Inventors Suing Invent Help Want to Know Why George Foreman Represents the Company

Etta Calhoun of Spring, Texas is a lovely, gracious, soft-spoken woman who as a devout Christian believes in the word of God and its power. She has lived her life by Biblical principles; they give her comfort and hope. One day she came up with an idea: Why not share God’s words with more people in a way she thought had never been done before: Bible verses on bed sheets?
“God gave me this idea for this design,” says the former patient educator at a local medical center. “If someone is sick, the word of God will be on the bedding. When they go to bed at night the first thing they’ll see is his Word. Because I was going to have the comforter, the sheets and the pillow slips. Then they would get in the bed and wrap up in the Word of God.”
Her initial enthusiasm hit the pause button, though. How would she go about getting a patent? How do inventors get their ideas to someone who’ll build a prototype, let alone to the market to sell them?
But then a path was cleared for her. There was a man on TV, a man of faith, talking to her about Invent Help. Here was a Pennsylvania-based company operating for 30 years that had helped thousands of inventors turn their ideas into profitable reality.

There, standing before her, was George Foreman, the two-time heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist who’d gone on to George Foreman’s Grill renown and was now reaching out to help others just as he’d been helped to fame and fortune.
And above all, George Foreman was an ordained Christian minister. Who better to believe in? “I really trusted him. I really believed that it was on the up-and-up because his face was on it.”
A friend of hers had just invested in Invent Help, also drawn in by the George Foreman spots. So in 2012 Calhoun called Invent Help and was assured she had a winning idea in “The Word of God Bedding.” She really liked the person she talked with; she was so enthusiastic. “And she was a Christian too,” she says. They did tweak her idea a bit – suggesting it be coupled with an audio recorder playing Bible verses attached to the pillowcase – and she thought that just made it better. After all they were the professionals.

Calhoun didn’t see any red flags and over the next six or seven months she had meeting after meeting in various Invent Help offices in Pear land and The Woodlands, paying the company a $200 down payment to get the $780 “Basic Information Package Report” started. “They said there was no other idea like it. There were blankets and shawls but no bedding so we were OK to go.”
She hesitated, not wanting to rush in, but then she remembered George Foreman. Her family thought it was a good idea. When she couldn’t possibly cover the $9,950 they wanted to proceed for the next step, InventHelp helpfully directed her to Universal Payment Corporation, which they said was an independent loan company – although how independent it actually is part of what plaintiffs hope to ascertain in a lawsuit.
Yes, no happy ending here. There is a lawsuit and Etta Calhoun’s name is on it, the lead name, in fact, on a class action lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania. There is another class action lawsuit in New York state. The defendants in both cases are Invent Help and associated companies in which Calhoun and others allege that Invent Help’s operation is a scam, that Invent Help and its associated companies prey upon low income people, often minorities, and either do nothing or deliver subpar work.

They allege violation of the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, violation of the states’ unfair trade practices and the Consumer Protection Act, as well as fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract. And that actually even the few people who bring their inventions to market with the help of Invent Help and its parent company Invention Submission Corporation (which offices at the same Ninth Street address in Pittsburgh as Invent Help) often end up spending more with these companies than they will ever make on their inventions. Robert J. Susa, the president of these companies, is also a named defendant.

In Calhoun’s case, InventHelp had to change up her idea because, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Julie Pechersky Plitt of the New York City-based Oxman Law Group, you can’t patent words. And actually there are already products on the market similar to what Calhoun was suggesting.
Invent Help denies all allegations and has tried unsuccessfully to have both lawsuits thrown out of court, insisting in one case that the plaintiffs were clients of another company, not Invent Help. George Foreman is not named as a defendant, although attorney Plitt says he may be added later.
We were unable to reach Foreman who has a 45-acre property in Huffman, in northeast Harris County and a ranch in Marshall, so it’s unclear how much of the actual inner workings of Invent Help he knows about as a paid spokesman for the business.
We did talk with his son George Foreman IV who said Invent Help was a great company and expressed surprise at our call. He said they’d never heard of any lawsuit against Invent Help. He said he’d see if his father would talk to us, but that never happened and instead in a subsequent call, Foreman IV politely referred us back to Invent Help.
The lawsuits each ask for a jury trial, $36 million in relief and punitive damages and another $72 million in compensatory damages. While Plitt wouldn’t say how many clients she has signed up so far, she did say: “We expect hundreds, probably thousands.”
Asked if she believed more than a few clients – who paid anywhere from $700 to $30,000 for Invent Help’s assistance – bought into Invent Help because of Foreman’s representation, Plitt says “More than several. I would say the vast majority of them.
“They look at him as a successful person. Our investigation has uncovered that Invent Help targets a lot of its advertising to communities with a high population of African-Americans. That is one of the reasons why they used George Foreman because he appeals to that community and he’s viewed as a person who came up with an idea and made it with his idea,” Plitt says. “These people are under the impression in fact, that he used Invent Help to make it big with his idea. (Many think he invented the George Foreman grill, she says. He did not. But he made millions of dollars promoting it.)
No matter that George Foreman has a good reputation, Plitt insists: “The company is totally a scam and he’s the front man for the scam. This is a real genuine fraud where people who are well meaning and good people are being completely defrauded.”

