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Novel Ideas Pass Through Filter at U.S. Patent Office

Michael Pinsker keeps a marine pollution-control kit, which he invented, at home, for lack of commercial interest. He cites the
Michael Pinsker keeps a marine pollution-control kit, which he invented, at home, for lack of commercial interest. He cites the "NIH" syndrome, for Not Invented Here, which he says keeps businesses from adopting new ideas. (Photos By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Michael Pinsker grew up in a world where what didn't exist was only a thought away.

He'll tell you his great-uncle invented what became the plastic cap found on milk containers, the idea coming to him when milk was still delivered in glass bottles. His father, well, he invented "the one and only mobile brick-making machine."

Pinsker says it like that -- one and only -- as if verbally unveiling it. It's the inventor in him, the man who knows the work that goes into creating something and getting a patent labeling that idea as your own.

"Once you get a patent, it's always sacred," said Pinsker, 62, of Vint Hill in Fauquier County.

There are a lot of Michael Pinskers out there. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, headquartered in Alexandria, recently has seen a record number of filings and is hiring examiners at an unprecedented rate to keep up, said Commissioner for Patents John J. Doll. More than 7 million patents have been issued to date. Last year, the office received a record number of patent applications, more than 440,000, and that number is expected to be higher this year.

"There is a tremendous amount of innovation going on," Doll said. "Just go to an electronics store . . . or a store like Sharper Image."

He added that the volume is not just being driven by big-name companies and universities. In fiscal 2007, 28 percent of patent applications were filed by independent inventors.

Pinsker, who has two patents, knows the struggle of falling into this category.

The sheer number of applications is a testament that even in an age of iPhones and BlackBerrys, there still is a place for the local inventor, the believer that not everything already has been invented.

"I think the one thing that characterized them for me is unbridled optimism," said Robert MacWright, executive director of the University of Virginia Patent Foundation. "The kind of people that come up with inventions are those who think that they can and who are willing to look past all of the substantial obstacles to see a product created. They are people who are not bound by traditional thinking."

Pinsker, a retired Greyhound bus driver, was three years from being born when his father, Benjamin, created the brick machine.

"I grew up with it. It's an incredible device," he said, adding that it created millions of bricks that were used in commercial and residential buildings across California. "Even when I was 3 or 4, even though I couldn't do much, I was helping him load bricks on the truck."

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