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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: New spin for bicycle: filtering air pollution as you ride

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.

New Castle's Mike McAndrew recently visited his daughter and son-in-law in Beijing, China, and brought back a photo showing a clever invention: a bicycle that filters air while in motion.

Beijing, the capital of China, is notorious for having a serious particle and gas pollution problem all year due to lax environmental controls. Residents of the city suffer multitudes of air quality-related illnesses, particularly bronchial and pulmonary in nature.

Once you are afflicted with such illnesses, other parts of the body begin to suffer. The end result is a shortened life span.

Air quality is a big problem for people who live in Beijing, and there isn't an easy solution for it. Cleaning the air over Beijing would take many years if the Chinese government were willing to act. The air there will likely get dirtier day by day.

However, a British artist living and working in Beijing decided to do something about it. He decided to develop a bike-borne air cleaner so he could breathe cleaner air when he rides his bicycle through the city. The bizarre-looking bicycle is his invention.

An electrical generator driven by a small wheel is attached to the rear wheel of the bicycle. The generator produces a direct electrical current (DC), which is turned into a high-voltage current and fed to a metal mesh inside the cage mounted behind the bicyclist's seat. A breathing tube is then connected from the cage to a mask the bicyclist wears.

The cage filters airborne particulates such as dust by attracting them onto the metal mesh and capturing them there. Air passing through the mesh is stripped of most particulates. The bicyclist breathes in the cleaner air.

I believe this is a workable solution. Unfortunately, the invention reduces inhalation of particulates pollution but not chemical pollution. However, it is certainly better than nothing.

Bravo to this artist! By the way, his name is Matt Hope, no pun intended. You want to see the video? Go to

'To Patent or Not To Patent'

Readers inquiring about the patentability of their ideas have been sending in almost identical letters, emails and phone calls. Allowing some variations, they all go like this: "I have this invention that would be valuable if patented. I cannot tell you what it is, but could you tell me how do I go about getting a patent for this invention?"

From the way the inquiries are written, it is obvious the readers think very highly of their inventions and can almost see the mountain of gold beyond the haze of the "patentability" question. In this country, the myth and the image of having an idea granted a patent is elevated on a pedestal, with some inventors pursuing riches like the Gold Rush miners of the 19th century. But, ladies and gentlemen, the only people who ended up making a profit in the Gold Rush were shovel manufacturers.

In the rush to pursue patents today, the people who end up making the largest profits are patent lawyers, who are also known as intellectual property lawyers, or IP lawyers for short. The chances of us 99-percenters making any profit out of a single patent is close to zero, especially when you approach the patent application process without some basic and firm knowledge.

There is a saying, "accountant, architect and artist, all produce large bills without accomplishing anything if you don't instruct them in detail about what you want." This adage applies to IP lawyers as well.

The bottom line is you have to learn the patent process thoroughly before you approach the question of patentability of an invention or idea. And you have to be prepared to spend some money, the amount of which you may consider unreasonably high.

Next week: Patent 1.01, preparation

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


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