Matching a problem with a solution

In 2020, Industry Professor Tero Joronen was presented with Tampere University’s Inventor of the Year Award. Joronen has always wanted to look at the world with fresh eyes. His inquiring mind has resulted in a number of patents – last year alone, Joronen invented or co-invented ten inventions. Joronen has come up with most of his inventions while working in industry, Valmet to be specific, and the rest in academia.
“The first step is to identify a problem and describe it in clear and simple terms. A complex problem requires a complex solution,” Joronen points out.
Joronen is naturally curious and more or less constantly looking for ways to improve things. While most of his inventions are in the field of heavy industry, inventing is also a hobby for Joronen. His home is full of small labour-saving innovations.
“The joy of discovery fuels my passion for inventing. I get a kick out of creating something new. And I have always had a lively imagination,” he muses.

Despite Plitt’s vehement characterization of Invent Help as a bad actor, a look at Invent Help’s website would lead anyone to believe that a lot of very happy people have used its
services. Plitt claims they have evidence that most of the positive testimonials are fake or that they are written by customers who’ve just been accepted by Invent Help and that two years down the road when little to nothing has happened, it is a different story.
Still, Invent Help – with its ubiquitous logo and commercials showing a cave man chiseling a stone wheel – has been in business 34 years and is the organizer of INPEX (Invention and New Product Exposition) said to be the largest invention trade show in the United States. The Better Business Bureau gives Invent Help an A+ rating. Universal Payment Corporation has the same highest rating. (Although a 2015 investigation by CNN Money showed “more than 100 businesses that had ratings of A- or higher despite having serious actions taken against them by government regulators in the past year.”) According to Plitt, Invent Help has been fined by the Federal Trade Commission before, but says it falls upon the attorneys general of the individual states to enforce the laws governing businesses like this and often, no matter how strong the laws, that doesn’t happen.
Elsewhere on the internet there are more than a few complaints about InventHelp all pretty much saying the same thing – they took a lot of my money and didn’t do anything for me.
Getting comment from Invent Help or its attorneys was an endeavor that took several days. While David J. Garraux said to be the attorney of record never got back to us, after several tries on our part, Lark Blasi, compliance manager with Invent Help did respond. She reached us by email, saying that the original New York lawsuit was filed in the name of two people who never did business with Invent Help and that the company that did work with these clients – Invents Company – is in no way related to Invent Help.
“We are aware that a law firm in New York State has filed a lawsuit against Invent Help. The lawsuit was first filed several months ago on behalf of two individuals with whom Invent Help has never had any contract or business relationship. Instead, the two individuals claim to have entered into contracts with a competitor of Invent Help’s known as Invents Company.
“Although this case is styled as a class action, the 300 paragraph Amended Complaint [filed in June 2018] is premised on the empty conspiracy theory that Invent Help and its competitor, Invents Company, are, somehow, one and the same. The fact that Plaintiffs purport to demand tens of millions of dollars from Invent Help does nothing to lend more credence to their case,” Blasi wrote.
Asked about this, Plitt responded by email that “Etta Calhoun & Sherry Porter, Named Plaintiffs in the Pittsburgh & NY lawsuits, respectively, have paid and have contracts with Invent Help, NOT Invents.”
Plitt also emailed that “We have uncovered substantial evidence that these 2 companies (Invent Help & Invents) are linked. We are more than happy to produce the results of our investigations (which are substantial) if and when Invent Help requests such information in the context of discovery. For now, what I can tell you is that I have many many many clients who called the 1-800 Invent Help #, and were subsequently contacted by Invents Company in response to those calls.”
According to the lawsuit: “Defendants’ multi-tiered conspiracy preys upon aspiring inventors’ high hopes and dreams. It is cleverly constructed to avoid liability and monetary judgment by employing an intricate web of seemingly independent entities – invention promotion companies, private money lenders, patent attorneys, licensing and distribution companies, and manufacturing companies – that act in concert to defraud Class Plaintiffs.”

"Whilst InventHelp, Universal Payment Corporation, Intromark Inc., and the other named Defendants hold themselves out to be independent companies, they are one and the same, and are parts of an integrated fraudulent enterprise."

And elsewhere: “Whilst Invent Help, Universal Payment Corporation, Intro mark Inc., and the other named Defendants hold themselves out to be independent companies, they are one and the same, and are parts of an integrated fraudulent enterprise. The schemes, trickery, and fraud set forth herein are universal and indistinguishable, notwithstanding the titles of the entities with which Class Plaintiffs believe they are dealing.”
Blasi concedes that an amended complaint did add an individual “who – unlike the original Plaintiffs – claims to have actually signed a contract for services with Invent Help.” She also said that Invent Help stands by its efforts on behalf of all its clients.
She goes on to say: “While we are sure you understand that we cannot provide you with a paragraph-by-paragraph assessment of the pending Pennsylvania litigation, the complaint is stuffed with inaccuracies and will be dealt with by our counsel in due course. Plaintiffs have been working overtime to recruit new litigants and to create a case where none exists; we’ll respond appropriately and will work through the judicial process to expose these copycat allegations for what they are; empty and frivolous.”
Plitt for her part says “We’ve had three hearings in New York in which Invent Help tried unsuccessfully to have the case thrown out.” At Invent help’s request the case has been moved to federal court which they have a right to do, she says.
That federal judge, Plitt says, has already said he’s not dismissing the case and granted Plitt’s request to add more claims against Invent Help and the other defendants.

