Archive for October, 2009

Patents: Valuable Tools for Advancing the Public Good

Many of our readers understand how a sound patent system can advance the public good. The US patent system, for example, is based on a social compact between inventors and the public in which inventors are asked to teach the world their secrets in exchange for a limited monopoly on the invention. For a few years, the inventors can control the rights to what they have invented, and then the patent expires, making it available to all. Meanwhile, by teaching how to practice the invention, knowledge is advanced and everyone’s boat is lifted. Take away the respect for intellectual property rights inherent in the patent system, and inventors would be more likely to protect their invention through secrecy, limiting the advance of knowledge and taking us a step back toward the so-called Dark Ages when much practical knowledge was kept secret in the minds of a few masters and guilds. Chances are you already understand that.

Interestingly, even for those who do not want to profit from their inventions but wish to turn them over to the public, patents can still be useful tools to advance the public good. This is true when there is a need to protect and maintain the quality of the invention for the public good. A great example of this principle comes from the story behind the foundation of one of the world’s most successful technology transfer organizations, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, known as WARF. Here is an excerpt from the history of the founding of WARF:

WARF’s creation traces back to UW-Madison biochemistry professor Harry Steenbock, who demonstrated in late 1923 that irradiation with ultraviolet light increased the vitamin D content of foods and other materials. Steenbock knew his invention held the potential to eliminate rickets, a crippling bone disease of children caused by vitamin D deficiency. He also knew that without proper management his advance might never reach this potential.

Thirty years earlier, one of Steenbock’s predecessors in the biochemistry department, Stephen Babcock, developed a novel test for determining the butter fat content of milk. Babcock consciously chose not to patent the advance, instead giving it “freely to the world.”

But Babcock quickly learned that without patent protection he had no way to control the accuracy and reliability of the “Babcock tests” developed by companies. In the rush to meet the demands of dairies clamoring for the test, many manufacturers produced sub-standard testing equipment and supplies, resulting in Babcock tests that often failed to work. The situation eventually grew so serious that state legislators had to intervene with regulations for standardizing the test. Although the invention was eventually accepted worldwide, Babcock reportedly regretted his decision not to patent the technique.

Determined not to repeat Babcock’s experience, Steenbock moved quickly to file a patent application with $300 of his own money when he discovered that irradiating rodent chow with ultraviolet light cured rickets in laboratory rats. Soon afterward, Steenbock was approached by the Quaker Oats Company, which offered him a deal worth nearly one-million dollars for the exclusive rights to his invention.

But rather than sell his discovery to a commercial concern for his own profit, Steenbock strongly believed that any monetary gains resulting from his work should return to the UW-Madison to support scientific research.

Steenbock went on to form WARF to provide a means for patents from the university to benefit the university and further advance the public good. Today revenues from the patents coming from the University of Wisconsin provide many millions of dollars to advance research in many areas, further raising the water level in the sea of knowledge and further advancing the public good.

By protecting a health care invention with a patent, Steenbock was able to ensure that the invention was applied properly and used to advance health appropriately. The control that the patent provided was critical for the success of the technology that went on to advance the quality of life of people all over the globe.

The word is out about Conquering Innovation Fatigue

October 27, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation Fatigue

paperThe innovation process isn’t something that is widely understood outside of the corporate realm, which is why I have a passion for writing about it and inspiring others. It’s always exciting to me when the people in the media take notice and are truly enthusiastic about inventors.

Check out this nice feature article published last week about our book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue, which I co-wrote with my colleague Jeff Lindsay and collaborator Mukund Karanjikar.  I believe we are starting to see new doors open to fresh new ideas as more inventors and business start understanding what innovation fatigue is about.

Just in time for the holidays: iMac vs. Windows 7

October 23, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation, Technology

windows-7_wallpaperPC users are now able to switch to Windows 7. Microsoft officially released the upgrade system yesterday, and a few hours later Apple answered back with its own updated iMac–and a new “Get a Mac” series of commercials.

You know the ones: “PC” and “Mac” are two characters who represent the competitive companies…but in the end the cooler of the two, Mac, wins out. Check out my favorite of the three ads,  “Broken Promises,” where PC promises Mac that Windows 7 is not going to have any of the problems Vista had:

Do you have a PC, and will you immediately upgrade to Windows 7?

Last week a blogger asked his readers that very question,  and only 16% said they would change operating systems immediately, while 37% said that they would keep their XP software until forced to change.  Surprisingly, 10% said they would stick with Vista, which has become a lot more stable, but is still what the blogger calls a “resource hog”.

Post-Crescent: Local leaders pen book to aid inventors

October 21, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Articles, IE Media

Featured in the Post-Crescent on Sunday, October 18, 2009


18 Oct 09: The Post-Crescent

October 18, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Media Coverage

Local leaders pen book to aid inventors: The Post-Crescent, October 18, 2009

Cheryl Perkins and Jeff Lindsay of Innovationedge in Neenah authored “Conquering Innovation Fatigue,” which reveals how to overcome the many barriers faced by innovators.

Innovation consultants provide support for inventors

Shift Happens: Just how big a shift is it?

October 13, 2009 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Culture of Innovation, Technology, Trends

If you’re wondering why the emerging generation isn’t responding to your magazine ad or looking you up in the Yellow Pages, you might want to take a look at this: