A Good Idea vs. an Invention


After watching most of the episodes of American Inventor on ABC, and having my wife tell me several times that I should have been on that show, I’ve found myself pondering the reality of that.

I’ve easily “invented” hundreds of things over the years in my life to make life easier, solve silly engineering problems in other products, and in general just “fixed that which is broken” by coming up with a better solution.

But are these “good ideas” or are they “inventions”. Wikipedia defines invention as:

…an object, process, or technique which displays an element of novelty. An invention may sometimes be based on earlier breakthroughs, collaborations or ideas, and the process of invention requires at least the awareness that an existing concept or method can be modified or transformed into a new invention…

Can I be an inventor? Are the things I’ve “invented” to solve problems in my life and the lives of others really “inventions”? Are they “good ideas”? Sure, they’re both. I’ve come up with many things that eventually came out on the market on their own, years before they were released. Could I have captured the market and made some money on these inventions? Absolutely. (Of course, I firmly object to patents, but that’s another matter entirely =)

Last night, Janusz Liberkowski won the first American Inventor award with his “spherical safety seat“, a means to safe the lives of infants involved in automobile accidents. Doug Hall was his mentor on this task, and throughout the competition, it seemed clear that he had the most novel of all of the inventions there.

Janusz Liberkowski

I really did think Francisco Patino (original ABC Inventor Profile page archived here) was going to take the win last night, based purely on the potential market dollars for his invention. The bicycle market is a $2B industry, its massive. He received the lowest number of votes. I found that surprising.

Francisco Patino

I also thought that Ed Hall‘s WordAce game was a great invention. It too had a large market. When you look at these three inventions, WordAce really has the biggest amount of potential penetration. Kids of all genders, races and ages can use it, even those who are too old for a car seat or those who can’t even ride a bike (handicapped?). Adults could use it, schools could use it as a learning and teaching aid. It had extrmely broad appeal. Add some additional functionality like “language modules”, “learning packs” and such and you could really extend it far. Make it networked, and play with users remotely across the Internet. Lots of potential for this kind of product. He’ll have to come up with a new name though, because “WordAce” is used in quite a few places that I can find, and is most-certainly trademarked by someone.

But Janusz’s invention, though extremely limited in scope and market, seemed to be the winner for everyone who called in and voted. Was it his empathetic appeal to everyone else that won the calling audience over? Was it the invention itself? Was it his commercial? I don’t know, but he did win… and its only fair to congratulate him on his invention.

Are these entrepreneurs? I’d argue that out of all of them, Francisco showed the most entrepreneurial spirit and heart, determination, and drive.

Now things are going to get really interesting… time to plan for my own appearance on American Inventor for next season.

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