Speaking with Julie Zanotti, a hairdresser living in Putnam Valley New York, northeast of New York City, it’s hard to imagine her ever being taken advantage of when she talks in her exuberant, full-speed-ahead style.
Zanotti came up with the idea of inventing a tool that would make her job easier and easier for others: a hair comb that would have a built in pump chamber allowing gel to be distributed evenly through the teeth of the comb. She named it “The Distributor” or “Liqui Comb.”
She and Ronese Brooks (a Yonkers woman who came up with the idea for eyeglasses with detachable and adjustable arms – unfortunately not a new idea and similar products are already on the market) are the named plaintiffs in the New York case. Reached at home, Zanotti was more than willing to discuss her case and how it moved to the legal arena.
She too was attracted to the image of George Foreman on TV. “With this famous person on TV, it has to be legitimate.” She decided to give InventHelp a call, was redirected to Invents Company and made an appointment to come in to their Iselin, New Jersey office. When she explained her idea the reaction from the Invents representative she says was: “Oh my God, wow. This is amazing.” She was told it “presented an excellent opportunity for profit.”
According to the lawsuit, Invents representative, Pamela Mitchell, told Zanotti that Invents had contacts at several companies including the well-known brand ‘Paul Mitchell Hair Products’ who would be very interested in her idea.
Actually, however, as the lawsuit states, Zanotti’s idea was not novel or otherwise not available to the public. Several companies already manufacture and sell similar products, it states.
Invents charged Zanotti $700 to run “a product profile patent search” and set her up with a client portal to allow her to check in on the progress of her invention. “They were supposed to give me a commercial.” After a while she called the main office in Manhattan and asked the receptionist if she could see her commercial. “Oh, you can’t see that,” she says she was told. “That’s only shown to a certain marketing area somewhere in California.”
“So then I got to the point ‘Where’s my prototype?’ They were supposed to make me a prototype like it says right in the brochure.” She was told the company itself did not do that. They told her they would “partner” with her for $7,950. When she said she didn’t have that kind of money, they directed her to Innovations Credit Corporation, a private loan company that they told her “only lends money to inventors.” (It’s also a defendant in the lawsuit.)
Zanotti “expressed concern that she may not qualify for the loan and that she could not afford high loan payments,” the lawsuit says. The Invents person told her that there was no credit check and that everybody qualifies for their loans, according to the lawsuit. She was told in conversation that the loan would be interest-free, she says.

The Invents person told her that there was no credit check and that everybody qualifies for their loans, according to the lawsuit.

On May 5, 2014 she took out a loan that she paid off in two years. Contrary to the previous assurances, it had an interest rate of 18 percent. As she was finishing the payments she asked where her manufacturer was and was referred to Zambro Manufacturing. “They wanted $3,000 to start helping me find a company to manufacture my tool.” She charged the payment although the charge on her card came back “Global Express Manufacturing.” She says she threatened to sue when she realized Zambro wasn’t a manufacturing firm itself and they gave her $2,500 of her $3,000 back. She did get a virtual model of her tool, which she figures is worth $500.
Despite all this, she was still game to see her invention become reality. In May 2015, she was referred to and engaged a Florida attorney Ashkan Najafi so that she could get a patent for her invention. She signed on with him for $4,490 plus an additional $950-$1,500 per response for each time the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected her patent.
The lawsuit says Najafi would have known that Zanotti’s invention was not suitable for a patent and that hundreds of Invents and/or Invent Help clients did not get patents and had complained that Invents and InventHelp were frauds. Najafi is also a named defendant in the suit.
By this time, she was out about $10,000 total. She went to small claims court in Manhattan (which she says has a limit of $5,000) and won a judgment for $5,000 in November 2016. But she could never get them to pay her the money despite repeated phone calls.
Completely randomly Julie Plitt happened to come into Zanotti’s salon to get her hair done. Plitt mentioned that she was a lawyer and Zanotti poured out her story. “How she first started describing the case to me was she said: ‘Have you ever heard of George Foreman, those George Foreman commercials?’ Plitt says. Plitt returned later and asked Zanotti to come to her law office, that her boss wanted to talk to her.
Zanotti still sees the ads all the time on local news and still doesn’t understand why Foreman represents InventHelp. “He’s famous. He’s somebody that people look up to. He’s a famous person so why would somebody in his situation represent an illegitimate company?
Zanotti says she left a message on George Foreman’s Facebook page asking him why. “He never responded. He’s likable; he’s personable. Somebody should ask him why he’s representing this company. I feel he’s partially responsible.
“I want to put these people out of business. I want them to stop doing what they’re doing.”

Tero Joronen agrees. He says that inventing is 10% brainstorming and 90% experimentation, the application of knowledge and hard work.
“Creativity is often associated with artistic occupations, but I find that pursuing a career in engineering also requires a great deal of creativity. Creativity is about rethinking the basics of engineering sciences to create something new,” Joronen says.

According to the class action lawsuits, the Invent Help operation goes like this: After the initial visit and encouragement by staffers, InventHelp moves into high-pressure tactics such as “today is the very last day of a special or promotion that will save consumers of hundred or thousands of dollars.” There reportedly is no such special deal.
They are told they must sign immediately before they leave the office, according to the lawsuit. Customers aren’t given time to actually review the lengthy complicated contracts.
“Class Plaintiffs then agree to pay the steep initial fees out of pocket (often selling personal property, remortgaging their homes or borrowing from family members) or to loan the money from Defendant Universal Payment Corporation. In the meantime, Defendant s make off with Class Plaintiffs’ money and do little to nothing to fulfill their end of the bargain, stringing Class Plaintiff s along with false promises and boilerplate “analyses” in order to extract more money from them for additional services (which they do not and never intend to provide), and then disappearing and dodging calls as soon as Defendant s have all the money in hand,” the lawsuit charges.

