Inventors Eye


National Inventors Hall of Fame 2015 Inductees.

National Inventors Hall of Fame Inducts Next Class of Innovators

Each year, America celebrates its inventors who have contributed immeasurably to the progress of science and technology and, in doing so, indelibly influenced our way of life.

It does so through their induction into  the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which inducted its 2015 class during a ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. on May 12, 2015. The location was most fitting, as the American Art Museum is housed in the historic old Patent Office Building—the home of the United States Patent and Trademark Office from 1839-1932. The 14 newest inductees include innovators from the modern era and the past, representing technologies ranging in diversity from Bluetooth technology to the waterproof diaper cover. Collectively, the newest inductees hold more than 1,000 patents.

In addition to the inductees, the ceremony was attended by many current members of the Hall of Fame, as well as U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith and various officials and leaders in the innovation community. During the opening, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee told the audience, “The National Inventors Hall of Fame is America’s national monument to innovation. It’s where we celebrate the greatest U.S. intellectual property owners, individuals who have improved the world in which we live.”

Inventors Eye salutes the 2015 class of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


George Alcorn invented the x-ray imaging spectrometer during a distinguished career with NASA.

John Burke and Ioannis Yannas worked together to develop the first commercially successful artificial skin.

Mary-Dell Chilton conducted groundbreaking research that would eventually form the basis for a major method used in plant biotechnology.

Edith Clarke invented a graphical calculator that assisted in determining electrical characteristics of long electrical transmission lines.

Marion Donovan created a waterproof, breathable diaper and eased the frustrations of many parents.

Charles Drew saved the lives of millions with his research into storage, processing, and shipment of blood plasma.

Jaap C. Haartsen laid the foundation for what became known as Bluetooth Wireless Technology.

Thomas Jennings is credited as the first African American to be granted a patent (in 1820) for inventing a process of cleaning fabric called “dry-scouring.”

Kristina M. Johnson is a pioneer of optoelectronic processing systems, 3D imaging, and color management systems.

Gary D. Sharp worked with Kristina M. Johnson on birefringent materials, which have important applications in the fields of electronics and entertainment.

Paul B. MacCready is known as the “Father of Human Powered Flight” for inventing the first bicycle-powered aircraft.

Shuji Nakamura invented the blue, green, and white light emitting diode (LED) allowing for a full-spectrum of LED light that can now be used in countless applications.

Stanford R. Ovshinsky held over 400 patents across a wide range of technologies, many focused on sustainable technologies.

To read full profiles of each inductee and learn more about the Hall of Fame, visit

The National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum is located at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

Alex Camarota : Office of Innovation Development

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Alexis Lewis and her wheeled travois, U.S. patent no. 8,979,095.

Spark of Genius
Inventing Humanity

Many Inventors Eye “Spark of Genius” stories feature individuals who only began to think of themselves as inventors after stumbling across a solution to a problem. For one 15-year-old patent holder, the opposite proved to be true.

In 2011, Alexis Lewis read a news article documenting the extreme famine conditions in Somalia that year. One of the most heart-wrenching effects of the famine was parents having to leave their children along roads because they could not carry them on the long journeys to refugee centers.

“When I saw this, I thought, ‘That is really awful that people are having to make decisions like that,’” said Alexis.

Where others might have remorsefully moved on, Alexis knew she could do something. After all, she already knew she was an inventor, and problems like this are an inventor’s motivation. After further research, she discovered an underlying issue.

“There is a tremendous dearth of wheel transportation in Africa,” Alexis explained, “so bad that people are forced to carry the sick, weak, elderly, or those in delivery distress from small villages to larger villages with doctors using makeshift stretchers or, if available, in a wheelbarrow.”

Alexis aimed to develop a device that could make manual transportation more efficient and easier to use for long periods of time. Most importantly, it had to be realistically obtainable in impoverished rural regions. She ultimately found the inspiration for her solution in a much older innovation: the travois used by Native Americans of the Great Plains, which employed two long teepee poles crossed at a vertex and holding cargo or passengers at the opposite end. The ends of the poles were dragged along the ground by horses, dogs, or sometimes humans.

