An inventor interview with Patrick Andrew’s the inventor of Scene Reader, machine shape recognition software. He is also the writer of a very unusual blog called Invention of the Day, which is exactly what it says, a place where for several years, Patrick has posted a new invention idea every day.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background and how you first started inventing?
Patrick: I’m located in Crieff in Scotland. Having spent over a decade working in Cambridge, we took a decision to move somewhere with some scenery and with a less negative attitude. It was about a year after our move, five years ago, that I realised I’d actually always been an Inventor (having previously fooled myself into acting as an engineer, consultant and minor academic).
Tara: You have a very unusual website “Invention of the Day” please could you tell me a bit about it and why you started it?
Patrick: Invention of the Day Started as a challenge. Having realised that I was subject to an internal flood of new ideas, my wife suggested writing them down in the form of a daily blog. I have had some days when I thought up five. Almost all of them are nonsense, but the only way I know to generate great ideas is to have lots. I’m working on a book, based on the blog, which will summarise my favourite ideas and how to generate larger numbers of workable solutions.
Tara: If you are putting your ideas online aren’t you worried someone else might just use them?
Patrick: No. Everyone is welcome to use them. I’ve spotted several of my ideas which have subsequently developed into products (eg http://iotd.patrickandrews.com/2007/09/16/ypod/ ) Part of my reason for keeping up the postings is that I’m drawing attention to the stupid state in which ‘Intellectual Property’ finds itself…
Tara: What are you thoughts on patents?
Patrick: Glad you asked me that. I’m against giving people a general right to forbid others to work on commercial products and related ideas. The patent system is supposed to promote innovation, but that’s a dumb lawyer’s view. People who can have a million-dollar idea this week will probably have another next week -they don’t need protectionist patents to motivate them. Small companies and lone inventors are the sources of innovation (surprisingly rarely do Universities or Corporations contribute). Big organisations demand to be defended by governments and can afford to protect ideas legally…our most innovative companies however can’t even begin to play this game. Some support for SME’s IP would force corporations to buy it from them.
Tara: You have an invention www.scenereader.com which you have developed, please can you tell me a bit about it and how you came up with the idea?
Patrick: I was researching the human visual system at Cambridge University and started to think about the things which banks of neurons can do to analyse and recognise shapes. The original idea is embodied here: www.foveola.com
Tara: How did you go about developing Scene Reader and what do you intend doing with it?
Patrick: Programming guru Kona Macphee (co-director of break-step productions) then implemented the version called SceneReader: a program which can robustly find and read text in complex scenes.
Tara: How are you going about promoting SceneReader
Patrick: Well we have had numerous articles in the press, wired.com, FT etc.
Tara: How long did it take from your initial idea to where you are now?
Patrick: I tell people it was five years of research followed by five years of development. Not getting the two confused is a valuable skill.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Patrick: Think about potential customers. Talk to them about their needs (under NDA). Take some free initial advice about *ALL* the options from someone reputable (eg break-step).
Tara: where can people find out a bit more about you and your inventions?
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