Ask the Experts

Andrew R. Spriegel interviewed by www.asktheexperts.org.uk 2010

The Invention of Trying
by Paul David Lucas

What drives people to become inventors? Perhaps Edison thought it would be an illuminating experience; maybe Watt thought it would be a good way of letting off steam. However, for Andrew Spriegel, it’s about making dreams become a reality.

Admittedly Mr Spriegel may not yet rank up there with the likes of Henry Ford, Wilbur Wright and George Stephenson, but his achievements should not be overlooked. He has already racked up dozens of patents to his name including products for the Invacare Corporation that dominates a $120 million a year market and has no competitor that has yet challenged the product for features and functions; and his first patent for a Laparoscopic Surgery device.

Having earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, Mr Spriegel went on to work in lead electromechanical design engineering or management positions for companies such as GE Astro Space, GE Transportation Systems, GE-Lubrizol, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, Invacare, GOJO Industries, Kensey Nash Corporation and IBM, while also working on designs and projects involving NASA, International and US Air Force satellites, the Space Station, Locomotives, Off-highway vehicles, surgical devices and durable medical equipment.  It’s an impressive resume, but despite his personal achievements, Mr. Spriegel is not only focused on his own career – he’s also keen to help others reach the top.

At 48, he entered law school to study patent law and has since set up his own firm – Spriegel and Associates – to assist inventors and companies with the complicated world of patent law.“We take on inventors only if we believe they can commercialize their product,” he said.

“If we think the inventor won’t be successful, for example if their product is too complicated, they don’t have the necessary skills/drive, they believe it is a ‘get rich quick’ thing then we turn them away.  We want our firm to be known as a patent law firm with a high success rate in helping people commercialize products.”

Among the latest products Spriegel is helping to become a reality is the Portion PadL, which allows users to cut equal slices of pizza very quickly. It may seem straightforward enough but it solves a number of problems for food companies and fundraisers alike – because equal slices of pizza mean increased sales, reduced food waste and improved presentation.

“It actually does what it is supposed to do and that is to allow the user to cut equal slices of pizza very quickly,” commented Spriegel. “Greg Getzinger (the inventor) did a lot of research and experimentation to perfect the product. In addition, Greg is a pizza shop owner, very driven, a lot of fun and great at marketing the product.”Another of his hot products is the Nee-Z-eeZ a sleep aid device designed to ease the pain in your back, legs, hips and knees. Inventor Frank Fleischer, who initially developed the product for himself, earns high praise from Spriegel for the shrewdness of his invention and for capitalizing on a gap in the market.

“Frank Fleischer, the principal inventor, is 80 years old and can run circles around a lot of people much younger,” he said. “It amazed me how many people sleep with a pillow between their legs to align their hips. Frank owned a very large shoe business and they built specialized shoes. He knew there was a large population of people that needed the product.”

Of course it’s not just individuals to which Spriegel’s inventions hold appeal – he is also keen to push products with mass market potential for businesses, such as the MyTee golf business card which helps companies get their name out into the public domain by die stamping five foldable golf tees to a business card.

“We are selling the card both in the US and internationally,” said Spriegel. “The people/companies that have purchased it and distribute it love it.”

So with so many inventions under his belt, what advice would Spriegel offer to up and coming innovators?

“Commercialize products that are unique and very simple,” he said. “I tell them not to work on a product that they can’t get manufactured in small quantities and sell themselves – this can give you positive cash flow very quickly. Never start with a product that needs tooling or that you can’t fund yourself.”

He’s also keen to drive home the importance of trademarks and patents and that inventors should seek legal advice as early as possible.

“Many business people don’t realize that a business name/trademark can be the most valuable intellectual property that they develop,” he said. “They often use a common name that will have little or no value. For example, Coke is calculated to be worth approximately $67 billion, Intel $32.3 billion, IBM $56.2 billion. Companies spend a lot of money advertising their name every day, but if your name is Joe’s Pizza it is difficult to build that name into a brand, as opposed to Dominos, for example.”

He continued: “I would never commercialize a product unless I could patent it. I think an inventor should approach a patent attorney as soon as possible in the process. I also tell inventors that in commercializing a product that the patent/trademark fees in the end will only be a small part of the expenses.

“People say that inventors can write their own patents and it reminds me of the commercial where the guy is talking to his surgeon on the phone and the surgeon is telling the guy where to cut into himself to do the operation.”

The ability to try lies in all of us. The invention of trying is the technology behind the next phase of breakthrough and the next generation of inventors.

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