Inventors & NRDC: an inside view

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As private-inventor executive for the National Research Development Corporation, Roland Rosser oversees the evaluation of 400 to 800 funding requests each year from applicants who are not affiliated with research organizations or corporations. Here is an edited transcript of his remarks from a recent telephone interview:

Mr. Rosser, do you find that successful inventors have qualities in common?

They're very diverse people. I think often the most successful man is somebody who has worked in a particular field for a long time - knows all the problems - so that his invention is made with a consciousness of the difficulties involved.

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Having said that, it is sometimes true that because somebody isn't familiar with the thing, he takes an unconventional line which may have advantages not only in relation to his own invention, but in providing unconventional directions where research can take off. But it doesn't often happen.

Does independent invention in Britain differ from that in America or elsewhere?

When I've spoken to my counterparts in other countries, we seem to have very much the same experiences. Private inventions tend to follow the news. These days it's all in solar energy and its related ideas. Every time there is something which catches the public eye - oil spills or air crashes - we get a spate of inventions in that particular category. (And) the percentage of worthwhile inventions tends to be pretty constant - it's somewhere around 1 or 2 percent.

If you had a single piece of advice for the people who plan to come to you, what would it be?

(Make sure) your invention is really a novel one before you spend too much time and money on development. Second, if your aims are to make money, recognize that marketing is (in some ways) more important than the technical part. I think almost every inventor believes the famous quotation, ''Build a better mousetrap . . . .'' That's not true!

How important is the role of ''backyard'' inventions in Britain today?

Not very, in terms of the number of inventions. I think the problem is that the fields the small inventor works in tend to be in the (realm) of mechanical inventions. These days the important inventions are in biotechnology, electronics - this sort - which really the chap at home isn't set up to do any work on.

As I said before, (however), sometimes somebody who isn't shackled by conventional thinking can make a real breakthrough. And it's worth looking out for that.

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