Monday, March 12, 2012

"Get to Know Me!" Monday Part IV - "So, you do what, exactly?"

It's been more than a month since I wrote up one of these posts that helps you get to know me, your humble and dynamic blogger.  So far, most of these ice-breaker posts have had to do with my pop-culture preferences... but know I'm going to actually describe my profession.  Take a shot of espresso right now to remain awake.

As I mentioned when I started this blog, and then again when I took up blogging again late last year, I'm a patent attorney.  "What's that?" you ask?  Well, as some of you may or may not know... the United States is one of the many, many countries that awards patents for technological innovations that are sufficiently new, and give the inventor (or, more likely, the inventor's employee), the right to exclude others from making or using the invention for a period of about 17 years (give or take a year or two depending on how long the patent application was pending).

Wow, that's a lot of words, and I didn't really tell you anything... now did I?  Basically, anything that is useful, new, and "non-obvious" (a fancy patent law term for "not just a minor, inconsequential change") can be patented.  There has actually been a lot of press in the last few years about patents, and most of it has been negative (if you've heard the term "patent troll," then you've heard some of that negative press).  Despite all the bad press, I firmly believe that a good, strong patent system is crucial for the future financial success of the United States, and I'll happily debate any of you in the comments if you'd like to argue otherwise.

But anyway, that's not really what I wanted to talk about now.  Basically, I wanted to show you a few of the patent applications that I've actually worked on that I think are kind of cool, and that cover actual products that you can go to the store and buy (or that you can buy online).  None of these patents are particularly earth shattering, and none of them will cure cancer or anything like that.  They are just kind of interesting little inventions that have actually been put into practice (you'd be surprised... but the ideas behind most patents don't end up in a product at all).  So, here we go, a small sampling of products that I wrote the patent application for (or at least one of the patent applications):

1. The Trick Percursion "Throw Off"

A "throw off," also referred to as a strainer or snare strainer, is the little contraption on the side of a snare drum that lets you move the snares (wires) from the "off" position (where they are not touching the drum and are not vibrated when the drum is struck) and the "on" position (where the snares are touching the bottom of the drum, or are very close to the drum, and are vibrated when the drum is struck).  Prior to the Trick invention, the throw off could generally only be "on" or "off."  There was no in between.  The Trick throw off allows for a drummer to select where the snares are set so that they could be somewhere between fully off or fully on.  As it was described to me, it allowed the drummer to select a kind of "washy" intermediate sound that was different from either the previous "off" or "on" sounds.  I have no idea if this product has been commercially successful, but I still think it is pretty cool.


2. ITW E-Z Anchor "Twist-N-Lock" Wall Anchor

 Have you ever had to hang something on your wall that was kind of heavy, and you ended up tearing a hole in your drywall?  Well, you should have used a wall anchor.  And more specifically, you should have used the "Twist-N-Lock" drywall anchor from ITW Buildex (I had nothing to do with the name).  This drywall anchor can self-drill into your drywall and then you screw another screw into a bore within the anchor that separates a couple legs of the anchor to bite into the drywall.  You can then hang a load of up to about 50 pounds onto that screw.  These work really slick (I actually use them a lot at home), and for most things that you need to hang, these let you hang them wherever you want, rather than having to hang your item at a wall stud.  (Speaking of wall studs, I also wrote the patent application for a similar ITW wall anchor, the "Stud Solver" that lets you put your anchor anywhere, including into a wood stud).

3. Wii Racing Wheel with Motion Plus Compatability

If you've ever played the Nintendo Wii, you've probably at least heard of Mario Kart.  You might have also heard of the MotionPlus accessory for the Nintendo Wii controller (or WiiMote), which is a device that you can attach to the WiiMote to increase its motion sensitivity and accuracy.  The Wii Racing Wheel that I worked on included a little pocket at the back of the wheel that you could plug the MotionPlus accessory into so that you could use this Racing Wheel for any driving games that supported MotionPlus (which right now, there aren't any, so this isn't really a very useful invention... but maybe there will be a MotionPlus driving game some day).

My point is, sometimes patent attorneys get to work on something that you may have actually heard of.  Sure, most of it is as boring as watching glue dry... but sometimes you get to work on something kind of interesting (where "kind of interesting" is a very relative term).  Anyway, enjoy the rest of your Monday everybody!

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