I recently watched an episode of ABC's latest foray into reality television: "American Inventor". Similar to "American Idol" (no surprise given that it, like Idol, was created by Simon Cowell), average people compete while being evaluated by a panel of expert judges. In the case of "American Inventor," inventors seek to move on each week on the strength of their invention in hopes of netting the big prize, $1 million. As I watched as each new invention was unveiled, I became increasingly uneasy as I recalled my own brilliant ideas from the past, each and every one of which was copied and marketed by someone else.
The mystique of inventions has been with us since Adam invented the automatic apple peeler for Eve. Inarguably, there are thousands of really bad ideas for every good one. I, however, believe my three best ideas were all golden. Unfortunately, others agreed, and have since produced and sold them, without giving me a penny in royalties. Indeed, it pays to patent.
When I was 10, I dreamed up my first mainstream invention, one that would forever alleviate dehydration on a global scale. That idea was powdered water. That’s right, it's compact, non-toxic and has a shelf-life of millions of years. I hadn't yet gotten around to testing my concept in the lab and developing a formula when I happened to see comedian Stephen Wright at the Paramount in Seattle. Halfway through his act, Wright floored me with the following statement: "The other day I invented powdered water, but I don't know what to add to it". I was stunned and disappointed, but I realized my invention was indeed flawed, and shelved the idea by the time Wright started talking about the convenience store that was open 24 hours, but not in a row.
At the tender age of 14, I came up with my next blockbuster invention: a solar-powered flashlight. Again, this was a culture-altering idea that would allow third-world countries the ability to work at night without the need of electricity, batteries or fossil fuels. Unfortunately, my idea was lifted by someone else and is now widely available online.
My last great invention came to me in a dream when I was 16. As a typical male teenager, I was into military technology and toys. I'd always admired helicopters, but felt they were far too unsafe for everyday use. Unlike a plane that can glide without power, a helicopter becomes a three-ton falling rock. That’s when it hit me, an ejection seat for helicopters! It was perfect—all the benefits of helicopter range and performance, without the certain death! Leave it to the Russians to figure it out and get it to market first.
So I'm back to the drawing board. That's it: a portable drawing board for inventors! I'm going to get it patented now.