A Different Way to Get Your Idea to Market

via www.underconsideration.com

via www.underconsideration.com

As inventions go, Jake Zien’s was a clever fix rather than an imaginative breakthrough: Irritation was the mother of his invention.

He found the standard power strip maddening because electric plugs would often block the adjacent sockets. So after his senior year in high school, while attending a summer program at the Rhode Island School of Design, he devised an adjustable power strip that solved that problem. But his product concept — a brief description, drawings and a crude mock-up — went nowhere until he was a senior in college. At that point, he sent digital versions of his sketches to a start-up called Quirky.

Quirky’s designers and engineers refined the concept. “They made it a much more elegant solution,” he said. Quirky also handled the manufacturing and marketing, secured a patent and listed Mr. Zien as the lead inventor. A year later, in 2011, the snakelike adjustable strip, Pivot Power, was on its way to store shelves.

Mr. Zien, 25, now gets a few cents on the dollar for every Pivot Power sold. A software designer in New York, Mr. Zien has collected more than $700,000, and counting.

A sampler of products made and sold by Quirky, from top: Verseur wine opener; Pivot Power flexible surge protector; Pawcet pet drinking fountain; Pluck egg separator; Stem citrus spritzer; and Aros smart air conditioner. Credit Quirky

This flexible power strip is the biggest hit so far for Quirky, founded in 2009. The company, based in Manhattan, is a curious creation of the Internet era, a hybrid of the digital and physical worlds. It is a social network, an online retailer and an industrial designer, manufacturer and marketer.

Ben Kaufman, the company’s 28-year-old founder and chief executive, calls it “a modern invention machine,” whose mission is to commercialize product ideas.

Quirky is Exhibit A for the case that a digital-age renaissance of the small inventor is not only possible but underway. The company taps an online community of one million registered users. More than 400 Quirky-generated products have made it to the marketplace so far.

The company is also a laboratory for testing how far the crowd-based model of innovation and product development can go. Quirky’s ultimate goal, Mr. Kaufman insists, is to create an engine that accelerates the process of identifying and developing new ideas for all kinds of products. “I’d like Quirky to be a utility like electricity,” he said.

Investors are betting that Quirky can build a sizable business. The company has raised $185 million to date. General Electric, the nation’s largest manufacturer, has put in $30 million, as part of a partnership to experiment with faster-paced models of manufacturing. The rest of the money has come mainly from venture capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Andreessen Horowitz.

Read more: The Invention Mob, Brought to You by Quirky


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Our Final Invention: Is AI the Defining Issue for Humanity?


Humanity today faces incredible threats and opportunities: climate change, nuclear weapons, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and much, much more.

But some people argue that these things are all trumped by one: artificial intelligence (AI). To date, this argument has been confined mainly to science fiction and a small circle of scholars and enthusiasts. Enter documentarian James Barrat, whose new book Our Final Inventionstates the case for (and against) AI in clear, plain language.

Disclosure: I know Barrat personally. He sent me a free advance copy in hope that I would write a review. The book also cites research of mine. And I am an unpaid Research Advisor to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, which is discussed heavily in the book. But while I have some incentive to say nice things, I will not be sparing in what (modest) criticism I have.

The central idea is haltingly simple. Intelligence could be the key trait that sets humans apart from other species. We’re certainly not the strongest beasts in the jungle, but thanks to our smarts (and our capable hands) we came out on top. Now, our dominance is threatened by creatures of our own creation. Computer scientists may now be in the process of building AI with greater-than-human intelligence (“superintelligence”). Such AI could become so powerful that it would either solve all our problems or kill us all, depending on how it’s designed.

Unfortunately, total human extinction or some other evil seems to be the more likely result of superintelligent AI. It’s like any great genie-in-a-bottle story: a tale of unintended consequences. Ask a superintelligent AI to make us happy, and it might cram electrodes into the pleasure centers of our brains. Ask it to win at chess, and it converts the galaxy into a supercomputer for calculating moves. This absurd logic holds precisely because the AI lacks our conception of absurdity. Instead, it does exactly what we program it to do. Be careful what you wish for!