“I took that old, antiquated design and modernized it.”

The new travois added inexpensive solid wheels and a belt to attach the puller’s waist for more efficiency over long durations. But perhaps the most innovative feature of her design is the material from which it can be made and proliferated.

“The current version is made out of bamboo due to the fact that it is abundant in Africa,” explained Alexis.

On March 17, 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued U.S. patent no. 8,979,095 to Alexis, a rewarding and satisfying moment for the young inventor.

“[Getting a patent] was validation of my idea. It said that—at least from a theoretical standpoint—it certainly seems to work.”

Alexis’ intention is to deploy the travois as a kit, assembled by combining the manufactured parts with locally collected bamboo. Once the idea starts to take hold, the parts can be switched out, allowing for a basic framework and design that could be made from a variety of parts of similar function. For example: lowering costs by using salvaged bike tires instead of the kit’s non-pneumatic wheels.

“The idea is that people will be able to make their own modifications, hopefully leading to the seeding of an idea in Africa, as opposed to the sale of a product.”

Quite visionary for a 15-year-old, but Alexis began her journey on the path to invention much earlier. She credits her grandfather, retired Grumman Aerospace rocket scientist Dr. Edward Stokes Fishburne who worked on the Apollo missions, with instilling in her an appreciation of science and curiosity for the world.

At the age of seven, Alexis accompanied her grandparents on a road trip to the western United States. Along the way, her grandfather enthusiastically explained the physical properties and causes of many of the iconic geographical features they encountered: Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful Geyser, the Grand Canyon, and the majestic giant rock formations of the West. 

“I’ve been looking at the world differently ever since,” confessed Alexis. “A lot of science isn't necessarily the lab work. It isn't necessarily the textbooks or the formulas. It's just looking at the world around you, breaking it down into little pieces and finding out how each piece interacts with the other, to form a functional, giant system.”

Today, Alexis is passionate about spreading that enthusiasm to others. She has even started a campaign called “Inventing 101,” a movement to have classes on invention offered as electives at middle schools across the country.

“Inventing isn’t something just for the Edisons and Teslas; it’s something that everybody can do. There is so much untapped potential in this country because people don’t think of themselves as inventors. If they did, we would see a lot more people out there with their inventions making the world a better place.”

In addition to the travois, Alexis has a pending patent application on an invention to help firefighters deliver breathing masks to occupants trapped in smoke-filled buildings. While her initial inventions tended to be “low tech,” Alexis said she has begun to focus on higher-tech innovations, delving into the world of ion engines and rail guns.

When she isn’t busy thinking about new technologies and life-saving devices, Alexis speaks frequently on the subject of invention to audiences. She is adamant that anybody can be an inventor.

“Without human inventiveness, we never would have had the Stone Age. And without the Stone Age, nothing else would have happened. Any time something is standing in our way, it's human nature to try to find a way around it. Often the way around it is, in fact, an invention.”

More recently, Alexis traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Smithsonian-USPTO Innovation Family Festival on May 2, 2015, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While explaining the travois to attendees, she shared her passion for problem solving and innovation with crowds consisting mostly of younger children whom, it is hoped, were inspired and instilled with the same sense of curiosity that has already served Alexis well. And for those youngsters who may even one day decide to follow in her footsteps, Alexis has a simple piece of advice:

“First, just try picking up and looking at a problem from a slightly different perspective.”

You can read more about Alexis Lewis on her website at There, you will find more information about her Inventing 101 campaign and be able to watch her presentation at a TEDx event at the University of North Carolina. Alexis was previously known as “Chase.” Since January 2015, she has identified as a female. 

Alex Camarota : Office of Innovation Development

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U.S. Patent No. D487,714 Flamingo-planter-feeder

Patents Pick-5
In the Garden

Spring and summer means sun, flowers, and of course working around the yard and in the garden. But where would we be without all those helpful gadgets that make it easier, perhaps even fun? From lawn mowers to garden walls, there are so many tools and accessories green thumbs can indulge in for the love of their yards, but here’s five you might recognize.

