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MIT Page on Ronald J Riley

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Science Fiction and Inventors

You want to be an inventor but you do not know where to start?

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ABOUT INVENTING By Ronald J. Riley This is aimed at 5th through 12th grade students.

So you want to be an inventor. Almost everyone invents, but they do not recognize that their idea is an invention. All children invent, children are often more inventive than adults, and a few even get patents. You may read about twenty children inventors in "Brainstorm", soon to be released in paperback at a much lower price.

Most people's thinking becomes rigid as they grow up. The key to inventing is not becoming rigid in your thinking. As people gain more experience they tend to rule out creative ideas. An inventor strikes a balance between between being practical and being creative. All inventors, even adults produce a hundred or more ideas that are not practical to get a patent for every idea that is worth pursuing.
Animated picture of person pushing a ball up a ramp
Light bulb An invention is a new way of solving a problem. Most inventions are made possible by those inventors who have proceeded us.

No one knows who made many of the earliest inventions - like clothes, the lever, the wheel, how to make and keep fire, to name just a few. Most inventors do not get credit for their ideas. That was true in the past and today. In the case of today's inventors the reason is simple, most inventors lack the other skills they need to let people know what they have created and why their invention is better than previous inventions.

Many inventions have little or nothing to do with science. On the other hand an understanding of science is often needed to make your invention work. And it is equally important to be able to make the invention at a price that people can afford. Science will help you make choices on the best way and materials to make your invention.

Understanding business is also important. Most inventors have to make and sell the invention themselves. Big established businesses are usually not interested in an invention until they see their customers buying from the inventor. A good book about selling your invention is Marketing Your Invention which is available from The Inventors Bookstore.

You may be able to invent without understanding reading, writing, arithmetic, history and science. But you are NOT likely to PROFIT from inventing without all of those skills. You need to be able to read well to learn new skills. All the good ideas in the world are useless if you do not have the writing skills to be able to tell other people how and why your invention is valuable. You often need math to figure out how to make your invention and you always need math to figure out the cost to make and sell the invention. And you almost always need science to make the invention at the lowest cost.

And history is also valuable. One of the reasons I am a successful inventor today is the lessons I learned from studying other inventors who proceeded me.I discuss who and why in detail in How I Learned to Become a Successful Inventor, History Was The Key .

Many middle school students have a drafting class. Drafting is a very important skill if you want to be an inventor. Basic drafting skills are important to help people understand your ideas. Pencil
Picture of open book As a boy I loved science and math and I did not think I needed to write. I refused to do any more than absolutely necessary in English classes. Today I am an inventor and a writer. And I could not be a successful inventor if I could not write. I thought I knew it all, and I was WRONG-WRONG-WRONG.

Don't be too eager to grow up. Most people like to teach children, but many of those same people will not want to teach you if they perceive you as grown up. So accept being a child, take advantage of it to learn as much as possible - about as many subjects as possible. Once you are an adult you will be expected to work, to pay your own way, and you will have much less opportunity to study.

Both boys and girls invent. There is reason to believe that many the earliest inventions were made by women. There is little doubt that the first doctors were women. Early medicines and the methods to make clothing and to color the cloth were probably mostly invented by women. The bra was invented by a woman around the turn of the century. Some very successful inventions have been made by women in the last ten years. Chelsea Lanmon, the youngest female inventor that I am aware of is only nine years old (1997). Two recently deceased female inventors are Heddy Lamarr and Gertrude Belle Elion.  It was my pleasure to have known Elion for five or six years before her death.  She was a really nice lady who had a strong community spirit.  Her loss was especially touching.

Most inventors today are male. At least nine out of ten inventors who receive patents are male. Why do males get more patents than females? I do not know the answer for sure, but I do not think it is because males are more inventive than females.

One reason may be that fewer girls learn about math and science than boys and fewer girls make a real effort to learn about business. But the biggest reason may be that girls are less likely to aggressively defend their rights. It is my goal to see as many females receiving patents as males.

All inventors are faced with a serious problem at some point in selling their invention. The problem is that if you produce a good invention someone is sure to act like a school yard bully and try to steal it from you.

For some reason, being an inventor is like living in the west, when settling an argument often came down to who could draw their gun the fastest.  I and many other inventors are working together to teach those companies who would steal inventor's work to be more honest and responsible.

Starting in 1994 many professional inventors banded together to fight the companies who like to steal inventors work. Today the inventor alliance includes over two dozen Nobel laureates, most of the living National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, and thousands of inventors. Bandit with shifty eyes

We are working to improve the to protect inventors and to help inventors avoid the less honest companies. We are also creating programs to help educate young inventors. Those programs are aimed at teaching our "inventors to be" all the skills they need to start and run a business based on their inventions.

There are two types of inventions that are important. The first is a breakthrough invention. Examples are the transistor, the integrated circuit, the laser, and the pacemaker. Another type of important invention is an improvement such as making something more safe, making it cheaper, or making it faster (less labor is the same as cheaper).

An example of safer is my patents on treadmills. My oldest daughter was hurt on a treadmill in a Sears store. When I looked at how it worked I saw several things that made it unsafe, and it was especially unsafe for children because they do not weigh as much as a grownup. The solutions to those safety problems led to two patents.

If you want to invent, look at what is wrong with things you use now.

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