Famous inventors of fiction and reality. Top: Bruce Wayne and Wayne Szalinsky. Bottom: Thomas Edison and who
knows? It could be you. Just don’t expect to retire to a life of luxury after filing a single patent.
Illustration by Dustin Hostetler
it covers. This is before you’ve gone through the
expense of trying to license your patent to someone (before you make any money, you’ll have to
spend a lot letting interested parties know about
the idea). Alternatively, you can wait until someone
infringes your patent and then try to recover monies from their error. This is even more expensive.
I rarely recommend this process to any individual
inventor. The likelihood of a yacht retirement outcome is similar to the likelihood that you look like
Patents and secrecy don’t really serve the individual anymore. Unfortunately, they have become
trading cards in a grand corporate shell game. I’d
stand by the statement that the most likely road
to the tinkering nirvana is to become known for
what you do. That means doing it well and telling
people about it, even telling them how to do it.
The reality is that the invention or the idea is
a tiny fraction of the work to be done, and in all
probability other people have already had the idea
or patented the same thing. The real tradeable
value is your capacity to implement the idea. I’ve
hired people because they’ve built cool projects on
instructables.com that demonstrated their skill, and
I’ve seen people turn their kit-building websites into
profitable small businesses. It all started with pretty
much giving a few of their inventions away — loss
leaders to support a lifetime of tinkering.
To read Tim O’Reilly’s essay “Piracy is Progressive
Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of
Online Distribution,” go to makezine.com/go/piracy.
Saul Griffith thinks about open source hardware while working
with the power nerds at Squid Labs ( squid-labs.com).