I Once Had A Hey I Invented That Moment
This Was My Biggest "Hey I Invented That!" Moment
Toiling away in that gray, dingy and dusty back room....
So, way back in 1997 (OK, so it's not THAT far back) I was toiling away by day in a dark, dusty, dingy, and dirty back room of a retail store. At that time, I was a soft line processor or something to that effect. Boxes that had been unloaded from trucks that had come from a distribution center were piled up on pallets.
My job was to open the boxes that contained soft lines, (clothing) and I would remove plastic, tissue paper and other packaging materials. Then, I would hang the clothing up on racks. Things that were packaged (like socks and underwear) were sorted into shopping carts so they could be put out into the respective departments.
Sounds easy, and it was. The job gave me a lot of time to "daydream" because of the nature of it. Not saying it was boring, but at times, it was! Sometimes I think when we are in a position like this, daydreaming is a great vehicle that yields creativity, a form of escape and maybe even the solution to a problem. Such was the time when I invented the "Swiffer" sweeper.
Ok, so I didn't really invent it, but something did happen that gave me a similar idea. I was unpacking some clothing one day made from material that felt kind of like paper... it was soft enough, but kind of a strange material. A pair of pants made from this fell out of my hand and ended up on the dirty floor. I picked them up and noticed that it was nearly impossible to get the lint, dirt, and "stuff" that these pants had picked up from that dirty floor OFF of them! I brushed and brushed, but that stubborn dust and dirt did NOT want to come off!
I can remember having the thought, what if a piece of cloth could be invented to CLEAN a floor, something that one could wipe over the floor, and the cloth would attract the dirt and "stuff" like this pair of pants did. Now, I didn't invent the Swiffer Sweeper, but I think I had the basic and very preliminary idea of the "cloth part that picks up dirt" long before there was such a thing as a Swiffer Sweeper.
In 1999, a new invention came out (that I had dreamed up in that dingy back room back in 1997)... ehem... and there it was, big as life. A piece of cloth that could be attached to a sweeper contraption. A piece of cloth that also had fantastic dirt attracting capability!
Geez, I could have been a bazillionaire if only I had patented that thought I had two years earlier. But, my life at the time was focused on getting our two boys through middle school, and then through high school, then college... not on inventing something useful that could have made me a quadrillionaire.... or something like that!
I thought about this the other day when I took the Swiffer Sweeper out of the closet and used it on these dark color wood laminate floors that get impossibly dirty with all of this cat hair, and I remembered that day when I was working in that dingy back room. So that's where inventions come from then! From those "little people" toiling away in dusty, dirty rooms and bored out of their minds with the work.
This Cloth Really DOES Pick Up Dirt!
It Isn't Even That Hard To Get Something Patented!
I looked into getting a patent, just in case I ever have another "brainstorm" and "invent" something else useful. I'm not missing that boat again! Uh uh... not going to be at the airport next time when my "ship" comes in. Nope!
I found out that it doesn't seem to be that difficult to get a product patent when you have an idea for a possibly useful product. When a patent here in the United States is obtained for any invention, it gives the property right to the inventor for their idea or invention. Simple enough it seems. Patents are issued by the U.S. Patent And Trademark Office. They give the inventor the right to their idea, excluding others from using that idea to make the product. To get a patent requires one to submit an application and have it filed in the patent office.
I also learned that there are basically three kinds of patents (at least in the United States), a "Utility" patent, a "Design" patent and a "Plant" patent. Utility patents are the ones issued the most often. They go to anyone who invents or ultimately discovers a new and useful process or product, or an idea for an item that ends up being manufactured, or a way to improve an existing product.
A design patent on the other hand goes to someone that invents a new and original design for something that ends up being manufactured. It's similar to the utility patent, but is more applied to the design idea of an article.
A plant patent is for a plant that is discovered that turns out to be a brand new and distinctly different "species" of plants (as in plant bulbs that are created by gardeners). When they cross-pollinate some plants with others, sometimes an entirely new plant is discovered. I never even realized before that there are these three different types of patents.
My Husband Also Claims To Have Had An "I Invented That!" Moment...
My husband also claims that he had an "I invented that!" moment. His idea happened to be the McDonald's Drive thru window. He was working at a McDonald's when he was just 15 years old... I did the math, it was in 1972. He has always been a very hard worker, always receiving promotions wherever he was employed, and this was no different. He tells stories of opening up the store in the morning, then the night manager would ask when it was almost closing time "what time did you start work anyway?"
When my husband TOLD the manager he had opened that day, and here it was almost closing time, he would be told to go home! He ultimately became the "right hand" of the owner of that McDonald's, working hard and coming up with some great ways to improve processes to make things easier. The owner of that restaurant was in tears when my husband left. It seems that great workers like he was at that time are very hard to come by.
I remembered him telling me how he had a thought one day that there should be some kind of "drive up" window so customers could get their food and be on their way without having to go inside to get it. Brilliant idea, right? He had this idea in 1972, and the very first McDonald's restaurant that had a "Drive-thru" window opened that drive thru window in 1975. January 24, 1975, the first McDonald's drive thru opened at a McDonald's in Sierra Vista, AZ.
And this is a picture of that very drive thru today... it is now boarded up, and from what I read, this McDonald's is going to be leveled to make a parking lot for a brand NEW McDonald's.
The First McDonald's "Drive thru" in Sierra Vista, Arizona
My Earliest "I Invented That" Moment!
I did have another idea for an invention when our boys were just infants and we were living in Hawaii. Back in those days, the mid 1980s, infant car seats were just beginning to catch on as a great safety device to have in cars. Of course, we had two of them in our car. Back in those days, there were metal bars on the sides of the car seats. When I would go to put the bar down, I would practically burn myself on that hot metal. Car seats back then were not the ultra cushy and padded contraptions that they are today. They were still in the infancy stage.
I thought to myself, if I practically burned myself on these bars, the boys could burn their delicate skin as well! That's when "Mama bear" came out! I hand-made covers for those bars, made out of soft fleece material with velcro, so they could be taken off and washed, and I covered up those bars! I just used plain colored (brightly colored!) fleece material at the time.
Today, there are car seat strap covers for infant car seats. I'm not exactly saying "I invented those".... but I DID invent something very close! Necessity was the mother of invention in my case, and we used those covers until the boys grew out of the car seats and we replaced them with toddler booster car seats.
Now there are strap covers available in every design and style imaginable, all to make our cherished little ones more comfortable. Because you know how us "Mama bears" are! Ferocious!
Car Seat Strap Covers ~ I Kinda Sorta Invented Something Like These!
If You Ever Come Up With A Great Invention..
I guess I'm going to have to share what I learned about patents with my husband, in case either of us ever "invents" something again that we never got credit for. I'm not missing that boat again!
And if any of you are toiling away in virtual anonymity, or creating something out of necessity to protect your little ones, thinking and creatively coming up with new and great ideas, and you decide to patent one of them... just remember where you got the idea to patent it... from someone toiling away over this laptop keyboard!