It’s important to understand the difference between what researchers call narrow and general artificial intelligence (ANI and AGI). ANI is intelligent at one narrow task like playing chess or searching the web, and is increasingly ubiquitous in our world. But ANI can only outsmart humans at that one thing it’s good at, so it’s not the big transformative concern. That would be AGI, which is intelligent across a broad range of domains – potentially including designing even smarter AGIs. Humans have general intelligence too, but an AGI would probably think much differently than humans, just like a chess computer approaches chess much differently than we do. Right now, no human-level AGI exists, but there is an active AGI research field withits own societyjournal, and conference series.

Our Final Invention does an excellent job of explaining these and other technical AI details, all while leading a grand tour of the AI world. This is no dense academic text. Barrat uses clear journalistic prose and a personal touch honed through his years producing documentaries for National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS. The book chronicles his travels interviewing a breadth of leading AI researchers and analysts, interspersed alongside Barrat’s own thoughtful commentary. The net result is a rich introduction to AI concepts and characters. Newcomers and experts alike will learn much from it.

The book is especially welcome as a counterpoint to The Singularity Is Near and other works by Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is by far the most prominent spokesperson for the potential for AI to transform the world. But while Kurzweil does acknowledge the risks of AI, his overall tone is dangerously optimistic, giving the false impression that all is well and we should proceed apace with AGI and other transformative technologies. Our Final Invention does not make this mistake. Instead, it is unambiguous in its message of concern.

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Inventor Challenges a Sweeping Revision in Patent Law

Head off a patent law that he says will favor big companies and hurt lone inventors like himself

In Silicon Valley, Apple just won big against Samsung in the patent lawsuit of the year, after trading claims and counterclaims of pilfered product ideas. Across the country, in a federal court in Florida, an inventor named Mark Stadnyk is waging a different kind of patent warfare — an ambitious and perhaps quixotic legal foray.

Mr. Stadnyk, who holds a patent on a motorcycle windshield, is suing the United States government, aiming to head off a patent law that he says will favor big companies and hurt lone inventors like himself.

Represented by a prominent Washington lawyer, Mr. Stadnyk filed a suit last month that challenges the constitutionality of legislation that Congress passed last fall, the America Invents Act. Mr. Stadnyk and his lawyer — along with some academics, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists — assert that the legislation is a triumph of corporate lobbying power over the founders’ wishes, and that it threatens America’s stature as the world’s leading innovator.

The present system, one of the nation’s oldest patent principles and called “first to invent,” relies on lab notebooks, e-mails and early prototypes to establish the date of invention. The impending law would overturn that by awarding patents to the inventors who are “first to file” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Mr. Stadnyk, 48, a garage inventor who stumbled into the world of patents after he bought a powerful new motorcycle and wanted to avoid being battered by the wind when riding at 60 miles an hour, even with a windshield. He devised a system of brackets and gears to adjust the height and angle of the windshield and the gap between it and the motorcycle. With his system, he says, the rider feels a flutter of breeze instead of jolting winds and turbulence.

Mr. Stadnyk, who describes his invention style as “rough hacking with chunks of metal,” founded his company, MadStad Engineering, in 2006, and as sales picked up, he stopped working as a computer consultant to devote himself to the business.

Today, MadStad employs eight people, including Mr. Stadnyk and his wife, Patty. His adjustable windshield systems, priced from $100 to $320, are now used on dozens of makes and models of motorcycles, and are sold through dealers in Australia, Britain and Spain, as well as the United States. Yearly sales, he said, are more than $500,000 and growing briskly.

Mr. Stadnyk holds three patents, and he speaks of a patented idea as a uniquely human property right. “It came out of your mind,” he explained. “It’s not property you bought or inherited.”

Mr. Stadnyk became interested in the patent legislation as it proceeded. He says he studied the proposals and the law, read blogs and reached out to Washington lawyers and academics who raised the issue of its constitutionality. A grass-roots activist, he even made a couple of YouTube videos.

The shift to a first-to-file system, scheduled to take effect next March, is intended to simplify and streamline the current system, which can invite protracted litigation between competing inventors. The switch would also put the United States in harmony with patent offices in Europe, Japan and elsewhere, allowing them to share information and potentially ease the strain on overburdened patent examiners worldwide.

The efficiency argument is the mainstream view of corporate America and Washington policy makers. President Obama declared that the new law would cut “the red tape that stops too many inventors and entrepreneurs from quickly turning new ideas into thriving businesses — which holds our whole economy back.”