Then later, “after months or years of silence, Defendants reappear to Class Plaintiffs, sometimes in the guise of distribution marketing or manufacturing companies, and other times as representatives of lnventHelp or Intromark Incorporated, Plaintiffs’ “licensing agents,” telling Class Plaintiffs that they’ve discovered Class Plaintiffs’ inventions, that they have purchase orders, licensing agreements, and/or retail distributors at the ready, and that they just need an additional $5000-$10,000 in order to make those final arrangements. After scamming more money from Plaintiffs, they disappear without a trace.”
“Defendants actions are particularly egregious because many of their customers are of modest means,” the lawsuit says. According to the lawsuit, although the defendants say there is “no risk” if clients can no longer make payment, saying that “the contracts will simply expire with no further performance on either end.” Except that if that happens, the lawsuit says, “Defendants dog Class Plaintiffs, threaten to ‘destroy’ Plaintiff’s credit and threaten to put liens on their homes and other personal property.”
When Calhoun first started coming in to the InventHelp offices – Plitt says they have a habit of renting, not owning buildings and moving the employees around from one to another – she had to drive all the way from Spring north of Houston to Pearland south of Houston where she met with a Renee Hopes.
When she signed her initial contract with InventHelp one of the company’s disclosures stated, “The total number of customers who have contracted with InventHelp in the past 5 years is 8,095 …The total number of clients known to have received more money than they paid InventHelp for submission services as a direct result of these services is 38.”
However, the lawsuit points out, another “Affirmative Disclosure Statement” signed by Calhoun on that very same day, contradicts this, saying: “The total number of customers who have contracted with the invention developer since 1985 is 53,037. The total number of customers known to have received by virtue of this invention developer’s performance, an amount of money in excess of the amount paid by the customer to this invention developer is 0.”
Calhoun repeatedly declined to commit to the $9,950 contract and InventHelp kept calling her. Then she was called to The Woodlands office, somewhat closer to her home. There Calhoun asked a representative named “Heather” if she really thought she had a good idea and Heather assured her that if she was out shopping, she’d certainly buy this product.
But when she went back later, Heather was no longer there and it was back to Renee in Pearland. Then Renee was fired, she was told and suddenly her visits were back with the reappeared Heather in The Woodlands.
“Then Heather decided to quit to go to school to be a lawyer,” Calhoun says but she trusted her so much that she called her cell phone after she was gone to again ask if Heather really thought she had a good idea. Heather said she did.

This back and forth went on for six or seven months till Calhoun signed the contract and ended up putting $500 down which she got from her daughter. “It was either her income tax check or her 401K.” Calhoun’s family had bought into her dream and fully supported her.
InventHelp directed her to Universal Payment (its online presence shows it is a Pittsburgh company with only a P.O. Box for its address) where she took out the $9,950 loan. InventHelp then gave her a phone number and a reference number to see how her project was going. As part of the agreement, if her invention ever began making money, InventHelp would receive 20-30 percent of the profits, she says. Thomas Frost, the lawyer who drew up the patentability search and option – who she was told was independent – actually “receives all or a substantial percentage of his business from Defendants, and is not independent or objective,” the lawsuit states. He is a defendant as well.
In 2014, Calhoun received a DVD and the disappointment hit hard. “It wasn’t attractive. It was like they just threw something together,” she says now. She called InventHelp and was told her idea “was purposefully presented in this way because otherwise, ‘someone could steal your idea,’” the lawsuit states.
Shortly after that she went to dinner with a friend whose husband is a lawyer. Hearing her story and that she was paying $281 a month to repay the loan for the money it cost her at InventHelp he told her “Don’t pay out any more. Don’t waste your money,” she says. Universal was still calling for loan payments so she tried to send at least $20 a month to keep her credit rating from being destroyed.
What had been supposed to happen next was InventHelp would contact different companies and tell them about her invention idea. She didn’t think much of the companies they were selecting and wondered why they weren’t trying something like Christian bookstores. Her friend saw a story in a newspaper about attorney Julie Plitt and that’s when Calhoun contacted her.

Asked if Invent Help was prospering, Plitt said, “Absolutely it’s doing well. Ridiculously well. Think about it. Every single person they sign up gives them $10,000 minimum and they sign up thousands of people.”
Except, perhaps not as much as previously thought, or perhaps there’s just new strategies going into effect. Julie Zanotti had sent another letter to Invents Company at its Manhattan address, trying to collect on the judgment she won. It came back to her, marked return to sender. It said the office was no longer there. “No one to sign.” Last Thursday she called the one phone number she had for the company and asked the receptionist about how she could reach the Manhattan office. “She told me that the Manhattan office is no longer open.”
Disguising her voice, she pretended to be a new potential customer interested in signing up with them and was told “Sorry I can’t help you.” They weren’t taking on anyone new.

