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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: To patent or not to patent, that is the question inventors ask


Editor's note: Sam Asano's column on inventing debuted in the Portsmouth Herald earlier this year. We are publishing his collected columns in sequence in the Sunday and Monday business sections over the next several weeks after which the new columns will appear on Mondays.

I am receiving an increasing number of inquiries from readers regarding whether they should apply for patents and, if yes, how to do so.

Since one or two inquiries arrive daily via email, I figured the issue is very important to the inquirers. In a normal week, I receive several ideas and suggestions from readers on various invention cases (see chart), but inquiries about patentability have been rising quickly. There are few guidebooks regarding patenting in the marketplace, at least in part because each idea is different, making it difficult to generalize into a book.

So, I have decided to write about the fundamental depiction (lay of the land) of what one has to know regarding the question of "Patent? Or not patent?" These next few weeks this column will discuss that issue. Read the suggestions carefully if you are standing on the road junction "Y" of the question.

Now, back to the regular topics. This column started Jan. 7 of this year in the Portsmouth Herald (and March 11 in the New Hampshire Union Leader) and has rapidly gained traction. Readers seem to come from all walks of life; however, people who demonstrate the most enthusiasm seem to come from an industrial manufacturing background, which, sadly, this nation abandoned in the last 50 years.

This column is an effort, however quixotic it may seem, to regain manufacturing by the power of us 99-percenters. Today marks the 17th column. In previous columns, we have discussed seven problems to solve. Since the friendly nature of the column seems to spark readers' various suggestions, I thought I would list the cases and report to you the current status of just what stage they are in.

Case 1305: (phantom loads) collected the most reader comments. Most respondents told us they were unaware of the ongoing vast waste, and were surprised. Many suggestions came in. Most of the suggestions were to install a power switch for the charger, and/or power switch with automatic time limit. Our conclusion was that the idea wouldn't quite work. In the initial period, people might shut off the power judiciously, but soon they would forget to do so. A radical conceptual prototype is being built, and we can demonstrate it to you shortly.

Case 1307: (Better hospital bed) collected a significant number of comments, but all comments were in sympathy with the problem and not offering any solution. Mike Abodeely of Derry, who represents a product line offered by Hover-Tech, suggested we look at the website www.hovermatt.com. The concept is the same as moving the heavy refrigerator on the kitchen floor by having an air jet underneath to make it float.

This device certainly would make the lateral movement of the patient easy, (from one bed to a transporter or another bed), but it wouldn't help in changing, dressing, cleaning the patient or other various tasks. Working with a patient to change his/her clothes, bathe or cleanse by wiping with warm wet clothes is a very complex task.

The issues are so fundamental and difficult to perform that we in the civilized world of the 21st century are using the same method as was used thousands of year ago. If you have a patient with limited mobility (or no mobility at all), the task could be insurmountably difficult, unless two attendants work together. However, as I stated last week, having an extra person is a luxury that most households cannot afford. We can send men to the moon, but we still have a hard time changing clothes for an immobile patient on a bed.

Therefore, let's start a discussion on the potential solution. The problem is at least 3,000 years old, so whatever we come up with, we have nothing to lose. Go for it wholeheartedly.

Shintaro (Sam) Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at sasano@gmail.com.


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