Lessons in Invention Development – Part 1

Inventing is a precarious process, to say the least, but it can also be an educational experience of a lifetime. For me, the invention development process began with a problem and the thought that its solution lay with one tool design. I had had no previous experience with inventing and was blind to the realities of the journey that awaited me. Thirty-five tool, flange, and valve designs later, I had learned about casting processes, machining, heat treating, plating, and the ritual intricacies of the legal realm – more than I ever thought I wanted to know. Thirty designs failed to gain acceptance. Five succeeded.

I had been in the heating trade for 17 years, the last 10 as a less-than-satisfied contractor. I often installed hot water circulator flanges, but this extremely simple flange design was ridiculously difficult to install (the picture on the front page exemplifies a heating system that utilizes many of these flanges). One day while installing a multi-zone system that required 20 of these troublesome flanges, a novel idea sprang into my head, uncoiling no doubt from the considerable tension I was under. I recalled a recent experience watching another contractor install a flange. He inserted two screwdrivers through as many bolt holes in the flange, and, positioning the handle end of a hammer between them, rotated them clockwise. Lacking the leverage that it required for him to tighten the flange, the force he exerted caused his hand to slip and be sliced open by an adjacent electrical enclosure. We were both used to this sort of environment and its hazards, but it was the memory of his method, and his blood, that stuck in my mind. While attempting to assemble the 20 flanges to copper adapters with a pipe wrench and adjustable wrench-the traditional method-it occurred to me how easily a simple tool could be fashioned that would incorporate elements similar to his screwdriver and hammer method. Only my design would prove to be safer, more effective, and more efficient.

The next morning I looked in the yellow pages for a patent lawyer. We scheduled a consultation at which time I disclosed my idea. He suggested I seek the assistance of a pattern maker to begin the process of making a sand casting prototype. “What’s a pattern maker?” I asked. The lawyer explained, and I remembered that my musician friend, David, whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years, was a pattern maker. Luckily, I was able to track him down.

I called David and his first words to me were, “I’m amazed you’re calling me. Just ten minutes ago I thought of you for no obvious reason.” How mysterious, but I believed it was a good omen. Soon we met and explored a couple of design options. Invent Help    With surprising efficiency he scratched out drawings almost as fast as I conveyed my ideas to him. In only a week, I had a finished bronze prototype for just $75. Because we were friends David was willing to accommodate my request for a rushed prototype even though he was in the midst of designing all of the door handles (250) for Bill Gates’ new house. Invent Help

To make certain that I was the first to invent this new device, I paid for a prior art search of previously issued patents. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued over 6 million patents, so focusing the search on a category of low-tech hand tools relevant to mine seemed formidable. Luckily the search produced no similar designs, so I applied for a utility patent and the trademark, “Flange-TiteÒ.”

Installing flanges epitomized my frustration with the trade, in general, in a way that challenged me to make a change. I needed a change, as I feared I might soon lose the ability to get out of the rut I was in, and like most naive inventors, I dreamed that riches were inevitable from my invention. I began to contemplate that inventing might be my new calling, so I justified spending an ever-increasing amount of time on the tool project and less and less on the heating business.



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