How to Turn Your Smart Idea Into a Bankable Invention

Paul Cerrato, MA

Disclosures

December 11, 2013

In This Article

Persistence to the Point of Obnoxiousness

Of course, imagination and critical thinking aren't enough. Tom Fogarty, MD, often referred to as the "Mickey Mantle of medical device inventors," has found that once a good idea takes shape, persistence to the point of obnoxiousness is the key to success. Fogarty, a former Stanford University School of Medicine faculty member who was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2001, is best known for developing the Fogarty balloon catheter.[2]

So how does Fogarty come up with his inventions? Keen observation is part of his process. Serving as a scrub technician in the 1940s, for example, he observed all the problems that developed during embolectomy surgery, which took too long and caused too many deaths. His balloon catheter allowed surgeons to make a much smaller incision and quickly draw a clot out of a blood vessel, thereby reducing the risk for complications.

To create a prototype, Fogarty started by cutting off the tip of the pinky finger on a surgical glove to serve as the balloon and attached it to a urinary catheter. But eventually he realized that he needed an unconventional way to attach the balloon to the catheter. He drew on his childhood experience in fly-fishing. His memory of tying flies and making lures enabled him to devise a technique to attach the balloon to the catheter.[3]

After many failed attempts to find a company to manufacture them, Fogarty made the catheters himself and distributed them to colleagues. Eventually, his persistence convinced Edwards Lifesciences to get on board and license the device.

Do-It-Yourself Due Diligence

Ira Kirschenbaum, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who holds numerous trademarks and inventions in medical information systems and surgical instruments, agrees that inventors need to make a prototype, or have someone capable of doing it for them. Having developed instruments for partial knee replacements and designed a cementless hip replacement system, he's seen his share of success as an inventor.

If you have what you suspect is a marketable device, Kirschenbaum says it's crucial to find out whether it's been done already. He recommends first doing a regular Google search, using every possible search term related to your idea, then going a step further and searching Google Patents. There's no sense wasting money on a patent attorney at this early stage of development, he believes.

"That search will knock out the majority of your ideas...so you're going to be disappointingly surprised" says Kirschenbaum, who speaks from painful experience.

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