. I have had a very non-typical career that I think works for inventors like us. Here is my very abbreviated story from farmer to book author and founder of Invention Garage.
I didn't do so well in high school. I was into outdoor sports and I worked on our small farm. I was good with a rifle and shotgun, was a good welder, and a good mechanic. My dad and I would go to auctions and buy junk farm equipment, repair it, paint it, and use it. I once bought a very old grain drill that had been left in a fencerow for several years. It was made by John Deere Van Brunt probably in the 1940s. It was rusted pretty bad, and wooden parts were rotted. It looked like a new one when I was done, though, and worked great for our small farm. Even at 18 years old, the neighboring farmers would come by to have me help them fix their farm equipment. Dad and I even designed and built a few implements for the farm - usually starting with a napkin sketch at the breakfast table. One implement had never existed to our knowledge. Looking back, I believe this was my first invention.
In my early 20s, I farmed and worked as a mechanic "in town". I worked long hours six days a week but never thought much about it. I just enjoyed life. But one day I injured myself at work, pulling my lower back muscles. I saw stars, blacked out, and laid on the greasy shop floor to decide what to do next. I was able to drive home but was not able to work for the next two weeks. During this time, I realized that everything I did was physically demanding and someday I may not have the health to keep up with my lifestyle. But the best options required a college degree. Now I had to live with the bad decisions I made in high school. In spite of my limitations, I chose to be a mechanical engineer. That was bold for someone that could not even add fractions! I enrolled in our local junior college and took math classes for a year to get up to the college level. Meanwhile, I still farmed and worked as a mechanic.
I enrolled in our junior college pre-engineering degree program, which was difficult for me to say the least. I had to learn how to learn. But I had great teachers that were always available and a great group of friends to study with. Of the 30 or so students in my first semester classes, only eight completed their pre-engineering degree. Some of those that dropped out were top students in their high school. I couldn't believe that I made it (and with excellent grades) while the smart ones did not! And I was still farming and working as a mechanic (but now part-time).
I moved to Rolla, Missouri to complete my degree, attending what is now called Missouri Science and Technology. It was in a small town, which reminded me of home. I started my first semester with a summer class to qualify for in-state tuition in the fall (I was cheap like that). It turns out that the machine shop on campus needed help that summer. It was like home again, working with my hands. I worked in the machine shop the next two semesters as well. In fact, all mechanical engineering students were required to take a machining class. I was a TA (teaching assistant) in the morning class, then was a student in the same class that afternoon! I think that was a first for the University.
Once I graduated, my new wife and I moved to Lexington, KY for my first "city job", working for Lexmark, International. In my first four months, I conceived an idea to solve a long-standing problem with manufacturing inkjet print cartridges. Two of my mentors suggested I file a patent application for my solution. At the time, I thought of patents as only for the super-smart people, and very much out of reach for people like me. That was my first introduction to patents. Over time, I became a co-inventor on many patents. I later learned there was such a thing as "patent agents". These were people with technical degrees that passed the same Patent Bar Exam required by attorneys to become patent attorneys. That was intriguing to me. I could advance my patent knowledge without a law degree which, by then, was not practical for a busy dad with two young kids. My vice-president approved the training, which resulted in me becoming a patent agent in 2003.
Over time, I assumed part-time responsibility for patent management of a key technology area, which was the beginning of my patent consulting career. A large part of the job was to obtain the highest quality patents for the least amount of money. I discovered the best way to do this was to help inventors improve their inventions by developing a discipline of inventing that was similar to the discipline I was taught as a young engineer. This discipline grew and evolved with time, although I didn't realize how unique the skillset was that I was developing. I later assumed the responsibility as Worldwide Patent Manager, in which I managed the invention process for the company worldwide, further enabling me to refine my unique skillset. In this role, I was a cross-functional manager for five team leaders and 75 of the top engineers in the company that contributed to the invention process.
I left Lexmark in 2012, next working for a nano-technology company as a patent and infringement manager. As part of this role, I investigated patent infringement and managed outside counsel to assert our patents against infringers. This was my first introduction to patent litigation in a serious way. This led to a position as an underwriter for an intellectual property insurance company in which I was trained to underwrite IP infringement risks of all kinds (patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secrets). I quickly became the underwriting manager, and later vice-president. Meanwhile, I started my own patent consulting firm, Tungsten IP. I worked with a growing number of small technology companies while also launching a number of startup companies as opportunities arose. Needless to say, I was exhausted most of the time.
I left the insurance company in 2019 to focus on Tungsten IP full-time, which had grown considerably in the previous years. Of the numerous clients I served, one involved patent infringement analysis on a large scale. This, in combination with my underwriting experience, provided keen insights into how to patent quality could affect the long-term value of patents.
For years, I hoped to provide my unique experiences to an online audience resulting in Invention Garage, along with my book "Patent Strategy For Entrepreneurs". My hope is to help inventors and entrepreneurs extract long-term value from their intellectual property, which is so critical to the long-term viability of their companies.