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Inventors Display New Devices

By Lawrence K. Chang

On the weekend of Sept. 18, the Inventors Association of New England held its 15th annual Inventor's Weekend in the Student Center. For the second consecutive year, 40 inventors from all over New England set up public displays of their inventions at MIT.

The inventions on display varied broadly in nature. They included exercise devices like the "Foot-Tule" and the "Curl-Up Bar," outdoor sporting goods like a canoe transporter and a crossbow, children's toys like a plastic cylinder that creates whirlpools, pet supplies like an automated litter box, and household items like a plastic electrical outlet cover.

Additional displays included a tribute to the "Inventor of the Year" and information booths concerning patent laws, product commercialization, and strategic solutions.

The public voted for the best inventions in three categories: overall exhibit, product marketability, and most creative display.

The top overall prize honored Tom McIlhatten of Hudson, Mass., for his "Cleancutter" -- an attachment for insulation-cutting knives which expedites the process of cutting insulation. Second place was awarded to Stacey Crowell for her "Leisure Sport Caddi" and third place went to Matthew Cunningham for his "Car-top Tent."

In the second category, voters were asked to choose the single product that they would buy out of the 40 inventions. The winner in this category was Stephen Chruniak from Newburyport, Mass., for his "Thermo-Thing," a fabric, insulated cooler that attaches to regular automobile or household air conditioners.

James Healy from Westfield, Mass., had the most creative display with his "Scratch Lure," a scaled-down couch arm rest designed for cats to use as scratching posts.

Weekend of advice, networking

Donald Gammon, a former president of the inventors' group, called the weekend a tremendous success. It fulfilled several goals, he said.

The primary purpose of the event was to inform the general public of the way real inventions are developed in the contemporary world of inventing, Gammon said. From the conception of an idea with a potential market to the development of the prototype, obtaining a patent, and marketing a product, Gammon feels the process of invention is not widely understood. The Inventor's Weekend succeeded in introducing this process to the public, he said.

Another goal of the Inventor's Weekend was to "introduce the general public to live inventing," Gammon said. He explained that most people associate inventing with nebulous things, like Thomas Edison and the light bulb. "People don't have a sense of real inventing," he said.

Inventor's Weekend also provided inventors with feedback about their inventions. They could solicit opinions about customer demand and reasonable prices for their product, design improvements, or simply whether their invention was a good. In addition, inventors could meet with potential investors and manufacturers.

The association regularly provides similar opportunities for inventors through its workshops and seminars. It also organizes monthly meetings at MIT to discuss a variety of inventing-related topics. It is currently seeking greater participation by MIT students and considering an intercollegiate inventing contest.