Great inventions have revolutionized our lives. Whether life-saving devices or products that have simply made our lives easier, behind every invention is an inventor with a great idea and the courage to make their dream a reality.
In recognition of National Inventor’s Day this past weekend, we took a moment to honor the creativity and tenacity of inventors by talking with Stratos Vice President of Engineering, John Havard, about inventing and his favorite inventor.
Q: Who is your favorite inventor and why?
A: Leonardo da Vinci would have to be my favorite. I remember seeing a special exhibition of The Codex Leicester at the Seattle Art Museum about 20 years ago. The Codex is a collection of da Vinci’s scientific writings, and any engineer couldn’t help but get caught up in his drawings and the fact that his left-handed writing is in mirror script. I also remember an exhibition at the Boeing Museum of Flight about 10 years ago, which included some reproductions of Leonardo’s machines, flying and other. These exhibits were amazing and intriguing. Leonardo’s “Renaissance-man” perspective of the world and the way he looked at problems makes him unique and a true inspiration. How many inventors or engineers are also master painters, musicians, architects, and historians? Someone of his genius must come along only once every few centuries. It makes you wonder if someone like that would be able to nurture such a wide variety of interests and talents if he existed today.
Q: Do we have any Leonardo da Vinci-like individuals here at Stratos?
A: Sure, although it is not fair for anyone to be held up to that light! It’s funny that many of us think of an “inventor character” as someone who is as private as Leonardo was, or as mad-scientist recluse type as Doc Emmett Brown in Back to the Future. By the way, what engineer wouldn’t love to invent the flux capacitor… Anyway, ideas certainly do not need to come from lone individuals. You can place engineers and designers from different disciplines, with a variety of backgrounds and interests, in a room and successfully brainstorm a solution. I like to think of these brainstorming sessions as having the perspectives of a Renaissance-individual like Leonardo spread across a group of talented people that know each other and work well together. Also, the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” adds fuel to these brainstorming sessions, since our clients usually have a need that we are trying to meet or a problem that we are trying to solve. We very often come up with novel ideas and inventions in this way. As an example, a recent solution sprung from the musical backgrounds of a few of our engineers, and it was subsequently patented by a client.
We also have a very large percentage of left-handed people, like Leonardo, here at Stratos. Nearly half of our engineers are left-handed, although I’m right-handed. I’ve always wondered about the left-handed connection to creativity that many say exists. No one here writes in mirror script, though, to my knowledge!
Q: What is your favorite invention from Leonardo da Vinci?
A: Leonardo had inventions based on detailed study and observation in so many fields. He designed a bridge and invented a robot that made human-like motions using pulleys and cables. I believe his flying machine designs generally grew out of his study of the flight of birds, and they are fascinating. If I need to pick one invention, I’d go with the Viola organista – it was a stringed instrument with some very interesting bowing mechanisms. I don’t know if any were ever built or tested, but I’d have loved to have seen one. I’d like to think that he would hold a huge number of patents if such a thing existed in 15th and 16th centuries.
Q: Are inventions at Stratos often patented?
A: Yes, some inventions are patented. We occasionally have novel ideas of our own that lead to Stratos-filed patent application, however, most of our work is done for external clients and thus they become the patent assignees. Many of the engineers and designers at Stratos are listed as inventors on patents that are held by the companies we have worked for. I am listed as an inventor on two such issued patents, and other people here are listed on more than I am. It always feels like an honor be a part of a granted patent.
Many of us in the tech world view patents from the IP protection point-of-view exclusively; this made it even more interesting to get the perspectives of officials from the U.S. patent office recently. A group of about 15 examiners from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Virginia spent half a day with Stratos employees last year. What struck me most was that they had a refreshingly altruistic perspective of their work. They spoke of the role of the patent process being to advance the forefront of science and technology in the US; to allow inventors to teach others their ideas, and make inventions and discoveries part of the public trust to allow others to learn from them and use them. This was a different perspective. It is certainly true that you can learn quite a bit from a well-written patent, just like you can from reading some of Leonardo’s writings from one of his inventions.
Thank you, John, for sharing your thoughts. Leonardo da Vinci was truly a peerless inventor and multi-talented individual. He remains an inspiration to inventors today. Remember, if you are a budding inventor hoping for your idea become a reality, just stay focused on the thought of other inventors before you, like Leonardo da Vinci. And if you need a team to assist in the development along the way be sure to reach out to John and the team at Stratos.
Happy National Inventors’ Day!