A Washington-based inventors' trade association is looking for "somebody who embodies the spirit of innovation" to receive $1,000 and a plaque as the Inventor of the Year.
But inventors face a growing number of obstacles, according to Joseph P. Allen, executive director of the nonprofit trade association Intellectual Property Owners Inc.
The award will be presented on Feb. 13, National Inventors Day, the Sunday closest to the birthday of American inventor Thomas Edison.
Last year's winner was Don Ausmus of Independence, Mo., whose battery-powered Moto-Stand allows persons confined to wheel chairs to move about in a standing position. Ausmus created the Moto-Stand after an accident left him paraplegic.
The 1980 award went to Paul Macready for his Gossamer Condor, a small, fragile human-powered aircraft that its pilot pedalled across the English Channel.
The deadline for nominations is Dec. 31. The three-person IPO staff will screen the entries and send the top four or five to its 15-member board of directors, which will select the winner.
"We are basically a trade association for individual inventors, large high-technology companies and universities," Allen said of the IPO, which also has patent attorneys among its members. The IPO lobbies legislators, urging them to encourage innovation.
Allen said a lot of forces work against the individual inventor. Among them is what he calls the "not-invented-here" syndrome, which makes it difficult or impossible to interest a company in buying rights to a product created outside that company.
"It's become difficult to set up a small business" to produce and market an invention because of increased startup costs; the likelihood that there will be little or no revenue for the first couple of years; restrictive government regulations, and what he feels is a justifiable decline in confidence in the U.S. patent system, Allen said.
It takes about 25 months before a patent application is accepted or rejected, according to Allen.
He also claimed that so many files are missing or misfiled at the U.S. Patent Office's Public Search Room and Examiner's Office that, although an applicant may be able to find no previous patent, and an examiner may grant the patent on an invention, someone may turn up later with a valid patent, then successfully sue for patent infringement.
To help alleviate filing problems, the IPO donated to the Patent Office's Public Search Room a computer terminal that gives access, for a small fee, to a private company's electronic record of patents filed over the past 15 years.
Allen also termed some federal courts "anti-patent." For instance, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California has found invalid 80 percent of the patents that come before it, compared with a nationwide average of 50 percent, he said.
The IPO worked with Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kans.) and Rep. Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-Wisc.) on legislation creating a new federal patent appeals court to hear patent case appeals instead of the individual circuit courts of appeals. It began operations Oct. 1.
Allen was an aide to former Indiana senator Birch Bayh when the 1980 patent law was enacted, permitting universities to patent devices invented while doing federal research.
The IPO is one of many organizations that give awards to encourage inventors and innovation. Two examples:
* Industrial Research & Development magazine annually cites the "100 most significant new technical products" of the preceding year.
* Materials Engineering magazine selects and honors the top 20 creative uses of materials in new products and technologies.
The National Academy of Sciences gives about 30 awards recognizing achievements in a variety of fields. A spokeswoman said being nominated for membership in the NAS is an award in itself -- recognition by a scientist's peers of overall original work and achievement.