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A Day in the Life of a Inventor

Inventors are some of the icons of American history; they industriously work to create new products for the American public. The image of Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone in a relatively primitive lab is firmily printed on our mind’s eye. Engineering and development costs have dramatically increased, and invention today more often occurs in corporate labs and research and development departments; still, 20 percent of U.S. patents are issued each year to private inventors. A skilled inventor can still transform good ideas into significant sums of money. There are great rewards in designing a product that is better than any that have come before it. In addition to being creative, successful inventors must also be effective businesspeople. Developing a useful product is only the first step in the process. The inventor must also be able to negotiate a favorable licensing contract with an established manufacturer or have the wherewithal to become an entrepreneur and go into the business of manufacturing his or her ideas. Designs must be developed that avoid infringing on existing patents, and investors must protect themselves from others who would copy their existing design. Knowing the fields or backgrounds of inventions makes inventors’ lives much easier, both when they develop new products and assess the value of inventions as they are developing them. As a full-time career, inventing provides an uncertain living for all but the most talented. Developing new products is time-consuming and often expensive, and income doesn’t start to flow until a marketable prototype is ready. Many inventors work part-time as inventors and spend the rest of their time in jobs as engineers, corporate research scientists, or in academia. Still, a good idea can be worth pursuing.

Paying Your Dues

With rare exceptions, a background in science or engineering is a must. Many private inventors spend years working as designers for private corporations before they develop the ideas that let them set out on their own. Experience in product design and development is crucial, as is knowledge of the new product’s potential market. Years working in industry or in academic research are the best methods to acquire the skills of a successful inventor.

Present and Future

Archimedes is the first legendary engineer. The notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci contain visionary sketches and plans for literally hundreds of devices—although many, such as his designs for submarines and flying machines, ventured beyond his ability to “invent” them, given the limited resources available at the time. In more modern times, invention became central to the American self-image with the onset of the industrial revolution, when improved mass manufacturing techniques made it possible to rapidly make fortunes from a design for a useful new product. In turn, large manufacturing corporations built on the profits of the inventions of private inventors arose. Those corporations built up the large research and development staffs, which have largely displaced the role of the individual inventor. Private inventors and entrepreneurs are likely to continue playing a role in the development of the American economy.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Two-thirds of all inventors never see any profits from their creations. By the twoyear mark, the inventor is either making money (either through a licensing agreement or private manufacturer) or should be considering another line of work. These first two years are the most difficult; developing an idea is perhaps the easiest part of invention, and many inventors find that developing business and distribution contacts is the most challenging aspect of the process.

FIVE YEARS OUT

The inventor who is still working as an inventor at this point has probably succeeded in establishing manufacturing and distribution relationships. This makes it much easier to generate profits from additional inventions, and it allows the professional to spend more time focusing on inventing and less on pounding the streets looking for business contacts. Quality of life has likely improved significantly by this point.

TEN YEARS OUT

By now, the inventor’s operation probably resembles a small business. If inventions have been profitable, additional researchers and business assistants may be employed, and the inventor has probably developed a stable market for his or her products. Very few inventors make it to this point, with the exception of those who do reap the rewards of owning and operating a business that allows them to make a living on their creations.