In a 2017 article in the Albany Student Press George Foreman was quoted as saying: “So many people were bugging me about their new inventions so I partnered up with invent help and help that company help clients develop their inventions make them pretty and present them to companies. I’m happy about that.”
Now, his son George IV, says his father got into his arrangement because he knew he could help people.
“Seeing George transition from a pro athlete to an entrepreneur was really inspirational to a lot of people because it showed them they can re-invent themselves. Whatever their career, if they have a dream and they pursue it and they do all the stuff that’s necessary to become successful then they can achieve.
And according to George IV (and even after we sent him copies of the two lawsuits), “At InventHelp we have seen countless cases of exactly that. People who had nothing but a dream but found a team and people who had the resources to help them be successful. And there are countless examples of those success stories.”
To date, Etta Calhoun can’t count herself among those happy throngs. The 64-year-old who easily looks a couple decades younger than her age, says her four grown children and her husband all support her. She retired to help look after a grandbaby; her husband is a retired limousine driver and the extra money from an invention wouldn’t be a bad addition to their lives.
“But if I don’t get a dime out of it, I just want them stopped,” Calhoun says. “They tell you that you come in and you give them your idea. And they go with it from there and they’ll do all that work for you,” she says. “They would have it made and then you would give them 20 or 30 percent of everything but you wouldn’t have to do any of the work. “
“When I went in the first time, she had pictures of people with these designs. Some of them had been on infomercials. Which encourages you, you know.”
The last time she called in to check on her idea’s progress was around January of 2018. If anything had even remotely possibly been going to happen; the non-payment of her loan had canceled that out.
Etta Calhoun still believes in her design. Still believes it would help people. She still believes in God. She really doesn’t believe in InventHelp. And it’s safe to say, she doesn’t believe in George Foreman much anymore either.

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Dream to reality: inventions come about through hard work and applied scientific knowledge

From dream to reality: inventions come about through hard work and applied scientific knowledge

Curiosity and the ability to look at the world from fresh perspectives are a driving force for innovation and discovery. Three inventors working at Tampere University share the stories behind their inventions.
For most of us, a tattered plastic bag is ugly and worthless, but inventors see the world differently. A scrap of plastic attached to the door of a woodshed and swinging in the wind is an important indicator for Ilmari Tamminen.
“It shows me that the air is moving,” Tamminen says.
Tamminen studies staining and imaging techniques in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology at Tampere University. In lay terminology, his work entails dying cells and tissues so that their internal structures can be visualized using biomedical imaging.
“To put in another way, I am trying to figure out how to tap into the full potential of run-of-the-mill X-ray machines,” Tamminen describes.
Tamminen’s scientific creativity comes to life in a laboratory, but he is also excited about his homemade inventions. The family heats their home with wood and, since wood must be properly seasoned for it to burn well, Tamminen came up with an ingenious workaround to accelerate the drying process.
“I switched the hinges to the other side and wedged the door open at a specific angle. Now the door catches the wind blowing from a clearing and speeds up drying.”
The ingenuity of this invention lies in the simplicity of the idea. The way inventors approach the world around them is what sets them apart from the rest of us: when they see problems, their mind begins to see solutions.
“The key is having plenty of ideas but not falling in love with any of them. Ideas must be coolly assessed to determine what works and what does not. It is important to write down one’s thoughts and carry out bold experiments, because few of us will hit the jackpot right away, at least when working on large-scale projects,” Tamminen says.

An invention can make our everyday life easier, like a dish drying cabinet, or change the world, like penicillin. Still, an invention is always something that is new to the general public.

Matching a problem with a solution

In 2020, Industry Professor Tero Joronen was presented with Tampere University’s Inventor of the Year Award. Joronen has always wanted to look at the world with fresh eyes. His inquiring mind has resulted in a number of patents – last year alone, Joronen invented or co-invented ten inventions. Joronen has come up with most of his inventions while working in industry, Valmet to be specific, and the rest in academia.
“The first step is to identify a problem and describe it in clear and simple terms. A complex problem requires a complex solution,” Joronen points out.
Joronen is naturally curious and more or less constantly looking for ways to improve things. While most of his inventions are in the field of heavy industry, inventing is also a hobby for Joronen. His home is full of small labour-saving innovations.
“The joy of discovery fuels my passion for inventing. I get a kick out of creating something new. And I have always had a lively imagination,” he muses.

Every other application results in a patent

In total, 1,685 patent applications were submitted in Finland in 2020, the largest number in the past five years. The vast majority of patent applications are filed by large industrial companies, such as Valmet where Joronen works.
There are two reasons: these companies make R&D a priority and have money to spend on it. Turning an idea into a patent costs a minimum of €10,000 in Finland but applying for patent protection abroad will multiply the costs. Patent agent and attorney fees are the largest single item of expenditure.
“The number of patent applications seems to be levelling off after years of steady decline, but why this is happening is anyone’s guess. Of all applications filed, roughly 50% result in a patent,” says Olli Sievänen, head patent advisor in the Finnish Patent and Registration Office.

Scientific knowledge and expertise both spark and steer innovation.

In 2020, 602 patents were awarded in Finland. To be granted a patent, an invention must be new, inventive – not just a simple modification to something that already exists – and industrially applicable.

Creativity is an important quality for engineers, too

Pasi Keinänen, project manager in the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences at Tampere University, has a brain that looks at problems but sees opportunities. When Keinänen once again hoovered up pieces of his children’s Lego, a pedagogically oriented father might have reminded his children to tidy up after themselves. Being an accomplished inventor in the field of nanotechnology and having worked as an IP advisor at Tampere University, Keinänen had a different approach: he modified the vacuum cleaner. By manipulating airflow, Keinänen was able to separate Lego from dust, and vacuuming is now a breeze. Physicists know how this is done. We non-physicists might not, no matter how hard we try (Keinänen tried to explain it – to no avail).

“Scientific knowledge and expertise both spark and steer innovation. For example, the vacuum cleaner modification would not have been invented had I not been familiar with the basics of physics,” Keinänen notes.

