Machine Design

The Inventorium: How universities can encourage innovation


Americans are a creative bunch with countless good ideas. The problem is, turning ideas into profitable products is a slow, complex, and often dead-end process. For me, the need is not how to produce inventions but how to turn them into profit. To this end, American universities need to embrace the Inventorium — a concept for a clearinghouse that trains students in the art of making profitable inventions. If properly developed by good technical schools, it could lead to more successful products, new businesses, and additional jobs that would no doubt help our sagging manufacturing economy.

An Inventorium is an entity similar to a special department of a university. It is not a research facility to discover new knowledge. Its function is to apply existing art toward developing new products. Its purpose is to promote invention, both for full-time students and for entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills through seminars and continuing-education programs.

One focus of the Inventorium would be educational with courses covering every aspect of entrepreneurship. Students could learn to:
• Design and test products.
• Make models or find prototyping subcontractors.
• Perform patent searches, write applications, and understand drawings.
• Copyright materials, register trademarks, and write confidentiality agreements.
• Perform marketing and demographics research.
• Find qualified contract manufacturers.
• Legally form a business and deal with taxes and government red tape.
• Explore financing options for funding product development and manufacturing.

Course content should impart knowledge but, above all, it should inspire students to invent. Seasoned experts from the private sector could present case studies that detail typical problems in the invention process and offer practical wisdom. And students could build and assemble models, an excellent way to get hands-on manufacturing experience.

Students from different majors could all gain from Inventorium classes. For instance, engineers would learn to perform patent searches, submit applications, and work around a competitor’s patent; while business majors discover the financial, legal, and marketing aspects of inventions. But even art majors could learn how to copyright their works.

The Inventorium would also be a magnet for people skilled or interested in the art of inventing and for manufacturers seeking new products. One key outreach function would be serving as a one-stop provider of all services necessary to help inventors develop, patent, manufacture, and sell their inventions. The Inventorium would offer fee-based services to the private sector, including bulk purchasing, prototype building, testing, and even product marketing. It could also provide access to patent attorneys, patent illustrators, market researchers, product designers, and so on.

While a university would initially need start-up capital, done correctly, an Inventorium would be self-sustaining and likely produce a profit. It could even earn royalties on successful products.
Finally, the nearby community would benefit. Local companies would enjoy easy access to expertise in fields from patent law to FE analysis, as well as employee training services. The Inventorium would likely attract subcontractors to perform services such as building prototypes. And heightened innovation should foster small-business creation and, with it, new jobs.

Edited by Kenneth Korane

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

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