing lights.
When a new invention becomes a
hot new product, we hear about it because it's newsworthy. There's
nothing newsworthy about the tens of thousands of inventions that
fail each year, which is why we never hear about those.
If two people invent the same
product at the same time, the one who files for a patent first is
awarded the patent.
In the United States, our
patent laws are based on a "first to invent" system, while the
patent laws in other countries are based on a "first to file"
system. This is why it's important for the inventor to keep good
notes of his invention while he's creating it and refining it.
There's a little-known example
of a well-known invention that bears this out. In 1876, an American
named Elisha Gray filed for a U.S. patent two hours after
Alexander Graham Bell filed for his version of the same invention --
the telephone. As we all know, Bell won out over Gray, not because
he got to the patent office first, but because his notes proved that
he conceived of the telephone before Gray did.
So there you have it … and now
week: Find out which
invention saved former President Bush's life
Paul Niemann is a contributing
author to Inventors' Digest magazine and he also runs
building websites for inventors. He can be reached at
Paul Niemann 2003
column in LDN:
time to debunk some invention myths"