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Opinion

New ways to accelerate green energy and jobs

The innovation economy depends on inventors. And inventors need more support.

By David J. Muchow / July 16, 2010



Arlington, Va.

I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

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Thomas Edison, 1931

As the Gulf oil crisis and bleak jobs picture remind us, there is an urgent need for new green-energy sources, jobs, and related technology. America’s competitors get this. In 2009, China issued more than 580,000 patents, up 41 percent from 2008. It also now is the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels.

Yet here in the United States, utility patents have stalled and some 85 percent of inventions in the US die before they reach commercialization.

Many of these inventions fail not because they weren’t useful, but because their creators ran out of time and money.

Inventors need a better support system

If 85 percent of cars ran out of gas before they could complete their trips, we’d add fuel stations, increase efficiencies, or build more roads to solve the problem. Likewise, if we’re serious about building America’s innovation economy, we must redesign the support network for America’s inventors.

A lone inventor with a day job might spend years and up to $100,000 developing a new technology at home. It takes a village to turn an idea into a business: The daunting steps to commercialization include hiring lawyers, creating a business plan and prototype, and finding investors and customers.

Many inventors run out of money – and their friends’ money – before a prototype is built.

Yet their ideas are often quite valuable. As CEO of SkyBuilt Power, a renewable-energy company, I see potentially great ideas nearly every week.

They include wind turbines without blades or gears, heat pumps that cut air-conditioning
costs in half, and solar-power systems that eliminate fuel costs.

The green Grand Canyon

Sadly, many inventors behind these innovations eventually give up for lack of time and money. This is the “green Grand Canyon” – the big gap from new technology prototypes to commercialization and profitability. We can bridge this gap, but only if we address three basic problems:

1. There is no central clearinghouse for information. Inventors need funding, advice, and other support. Ironically, there may be government agencies willing to fund such inventions and private companies wanting them. But the information and parties are scattered and don’t connect.

We could solve this problem by creating a “tBay,” an inventor’s eBay. This would be a virtual information meeting place for all parties interested in a specific technology. Buyers, sellers, inventors, grantors, venture capital firms, and patent lawyers all could meet in a virtual marketplace for any specific subject area, such as “mobile solar tracking systems.” It takes all of these to go from an idea to commercialization.

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