April's spark of genius article
Innovating as a Group: INCA
Inspiration can find an inventor in a moment of solitude, often when working on an unrelated project. A great idea could emerge when encountering a flaw in a routine product process. And that "eureka" moment can also result from talking with other inventors. This last scenario is especially true when inventors meet at local inventor clubs.
In each issue of Inventors Eye, we provide a list of inventor clubs across the country. These groups are important incubators of innovation and inspiration in the independent inventor and small business communities. For this special Spark of Genius, Inventors Eye caught up with one group that has been an important fixture in the inventor community surrounding the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a long time.
The Inventors Network of the Capital Area (INCA) was founded in 1993 following a National Inventors Conference sponsored by the USPTO and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. At its second meeting, three executives from the USPTO gave presentations and lent their support to the fledgling group. This cooperation between INCA and the USPTO continues today, with INCA comprising more than 100 dues-paying members and over 380 subscribers to its Google Group.
INCA President Glen Katopish said a typical meeting at INCA "includes experts who talk about the patenting process and entrepreneurship, including licensing, marketing, and other aspects related to building an idea into a product." Often, speakers include other independent inventors who have successfully developed their ideas and taken them to the marketplace. INCA also has roundtable discussions and occasionally critiques members' inventions prior to helping them navigate the ins and outs of getting the invention protected and marketed. There's also time for social interaction, networking, seeking assistance from others, and building friendships.
According to Glen, there are many benefits of being a member of an inventors group. Besides getting a good overview of the entire invention process from various experts, "You gain a broad picture of many specific topics, and you become less intimidated in moving forward as more time passes." He said he has learned cost-effective ways to move through the invention process and that "relationships [with other members] are a strong plus." For him, the most important aspect of being part of INCA is that "you learn that you are not alone."
In the 20 years INCA has been active, many of its members have found success patenting their inventions. The group's website highlights some devices that were patented by members and are now available for potential licensing or purchase rights. These inventions include a kayaking simulator (U.S. patent No. 6,328,677), a spray bottle nozzle that points upward (No. 7,007,867), and an automatic transmission for bicycles (Nos. 5,407,396, 5,571,056, and 5,618,240).
At least a quarter of INCA's members have been to a USPTO Independent Inventors Conference. Glen said these conferences provide valuable information, giving participants an inside view of the examination process and how examiners look at patent applications. But according to Glen, the most important benefit from these conferences is "networking with USPTO experts and the guest speakers." Glen said that some of INCA's members got the information they needed and filed a patent application after attending an independent inventor conference.
After 20 years, INCA continues to grow, adapting to changes in the patent process and the field of invention. As technology and the marketplace evolve, new concepts emerge for inventors and entrepreneurs to leverage. One of the more exciting recent developments for inventors, noted Glen, is crowdfunding, where inventors finance their inventions by soliciting many small contributions from individuals, as opposed to large sums from a single or small group of investors. According to Glen, we can expect more creative funding sources to appear in the future.
These tools "help move people forward in their process faster," said Glen, but inventors should also be mindful to employ the same diligence in protecting their intellectual property when utilizing crowdfunding as they would with traditional avenues. Nevertheless, Glen says that INCA "isn't just about what not to do, but what to do." This is why INCA has grown and prospered over the years, providing a vital resource and source of inspiration for its members.
Sometimes, it takes the feeling of community to spark a genius.
To find out more about inventor groups in your area, list your own inventors group, or if you are interested in starting an inventors group in your area, please visit the Inventors Eye organizations page.