Tero Joronen agrees. He says that inventing is 10% brainstorming and 90% experimentation, the application of knowledge and hard work.
“Creativity is often associated with artistic occupations, but I find that pursuing a career in engineering also requires a great deal of creativity. Creativity is about rethinking the basics of engineering sciences to create something new,” Joronen says.

Your idea has already been invented – so keep working!

All three are familiar with the painful disappointment of coming up with an amazing idea only to discover that it already exists. So many great things have already been invented.
“There is a limit to the amount of information the brain can store. When being hit with a brainwave, one cannot be aware of all the information that is, for example, available online. I sometimes wonder why all the great ideas out there are not being exploited to their full potential. But we have to keep working and pushing the boundaries,” Tamminen says.

The number of patents illustrates the level of commercial awareness in a university.

As Pasi Keinänen says, there is no shortage of talented and innovative researchers in the world. In each field of research, the basics are the same, and with all the world’s brightest minds reading the same research papers and refining the ideas further, overlaps are inevitable. But recognising this is no reason to stop inventing. On the contrary. “If you come up with an idea that you think is new, you should immediately look into what others have done in this field. Don’t give up as you are already well on your way. If your original idea does not pan out, there is sure to be some other aspect that you can improve on,” Keinänen encourages aspiring inventors.

Being in the zone is a sign that a breakthrough is close

The journey from an idea to an invention depends on the inventor. During a typical workday, Ilmari Tamminen switches between studying biomedical stains and imaging, thinking and testing. He combines his theoretical knowledge and scientific expertise with observations and thinking outside of that famous box.
“I compare my ideas to the existing body of knowledge and move from there,” Tamminen describes.
The theories will either work or not, but it is Nature that decides the outcome, not anyone’s opinion.
“There is this exhilarating moment of discovery when you witness a hypothesis coming to life in a test tube,” Tamminen adds.

All the three inventors inherited their inventive streak, but the ability to see the world from a different perspective can also be learned. Tero Joronen’s method of choice is to tune his mind to a specific frequency.
“As comical as this may sound, it is almost a trance-like state. I close off the outside world to create imaginary visions and try to see beyond the ordinary. Inventing is more about intuition than analytical thinking, but a useful result depends on an interplay between analysis and creativity,” Joronen says.

Women are not inventors, or are they?

The gender gap in patenting reflects the educational and career choices of men and women.
“As a whole, there are more men in the world of inventing,” Olli Sievänen says.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), 16.5% of inventors named in patent applications were women in 2020. In the past 20 years, the number of patent applications that name at least one female inventor has increased from 20% to 35%.
Biotechnology, chemistry and new drug development are the sectors with the highest proportion of female inventors. More than 59% of the patents related to these fields have at least one female inventor.
The design of mechanical components and engines was at the bottom of the list, with less than 18% of patents having at least one female inventor. Overall, one in four patents is granted to women.
“There are more men working in technology and engineering, and the majority of patent applications are related to these fields. For example, construction engineering and IT are both male-dominated and patent-active sectors in Finland,” Sievänen says.

An invention does not equal important research.

The chances of being issued a patent largely depend on one’s field of research. It is not about supremacy or the degree of creativity and ambition.
Patents are granted to inventions that can be utilised and scaled up to industrial proportions,” Pasi Keinänen says.
“Breakthroughs and new ways to conduct research are being continuously discovered by social scientists. And while it is incredibly difficult to obtain patent protection for an effective new psychological treatment, it can greatly help large numbers of people and also generate new business,” he adds.

Patents are a barometer for academia

A patent is a formal recognition of the novelty and innovativeness of an invention. Companies need patents, among other things, to protect their business, engage in collaborative R&D and make money from their intellectual property.

Innovation activities are geared towards making money in the corporate world, but an innovation-oriented approach should also be increasingly embraced in academia, Pasi Keinänen finds. If researchers lack commercial awareness, their inventions may not be placed in the public domain to benefit others.
“Patents are like a barometer for the academic world. The number of patents illustrates the level of commercial awareness in a university. In this respect, the Nordic countries are lagging behind Central Europe,” Keinänen says.
Broadly speaking, the innovation activities of universities are about reconciling academic values with industry needs and sharing world-class Finnish expertise with the rest of the world. Innovative companies need professionals with an innovative mindset.
Tamminen points out that inventions cannot be used for assessing the importance of research. However, an invention can be both a scientific discovery and a commercial success.
“An invention could function as a confirmation of quality and relevance if someone is willing to pay for the results of scientific thinking. This type of integrated career would be my all-time invention,” Tamminen says.

Cargo ships are so full that ports are struggling to unload them

Cargo ships are so stuffed that ports are struggling to unload them

Cargo ships are piled higher with containers than they’ve ever been, according to data from analyst firm IHS Markit. And the crowding is worst onboard ships sailing into US west coast ports. At the Port of Long Beach, which has been mired in record backlogs for months, the average ship now brings in 7,000 containers—up 70% from the pre-pandemic average of roughly 4,000 containers.

The glut of containers is overwhelming strained port infrastructure, especially at older ports like Long Beach in Southern California which already faced frequent delays, according to Turloch Mooney, the associate director for maritime and trade analysis at IHS Markit. “Quite a few of those ports have really gone beyond the breaking point now,” he said. “That would be what you’re seeing on the US West Coast.”

The overstuffed container ships are both a symptom of the global economy’s supply chain woes and a new factor exacerbating the gridlock at ports and contributing to shortages and shipping delays. They offer yet another example of the fragility of supply chains designed to be as lean and efficient as possible: With little margin for error, ports have been unable to handle the sudden deluge of containers coming off each tightly packed ship.

