October's spark of genius article
Inventor Lifts Up Tradition, Culture, and Ingenuity
Native Americans have always been industrious and creative. Few people, however, are aware of the full impact Native American inventions have had on our day-to-day lives. Maple syrup, kayaks, the game and sticks of lacrosse, and hammocks-these are some ready examples of everyday inventions mainstream society has adopted from Native American tribes. But the story does not end there. Native Americans are still inventing useful items today that we will no doubt depend upon tomorrow.
Brad Rousseau is a celebrated independent inventor, small business owner, and enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe in North Dakota. He grew up on the Walhalla reservation in North Dakota, and he attributes his business success to the cultural values instilled in him as a young boy. Native Americans are convinced that everyone is a potential inventor if given the opportunity to analyze and solve a problem, and that was certainly true in Brad's case. Brad was taught to always look for ways to make things better and to find solutions to complicated problems. He had the opportunity to put such lessons to work when his mother, diagnosed with diabetes, was confined to a wheelchair and her doctor recommended she be transferred to a nursing home.
Brad had a strong desire to help his mother remain close to the family, but he knew in order to do that, her mobility would need to be improved. Faced with such a challenge, Brad relied on the values he learned as a child and pushed himself to find a solution that would help his mother navigate the multiple-level house more easily. As a result, Brad came up with a device that could attach to his mother's wheelchair and allow her to be carried up and down the stairs with ease. The invention allowed Brad to better care for his mom in the comfort of their home. Most importantly, it allowed her to stay close to her family.
In 2011, Brad received U.S. patent number 8,240,691 for his invention and named it the Easy Lifter. This device allows people with mobility impairments and their caregivers greater safety and freedom of movement in any location, and it provides them a handy tool in case of emergency or an unexpected evacuation.
From this invention, Brad's company, Safe and Secure Products Inc., was born. Today, Brad's goal is to inspire other Native Americans to follow his lead-to develop their ideas, patent them, and allow everyone to benefit from their inventions.
In addition to growing up on the Walhalla reservation, Brad worked for the Tribal Council as the Director of Utilities and has traveled extensively to other reservations in the United States and Canada. His experiences give him first-hand knowledge of the disadvantages many Native Americans encounter every day. In particular, he found there was little access to resources and knowledge in the area of intellectual property.
Brad is now working to help the Native American community embrace the concept of intellectual property by mentoring other Native American business owners and inventors and sharing his acquired knowledge and experiences in the field. Recently, he joined the advisory board of the Native American Intellectual Property Enterprise Council (NAIPEC), an organization that supports the Native American community by providing assistance in patenting, trademarking, and copyrighting. According to Brad, the resources NAIPEC provides are much needed in the Indian reservations today.
"Native American businesses and individuals would benefit from knowing how to commercialize their ideas through corporations and create full employment in the reservations," said Brad. "This would allow reservations to create economic security and create jobs with content, meaning, and empowerment."
Brad Rousseau understands that a true innovator doesn't draw the line at inventing; he looks for new ways to help his community and society in general by creating opportunities and spreading the dream of invention to others.
November is Native American Heritage Month. The USPTO honors and celebrates the contributions Native Americans have made to innovation and intellectual property in the United States. In 2011, the USPTO announced a partnershipbetween NAIPEC and the USPTO's Office of Innovation Development. Under the partnership, the two organizations work closely to develop outreach and educational programs and materials for Native American inventors and small business owners. Lizzeth Montejano has served as the program coordinator since its launch in April 2012.