Note: This article is part of an ongoing series detailing some of the Inventors Eye staff’s favorite patents. For each article, the writer selects their five favorite patents under a given theme. This list is from Visual Information Specialist Messina Smith.

U.S. Patent No. 73,807
Lawn Mower

Amariah Hills was the first American to patent a lawn mower in 1868, which was actually 38 years after the first lawn mower was invented by Edwin Budding. Hill’s patent was for a new and improved device for mowing grass by hand. In the decades since, the lawn mower has endured as one of the staples for homeownership, and these days there are more choices than ever. Riding mowers that allow the user to sit and drive, hover mowers that slide above the grass using an air cushion to lift it off the ground, and mower bots that use border wires to define the area to be mowed are just three examples of the choices we have today.

U.S. Patent No. 3,826,068
Rotary cutting assembly

In 1974 George C. Ballas patented the first version of the string trimmer, or weed whacker, after taking his car to be washed and noticing the revolving action of the cleaning. He went home and attached pieces of fishing line to a popcorn can and then bolted that to a lawn edger. Weeds haven’t stood a chance since. Gas-powered or electric, string trimmers and lawn care go hand in hand, and it’s a common sight to see one being used during the spring and summer months.

U.S. Patent No. 6,520,513
Garden Cart

Many inventions help gardeners transporting and holding heavy loads, and in 2001 Martha Presley-Mays added her innovation to the mix. The garden cart she dreamed up tried to add a level of comfort and organization to the task of gardening. Wheeled with a handle, the cart also sports a removable tool box, a padded seat, brackets for holding larger items like shovels, and even a sun umbrella. The cart also doubles as a wheelbarrow. Clearly Presley-Mays did her best to think of everything a gardener would need while in the yard.

U.S. Patent No. 8,689,485
Vertical planter and gardening wall

So, you live in an apartment? That’s where vertical planters come into play, and they are becoming ever more popular with more people living in urban settings. Maybe you have a small balcony or no outdoor space at all. No worries; this vertical planter, patented in 2014 by Jared Friedman, can be used indoors or outdoors. There are planter blocks and end blocks, and they interlock together to be as wide or as tall as the user wants. Each individual block can be filled with what the user wants to grow—flowers, vegetables, or herbs. Now there’s no reason to not have a beautiful garden filled with a plethora of colorful plants.

U.S. Design Patent No. D487,714

The plastic pink flamingo. Is there a more iconic yard ornament in America? In 2004, Isaac and Margaret Weiser took this much-loved (or loathed) novelty and made it functional. Their design calls for the body of the flamingo to be hollow, allowing it to be used as either a planter or a bird feeder. Add a bunch of flowers for ornamentation or bird seed to attract feathered brethren. Either way, the pink flamingo will no longer stand in solitary watch over yards.

Messina Smith : Office of Innovation Development

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Screenshot of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs web page.

New Option for U.S. Design Applicants

Thanks to the recent U.S. implementation of the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs (Hague Agreement), a new option now exists for inventors looking for more global protection of their inventions for ornamental designs.

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Smithsonian’s American History Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
events and announcements

June and July

Upcoming events and news in the world of innovation

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Organizations and resources for the independent inventor community

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The USPTO gives you useful information and non-legal advice in the areas of patents and trademarks in Inventors Eye. The patent and trademark statutes and regulations should be consulted before attempting to apply for a patent or register a trademark. These laws and the application process can be complicated. If you have intellectual property that could be patented or registered as a trademark, the use of an attorney or agent who is qualified to represent you in the USPTO is advised.

In this issue
National Inventors Hall of Fame Inducts Next Class of Innovators
Spark of Genius
Inventing Humanity
Patents Pick-5
In the Garden
New Option for U.S. Design Applicants
events and announcements
June and July


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