I have been an inventor and engineer all of my life. I have about 40 patents and have invented and engineered the AeroPress coffee maker as well as many other products. Before my wife and I founded our company, I licensed my inventions to various companies both in the USA and Europe.
Every spring I teach inventing to 7th graders at Egan School in Los Altos, California. Our month-long program leads to an Invention Fair where the students create poster displays and models of their inventions.
I always begin by telling them, “You’ve probably all heard the saying, ‘There’s nothing new under the Sun.’ It’s simply not true. Every day great new inventions are created by ordinary people. Every one of you can invent.”
My most important “mantra” is, “Learn all you can about the science behind your invention.” I repeat this several times.
A good invention is not simply a different way to do something, it is a better way.
A major challenge for inventors, be they 7th graders or 70 year-olds, is to objectively evaluate your idea. “Is this really a better way?” Or, if it’s a toy, “Is it fun?” “Is it challenging, yet not too easy?” Nobody can teach you how to be objective, but we can remind you to try your best. Every year millions of dollars are wasted pursuing ideas which are not worthwhile.
The Science Behind Your Invention
Returning to my oft-repeated mantra, some of the most enjoyable periods of my life have been spent learning about the science behind my ideas. This was especially true when that science was new to me and outside of my present skills. Learning which is motivated by a desire or need is exciting and enjoyable. It is not work. The beauty of this is that even if your invention doesn’t pan out, you’ve had the joy of learning new science.
When you have an idea for an invention, the best place to start is to learn about other inventions or products in that field. The internet is a great tool for inventors. Search existing products and patents. Your search will help you determine just how new your invention is. It will also stimulate ideas for making your invention better.
Development and Models
If you decide that your idea is worthy of pursuit, begin to learn about the underlying science as you develop your idea in your mind and on paper. Soon you’ll need to make a model of your invention. First models might be cardboard or balsa wood, but eventually a real functioning prototype is a must. And that can be expensive. When I develop a product, I make and test dozens of prototypes. I do most of the making in my own shop, but often outside facilities are needed.
At the very least you need to review related patents to insure that you are not infringing an existing patent. Beyond that, patents are optional. Some people think that a patent is like a business license and required. Not so, patents are optional. If your invention is novel and valuable, patents are recommended. But every year millions are wasted on patents that are not worth the cost. Only a few percent of patented inventions earn enough money to pay back the cost of the patent.
So good luck. You too can invent. And remember to enjoy the process.