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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

From my Front Porch

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Oh, yes, I'm the (not-so) great inventor

In the fellowship hall of an area church is a fairly common industrial-size coffee pot, but this one is somewhat unique because hanging from the spout is a device which neatly catches those pesky but inevitable drips. I'm not sure who came up with the idea, but it is a very creative spin on the recycling of a two-liter soda bottle. I have little doubt that, with a patent and the right marketing plan, every school, church and Elks Lodge in the country would be equipped with one.

Just call me Rhonda PoPeil, because my mind is constantly whirling with ideas to make life easier or, at the very least, more interesting. In fact, several of my ideas have become quite successful both commercially and financially. Unfortunately for me, both the success and money belong to someone else.

It seems that if necessity is the mother of invention, then timeliness is the father. The fact is you can come up with the best idea in the world, but without a timely patent it simply doesn't matter.

Not to suggest I'm close to being in the same league as that of scientist, inventor and artist, Leonardo Da Vinci, but a quick read of his biography suggests that at least one of his ideas suffered what could be considered an ill-timed fate. In Da Vinci's papers there are sketches of what is indisputably a vertical flying machine. Unfortunately for Da Vinci, it would be some 400 years after his death before the idea of the helicopter would catch on.

When I was about 12 years old, I had an idea I thought might revolutionize the bicycling industry. I'd never heard of one, but I couldn't imagine anything cooler than a convenient-to-transport or -store, folding bicycle. With just the flip of a lever, a bike could be put away in any size car trunk or the smallest of closets.

Then in 1972 while I was visiting with the family fitness guru, my Uncle Heinz revealed his latest acquisition, a folding bicycle. It was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand someone had beaten me to the punch, but on the other hand, my idea was obviously worthy of a patent and of marketing. Not bad for a 12-year-old kid.

Many years later, history repeated itself when, while I was preparing dinner, it occurred to me that the big crock in my crock pot could serve me better if it were divided and could be used to slowly cook more than one dish at a time. I consulted with several friends, who all agreed they would eagerly stand in line to own such a wonderful thing. Excited by the prospect of having finally come up with an original idea, I contacted an attorney to help with the patent process and even had a potter friend ready to develop a prototype. But as luck would have it, a few weeks later while shopping on a kitchen appliance aisle in the local stuff-mart, I discovered that, as wonderful as my idea was, it was not original. Courtesy of both Rival and Westbend, a plethora of divided crock-pots were available in several convenient sizes, shapes and coordinating colors, all for an unbelievably low price, although ginzu knives were not included.

Over the years, other somewhat interesting ideas have whirled into my head. A couple of the most promising of which are the pillow alarm clock and the for-feet-only tanning bed. The first should pretty much guarantee that the person not sleeping on that particular pillow wouldn't be unnecessarily awakened by an annoying early morning alarm clock, and the second could help end the annual parade of embarrassingly lily-white sandaled tootsies.

Keep in mind, though, that if by chance it takes 400 years for either of these ideas to catch on, you read about them here first.

Barbara Madden is a freelance writer who lives in Willow Springs. She may be reached via her Website at www.barbaramadden.com.