The resulting delays will likely create pains for shoppers throughout the holidays and continue in some form until businesses begin building more wiggle room into their supply chains and the US updates its aging infrastructure.

The forces overloading the world’s ports

Two long-term trends have been inflating the number of containers loaded or unloaded on the average ship—also known as the ship’s “call size”—even before the pandemic. First, container ships are getting bigger, which has dramatically increased their maximum capacity. Second, the shipping industry has consolidated: just 10 companies that now control 80% of all shipping. These (more profitable) shipping giants are using their market power to make their shipping routes as efficient as possible (for them) which means filling their ships as close to maximum capacity as possible.

Then the pandemic kicked this into overdrive. Demand for consumer goods rose, especially via e-commerce, straining supply chains. Space onboard container ships became scarce and expensive, which incentivized shipping lines to cram every available inch with cargo to maximize the amount of revenue they could squeeze out of their slow, arduous journeys through backlogged ports.

More cargo, more problems

The problem is infrastructure: Ports simply aren’t built to unload ships carrying so many containers. “It’s a big stress factor,” said Mooney.

Every berth at a port has a fixed number of cranes, whether a ship comes in with 1,000 containers or 10,000. That means ports can’t ramp up their capacity to meet the demands of ships carrying more containers. Similarly, shipyards have limited space to stack and sort containers. The more containers, the greater the logistical challenge of stacking, unstacking, and restacking containers to keep them organized.

More bottlenecks wait just outside the port. Roads and highways leading into a port may not have enough capacity to handle the surge of trucks that come in to pick up or drop off containers when a tightly packed ship comes in. The intermodal terminals connecting ports and railroads may also get clogged with the sudden spike in traffic.

In general, Asian ports have been better able to handle the surge in containers. That’s partly because Asian ports tend to be decades newer than North American ports, says Mooney, built during the era when ships carried smaller cargo loads. Labor is also cheaper and less protected in countries like China, which makes it easier for ports to hire more workers and switch to 24-hour operations whenever they have a backlog. A third factor is that Asian ports focus on exporting while North American ports do more importing. It’s simpler for ports to load exports compared to the logistical challenge of unloading imported containers onto trucks and trains bound for different destinations.

The $14 trillion reason you should care about the shipping container shortage

Some 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea, which makes the current shortage a real problem.

Take a look around you.

Perhaps you’re snacking on a banana, sipping some coffee, or sitting in front of your computer and taking a break from work to read this article. Most likely, those goods—as well as your smartphone, refrigerator, and virtually every other object in your home—once were loaded onto a large container in another country and traveled thousands of miles via ships crossing the ocean before ultimately arriving at your doorstep.

Today, an estimated 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea, with 60% of that—including virtually all of your imported fruits, gadgets, and appliances—packed in large steel containers. The rest is mainly commodities like oil or grains that are poured directly into the hull. In total, about $14 trillion of the world’s goods spend some time inside a big metal box.

In short, without the standardized container, the global supply chain that society depends upon—and that I study—would not exist.

A recent shortage of these containers is raising costs and snarling supply chains of thousands of products across the world. The situation highlights the importance of the simple yet essential cargo containers that, from a distance, resemble Lego blocks floating on the sea.

TRADE BEFORE THE CONTAINER

Since the dawn of commerce, people have been using boxes, sacks, barrels, and containers of varying sizes to transport goods over long distances. Phoenicians in 1600 B.C. Egypt ferried wood, fabrics, and glass to Arabia in sacks via camel-driven caravans. And hundreds of years later, the Greeks used ancient storage containers known as amphorae to transport wine, olive oil, and grain on triremes that plied the Mediterranean and neighboring seas to other ports in the region.

Even as trade grew more advanced, the process of loading and unloading as goods were transferred from one method of transportation to another remained very labor-intensive, time-consuming, and costly, in part because containers came in all shapes and sizes. Containers from a ship being transferred onto a smaller rail car, for example, often had to be opened up and repacked into a boxcar.

Different-sized packages also meant space on a ship could not be effectively utilized, and also created weight and balance challenges for a vessel. And goods were more likely to experience damage from handling or theft due to exposure.

A TRADE REVOLUTION

The U.S. military began exploring the use of standardized small containers to more efficiently transport guns, bombs, and other material to the front lines during World War II.

But it was not until the 1950s that American entrepreneur Malcolm McLean realized that by standardizing the size of the containers being used in global trade, loading and unloading of ships and trains could be at least partially mechanized, thereby making the transfer from one mode of transportation to another seamless. This way products could remain in their containers from the point of manufacture to delivery, resulting in reduced costs in terms of labor and potential damage.

In 1956 McLean created the standard cargo container, which is basically still the standard today. He originally built it at a length of 33 feet—soon increased to 35—and 8 feet wide and tall.

This system dramatically reduced the cost of loading and unloading a ship. In 1956, manually loading a ship cost $5.86 per ton; the standardized container cut that cost to just 16 cents a ton. Containers also made it much easier to protect cargo from the elements or pirates, since they are made of durable steel and remain locked during transport.

The U.S. made great use of this innovation during the Vietnam War to ship supplies to soldiers, who sometimes even used the containers as shelters.

Today, the standard container size is 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 9 feet tall—a size that’s become known as a “20-foot-equivalent container unit,” or TEU. There are actually a few different standard sizes, such as 40 feet long or a little taller, though they all have the same width. One of the key advantages is that whatever size a ship uses, they all, like Lego blocks, fit neatly together with virtually no empty spaces.

