Icons of Innovation: A Journey to Becoming an Inventor

01/12/2016 05:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Over the past two decades, I have thought of myself as a program designer, maker, and informal learning educator. I recently acquired a seemingly strange combination of letters and numbers — US D744,370 S — that allows me to add a meaningful new descriptor to my business card and identity. That number is a patent and that descriptor is Inventor.

A patent, an honor

US D744,370 S is the design patent number that three of my Invent Now, Inc. colleagues and I were awarded by the
. It protects the design of our
, a tessellation of glass hexagons featuring the names and patent numbers of more than 500 of the nation's greatest innovators Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Fittingly, the Gallery of Icons is featured in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which is located at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia (in case you are able to drop by for a
). We submitted the Gallery of Icons design for patents for many reasons, including the following:
  1. We are a non-profit organization that is dedicated to innovation and Intellectual Property, and we walk our talk.
  2. We want to ensure that our creativity and intellectual insights are protected.
  3. It simply makes sense that the infrastructure that honors hundreds of patented inventors also has its own patents.


How our idea and subsequent patent came to life

So, how do you approach creating a reverent, aesthetically pleasing, and scalable infrastructure that honors our nation's greatest innovators? Similar to National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee George de Mestral, whose invention of Velcro® hook and loop fasteners was inspired by burrs stuck to his dog's coat, we turned to nature with our design challenge. When we stumbled upon a paper wasp nest, we knew it was the exact solution for which we were looking.

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The Gallery of Icons, a Monument to Innovation located at the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Va

One of the amazing aspects of the design of a wasp nest is that while it is made of many individual cells, each cell has six walls that are shared with its neighbor cells. The human eye naturally looks at the nest as a whole rather than the individual compartments. In this way, it is much like the individual contributions of innovation that have woven the fabric of our society. Each individual cell — our inventors and their inventions — builds and strengthens the nest — American ingenuity. This similarity, along with the fact that the wasp nest and our inventors embody one of our company beliefs, "the whole is greater than the sum," made it the perfect base for our design.

Greater than the sum

This spirit of emphasis on the whole, particularly through the lens of innovation, is cultivated by Invent Now's President & CEO, Michael J. Oister, who himself holds more than a dozen patents. As a practitioner of entrepreneurial leadership, he understands that patents are the currency of innovation and thereby promotes a culture where risk-taking, prototyping, and iteration are valuable commodities.

When it comes to valuing Intellectual Property, not only does Oister walk his talk, he leads an organization that does so as well. Invent Now, Inc. has trademarks and service marks on a wide variety of our products and services, from program names, to curricula, to marketing and communication taglines. In addition, we have two issued patents and two Gallery of Icons patents pending.

Promote and protect

When I first began working with Invent Now, I was new to the world of invention and Intellectual Property. I did not understand the notion of wanting to protect ideas. I had always been a part of collaborative environments, where ideas were freely exchanged. I quickly learned that these elements are not necessarily mutually exclusive. More importantly, I learned that Intellectual Property is not a way of coveting ideas, but rather, a way of creating and placing stepping stones that lead to greater overall societal contributions.

When I received proof of my stepping stone — the patent approval letter — a quiet voice inside of me said, "I am an Inventor." It is the voice that I long for every child who participates in Invention Playground®, Camp Invention®, and
Invention Project® to hear inside of him/herself. This is not just my personal mission, but a shared mission amongst my colleagues at Invent Now.

Thinking forward

As I begin to co-design our next round of invention-based programming with a patent under my belt, I feel more authentic and energized in writing curriculum that promotes creative and innovative thinking and fosters Intellectual Property Literacy™ and entrepreneurship.

This feeling is both empowering and addictive, as I now realize on a deeper level what it means to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts (as noted in Article I of the United States Constitution). It makes me look forward to my second patent and motivates me to get others thinking about their first.

After years of interviewing and working with inventors, it feels really good to finally say, "I am an Inventor." But it feels even better to say, "And you can be too."