But opponents say it will give big companies a huge advantage over start-ups and small inventors. Large corporations have deep pockets and armies of lawyers to write up and file patents, they say, and the new law will touch off a paper chase to the patent office instead of a race to innovate.

Read more . . .

via The New York Times – 

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Could a ‘Defensive Patent License’ Fix the U.S. Patent System?

Many innovators don’t want to patent their creations

It might be a heretical idea for readers of this magazine, but law professor Jason Schultz says that many innovators don’t want to patent their creations. He says that they tell him, “?’I get threatened by patents, why would I want to participate in this system?’?” But Schultz and Jennifer Urban, both professors at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, have come up with what they think is a solution.

The two have developed what they call the Defensive Patent License (DPL), a standardized license that innovators could obtain online. The key feature: Anyone who takes out a DPL for their invention agrees not to sue anyone else who does the same. The aim is to create a network of inventors who’ve all pledged not to sue each other. The DPL is more likely to attract newcomers and start-ups, Schultz says, because established companies are less likely to promote the sharing of IP.

Schultz spent three years as an associate at Fish & Richardson, and prior to that, as a senior staff attorney at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. He recently talked with us about how he and Urban came up with DPL, and what they hope to accomplish with it. An edited version of our conversation follows.

CorpCounsel.com: What was the inspiration for the Defensive Patent License?

Jason Schultz: As more and more people in the open innovations communities were creating, very few of them were patenting their inventions. Even those who do have patents—or are considering getting patents—would say, “Well, I don’t really want to enforce my patents,” “I’m not really that kind of guy,” or, “I think I can compete on the merits.” We kept wondering, well, maybe there would be some reason to participate in the system if you could insure that your patents would only be used for good and not evil. So what would good look like? We wanted a way of encouraging people to patent and connect their technologies. So we came up with this license, which basically does that, we think.

CC: How is the Defensive Patent License supposed to work?

JS: It says, “I will make all of my patents available to anyone royalty free, forever, as long as they commit to not ever suing anyone else who does the same thing—which means not just me, but every other person who offers a patent under the DPL.” So if you have a thousand people who offer their patents under the DPL, everyone who enters into the DPL has to agree not to sue any of those thousand people. It creates a network of people who all have similar values—that patents are not meant to be used offensively and aggressively to sue people, but actually can be used to help other innovators.

These licenses would be standardized. That way, you could simply click on each license at a central Web site (which is not built yet), and accept any that you want, as long as you also offer your patents. Enforcement is up to each individual patent owner. If you’re a DPL user and you’re sued by another DPL party, you can revoke your license with that party and sue them for full damages. But all DPL parties have incentives not to sue each other.

The license will also be legally binding for the life of the patent. It will follow the patent to new owners, it will follow it through bankruptcy. It’s good for the life of the patent until the patent expires and the object of the patent enters the public domain.

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via Corporate Counsel – Meghin Delaney

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Exhibition fosters Yemeni inventions

Fatima Al-Azzani

The Ministry of Industry and Commerce held an exhibition of Yemeni inventions, as well as granting the first patent.

The exhibition aimed to develop the inventions and encourage inventors to invest in new ideas and valuable businesses that help foster the revival of social and civil development. It is the first of its kind in Yemen. According to the exhibition, no patent can be sold or distributed without the consent of the owner of the invention.

The exhibition involved a lot of worthwhile research as well as a range of various scientific advancements from the inventors, who hailed from all over the country.

The Minister of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Saeed Al-Deen Bin Talib, said the exhibition was an economic, civilized and qualitative advance for Yemen due to the scientific research, inventions and innovations it included.

Talib added that the exhibition aimed to allow the inventors to display their ideas and to speak out about their innovations; its aim was also to facilitate the exchange of experience and the development of research.

“This exhibition helped stimulate the companies and corporations to invest in the sector of inventions based on contracts with the inventors themselves and the foundations adopting them,” he said.

Many male and female inventors took part in the exhibition.

Engineer Mohammed Al-Afeefi, head of the maintenance unit at Yemen TV, was among the participants in the exhibition. His invention was a device to alleviate smoking for those who watch television.

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via Yemen Times – Amal Al-Yarisi

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