This innovation made the modern globalized world possible. The quantity of goods carried by containers soared from 102 million metric tons in 1980 to about 1.83 billion metric tons as of 2017. Most of the container traffic flows across the Pacific Ocean or between Europe and Asia.

SHIPS GET HUGE

The standardization of container sizes has also led to a surge in ship size. The more containers packed on a ship, the more a shipping company can earn on each journey.

In fact, the average size of a container ship has doubled in the past 20 years alone. The largest ships sailing today are capable of hauling 24,000 containers—that’s a carrying capacity equivalent to how much a freight train 44 miles long could hold. Put another way, a ship named the Globe with a capacity of 19,100 20-foot containers could haul 156 million pairs of shoes, 300 million tablet computers, or 900 million cans of baked beans—in case you’re feeling hungry.

The Ever Given, the ship that blocked traffic through the Suez Canal for almost a week in March 2021, has a similar capacity, 20,000 containers.

In terms of cost, imagine this: The typical pre-pandemic price of transporting a 20-foot container carrying over 20 tons of cargo from Asia to Europe was about the same as an economy ticket to fly the same journey.

COST OF SUCCESS

But the growing size of ships has a cost, as the Ever Given incident showed.

Maritime shipping has grown increasingly important to global supply chains and trade, yet it was rather invisible until the logjam and blockage of the Suez Canal. As the Ever Given was traversing the narrow 120-mile canal, fierce wind gusts blew it to the bank, and its 200,000 tons of weight got it stuck in the muck.

About 12% of the world’s global shipping traffic passes through this canal. At one point during the blockage, at least 369 ships were stuck waiting to pass through the canal from either side, costing an estimated $9.6 billion a day. That translates to $400 million an hour, or $6.7 million a minute.

Ship-building companies continue to work on building ever larger container vessels, and there’s little evidence this trend will stop anytime soon. Some experts forecast that ships capable of carrying loads 50% larger than the Ever Given’s will be plying the open seas by 2030.

In other words, the shipping container remains more popular—and in demand—than ever.

UK appeals court rules AI cannot be listed as a patent inventor

Add the United Kingdom to the list of countries that says an artificial intelligence can’t be legally credited as an inventor. Per the BBC, the UK Court of Appeal recently ruled against Dr. Stephen Thaler in a case involving the country’s Intellectual Property Office. In 2018, Thaler filed two patent applications in which he didn’t list himself as the creator of the inventions mentioned in the documents. Instead, he put down his AI DABUS and said the patent should go to him “by ownership of the creativity machine.”

The Intellectual Property Office told Thaler he had to list a real person on the application. When he didn’t do that, the agency decided he had withdrawn from the process. Thaler took the case to the UK’s High Court. The body ruled against him, leading to the eventual appeal. “Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot,” Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing of the Appeal Court wrote in her judgment. “A patent is a statutory right and it can only be granted to a person.”

Thaler has filed similar legal challenges in other countries, and the results so far have been mixed. In August, a judge in Australia ruled inventions created by an AI can qualify for a patent. However, only earlier this month, US District Judge Leonie M Brinkema upheld a decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office that said “only natural persons may be named as an inventor in a patent application.” Judge Brinkema said there may eventually be a time when AI becomes sophisticated enough to satisfy the accepted definitions of inventorship, but noted, “that time has not yet arrived, and, if it does, it will be up to Congress to decide how, if at all, it wants to expand the scope of patent law.”

China accounts for 40% of 6G patent applications with most of them being filed by Huawei, survey reveals

China is already working on the next generation of communication networks known as 6G that is expected to roll out commercially by the end of this decade.

Research conducted by Nikkei Asia and Tokyo-based research company Cyber Creative Institute shows that China topped the list with 40.3% of 6G patent filings, closely followed by the U.S. with 35.2%. Japan ranked third with 9.9%, followed by Europe with 8.9% and South Korea with 4.2%.

Around 20,000 patent applications for nine core 6G technologies were surveyed for this. This includes communications, quantum technology, base stations, and artificial intelligence. Countries with a greater number of patent filings are more likely to be ahead of the curve in terms of advanced technology and tend to have a greater influence over industry standards.

China’s 6G development had been expected to be slow due to sanctions imposed by the US government in 2019 on Huawei Technologies but, the Asian country has maintained its competitiveness by mobilizing state-run companies and universities.

6G patent applications by China are mostly related to mobile infrastructure technology. This makes sense considering aerial coverage such as satellites, combined with ground base stations for broader radio bands, will be needed in the 6G era.

A considerable amount of the patents (12%) have been filed by none other than Huawei which controlled 30% of the world’s base stations in 2020. Other prominent patent holders include state-run companies such as State Grid Corporation of China and China Aerospace Science and Technology.

6G is expected to be over 10 times faster than 5G and will be enabling fully autonomous driving, HD virtual reality, and worldwide internet, even in the most remote regions.

On the other end, the US has high technical prowess in software and terminals, thanks to it possessing many smartphone and internet companies. Qualcomm and Intel have acquired many patents for chips used in smartphones and other IT equipment.

Finally, Japan that ranks third in the number of patents, has Nippon Telegraph & Telephone. Nippon has filed many patents involving optical communications and mobile infrastructure networks in urban areas. This includes technologies for mitigating data congestion and delays.

The International Telecommunication Union and industry groups will likely begin discussing 6G standardization around 2024. China is expected to have a strong voice in the policy-making process thanks to the large number of patents owned by it.