Calling All Inventors

John Hartnett

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There was an article in the New York Times this week about an executive from a Silicon Valley venture capital firm who staged a contest called “Pitch Tim Draper on Your Billion Dollar Idea”. Mr. Draper’s intention is to uncover and conceivably fund business opportunities that are innovative, unique and marketable.

For example, one of the finalists presented an idea to mass-produce flying cars with retractable wings. Could you imagine? Flying automobiles? The only thing that could possibly be more exciting than flying to work at 2,000 feet alongside thousands of other commuters in two-ton automobiles with retractable wings would be flying alongside thousands of commuters in two-ton automobiles with retractable wings who are also attempting to dial their cell phones at the same time. Gosh, with an innovation like that, could underground pedestrian walkways be far behind?

I must say that news of the competition inspired me and I found myself coming up with dozens of scientifically feasible ideas to submit including one called the “Contest Ending Retractor” -a reverse time continuum device specifically designed for people who need to go back in time to prevent missing deadlines for contest submissions as I apparently did when it turned out Mr. Draper’s contest ended three weeks ago.

While I sadly lack the funding for aluminum foil or the necessary garage space to build the Retractor at this time, a little Internet research revealed that the “Pitch Tim Draper on Your Billion Dollar Idea” contest is an annual event. I now find myself in the enviable position of having a full year in which to submit my concepts – all 128 of them, which are already fleshed out in great detail on 3x5 index cards and attached securely to the refrigerator with magnets.

Here’s a sneak peak of my top four, billion dollar business innovations.

The Flat Vacuum Attachment. This revolutionary home maintenance device, which is six inches wide but only one sixteenth of an inch thick, would attach to a normal vacuum hose and be used to extract valuable items from hard to reach places – say a 3x5 index card from underneath a refrigerator, for example.

The Living Hotline. A voice recognition device designed to reach the living. Here’s how it works. You simply dial a number to a company, say the phone company for example, and then leave the room to make better use of your time while the Hotline navigates through the hundreds of automated, pre-recorded customer service prompts, the phone company, for example, believes enhances and simplifies your customer service experience. When the Hotline makes contact with the living – otherwise known as an actual human being in the employ of the company you are trying to reach, it notifies you with an audible beep. Tangible benefits: Saves time, lowers blood pressure, reduced risk of using bad language around minors.

The Miracle Laundry Hamper. This spring loaded device has built in sensors that detect dirt levels in clothing to prevent washing clothes that are already clean. Here’s how it works. A child puts on a perfectly clean shirt to attend church and upon returning, attempts to stuff it into the hamper to avoid hanging the garment up properly. Lifting the hamper lid instantly activates the sensors and within one tenth of one second, they analyze the shirt for stains, dirt or signs of foreign matter. If none are detected, the hamper projects the clean garment back at the child at a speed of 110 mph, thus initiating a conditioning process designed to eliminate the bad habit completely within 3-4 days. Tangible benefits: Save time and money on laundry, develops strong hand-eye coordination in children.

The Polly Want a Polygraph. Potentially the greatest revolutionary breakthrough in political accountability since the invention of the hidden camera and the abolition of dueling. Here’s how it works. A polygraph machine is housed within a replica of a parrot that is attached to the shoulder of every elected official above the position of alderman. When the politician speaks, the machine measures the physiological response and in the event deceptive behavior is detected, the parrot shrieks “Bra-a-a-ach! He’s lying through his teeth. He’s lying through his teeth. Bra-a-a-ch! Tangible benefits: Promotes honesty in government, high entertainment value, raises awareness about parrots.

Great ideas, right? Wish you thought of one yourself? Don’t worry about it. Stop by the house around this time next year; I’ll take you up for a little spin in my flying Ford Fiesta.

John Hartnett is the owner of Early Bird Publishing, a manufacturer of all occasion humorous greeting cards. He can be reached at


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