Uncle Sam wants to buy your products!

Did you ever think you could sell your product to the military? Well you can.

I had a conversation recently with an inventor who was telling me a sales rep had approached her and told her he could sell her product into the military. She wanted to know what that actually meant, so let me explain.   5555

The “Military” is a broad term when it comes to products. There are two main areas of the military that purchase retail products.  One is the military itself as in daily operations, and the other is the military retail system where products are sold to military members and their families at stores on military bases.

The military itself purchases billions of dollars worth of consumer goods each year – from soap, toys, and furniture, to tools, towels, and soccer balls – you name it, they buy it. The official system for those purchases is the Government Services Administration (GSA) using a program called “GSA Advantage” where any government agency can simply log on to the GSA Advantage website and purchase goods 24 hours a day.

By getting your products into the GSA Advantage system you have a 24/7 storefront for City, State and Federal government agencies all over the world. Not just military – The National Parks Service, The Federal and State Prison system, NASA, and even registered non profits not connected with the government can buy your products using the GSA Advantage program. (https://vsc.gsa.gov/)

The military retail system on the other hand is the place where products are sold to military personnel and their families in retail stores located on bases all over the world.

Most military bases have four retail outlets where active and retired military members and their families shop tax free..

The Commissary is a full service grocery store.

The Base Exchange (or Post Exchange) is a department store much like a JC Penny.

The Four Seasons Store is a general merchandise store featuring furniture, appliances, auto parts, pet supplies and sporting goods.

The Package Store is a full service liquor store.

Selling products to the Base/Post Exchange, Four Seasons, or Package store is exactly like selling to any civilian retail chain except there are two of them. The Air Force and Army use a program called the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) (http://www.aafes.com/about-exchange/doing-business/) while the Navy uses the Naval Exchange Services Command (NEXCom) (https://www.mynavyexchange.com/nex/doing-business-with-us)

Selling to the Commissary system is the same process as selling to any major grocery store except instead of selling to the individual services the Air Force, Army, and Navy. They all use a government agency called The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA)   (http://www.commissaries.com/) for centralized purchasing and distribution.

Once you decide you want to try and sell your products into the military you should spend a little time reading through their sites to figure out the processes before contacting them – but if you’re selling a grocery item, when you do decide here’s a link to the 2015 commissary category buyers list http://www.commissaries.com/documents/business/buyer_listing.pdf

As you can see there are a lot of opportunities to sell products within the government and military structures. You just have to know where to start – and now you do!

But how is that made? Loss Wax Casting

As inventors we obviously we enjoy learning about how things are made. However, more importantly than just enjoying the knowledge. We need to understand how factories make products so we can incorporate those processes into the designs of our inventions.

bronze1Here on the Inventor Education Blog I’ve shown you Roto-casting, Injection Molding, even Vacuum Forming processes. All in an effort to explain what your invention may run into when it’s time to manufacture it.

Today we’re talking about Investment Casting, or what is commonly referred to as “loss wax casting”. Although you may not know it, this is how many of the metal parts you use in everyday life are manufactured. A great example of that is handguns. Almost every part of a handgun is cast using loss wax.

As you will see in the video below, it’s a process of coating wax with ceramic and then pouring molten metal into the ceramic, effectively replacing the wax inside.

This video shows how loss wax is used to make production parts. However, the process was first used (and still is today) to make bronze statues and figurines.

So take a moment and watch this video on Loss Wax casting. Then think about how this process may apply to an invention you’re working on.

Does MAP pricing screw the consumer?

Does MAP pricing screw the consumer? Not the way it was designed, but maybe the way it’s used.

Let’s talk for a moment about Minimum Advertised Prices, or what we call in the industry MAP Pricing.

Close-up of a young man tearing paper

As an inventor trying to get your product to market you will, at some point, run into MAP pricing while dealing with retailers. When you do, here are a few little things you should know.

MAP pricing is a manufacturer setting the minimum price a product can be advertised for sale. It is not, “price fixing” since it only applies to the advertised price, and not technically the for sale price.

But let’s be honest here.

Most manufacturers use MAP pricing as a way of keeping the retailers from gutting the market.

For example: Say I have a product that sells wholesale for $25.00. The MSPR on that product may be $65.00, and the MAP pricing may be $49.95. The retailer, by way of the Vendor Agreement (a contract the retailer and manufacturer sign outlining the terms of wholesale on each product) agrees to those numbers.

I get word that the retailer is advertising the product for $49.95, but offering a discount of $10.00, bringing the sale price down to $39.95. They are using MAP pricing the way it was intended, but I’m still going to cut off his supply chain. Why? because if I allow that to happen I’ll have every other retailer dropping down to $39.95 and demanding that I drop the wholesale price to reflect this new retail.

I can’t adjust the price that far downward because my profit margins aren’t that high. So instead, I simply pull the product off the market and the consumer looses.

You see, a manufacturer in normal retail products work in about a 20% profit margin. While a retailer works in the 100% range. That’s a lot of room for a retailer to play with pricing, and not much room for a manufacturer to react – making the concept of MAP pricing as a price control very important to the ecosystem of retail.

Now, before you yell and scream about how the consumer gets screwed by how MAP pricing is actually used. Remember, products have a top end consumers are willing to pay. We vote with our dollars, and the market ultimately dictates the price.

No, MAP pricing isn’t used as a way of jacking up prices across the market. MAP pricing is used as a tool for preserving the reasonable profits of the supply chain, against the often greedy practices of the retailers.

Mark Reyland

Some very good patent advice

Recently I ran across a question about updating the content of a Provisional Patent Application (PPA) once you have made changes to your design. This is a very common question, but I particularly like the answers the inventor received from Frank White and Don Kelly – so I thought I would share them with you.

gsfgkdfkThe Question: I created a visual prototype and filed a ppa. After it was filed and I received confirmation, I began working on a PoC prototype which turned out to be different from the visual prototype. The spirit and concept of the design is there, but there are changes nonetheless. Do I need to refile a whole new ppa or can you file a modification to an existing one. Thank you

Note: don’t feel bad. I have no idea what a “visual prototype”, or a “PoC prototype” are either. 🙂

Frank White: If the “base invention” (merits) does not change, then there is no need to re-file.

Example: my PPA is for a stool with four legs and rotating seat. during the 12 month period while the PPA is in its application stage (pendency), I have included another “leg” and a “backrest” to the seat because during my testing and experimentation, I discovered they will make the stool more stable and secure. In this case, the change or improvement reflects the same “Base Invention” described in the PPA… the MERITS of the invention have not been changed.

However, if my PPA is for a stool with four legs and a rotating seat, and my submission has been “improved” to the point it is now a child restraint device for use in pick-up trucks, then a new PPA would have to be filed because the “merits” are completely different.

Include every alternative and use you can think of when filing the PPA, but refining the base invention is what happens during the pendency stage and as long as it doesn’t change the base invention, there is no issue.

Don Kelly: Filing one or more additional PPA’s to supplement the initial PPA doesn’t re-start the originally established 12 month PPA time period. Each follow-on NPA should be filed within the initially set 12 mo. time period and claim “all” benefits of those PPAs …identified by PPA filing dates & numbers.

It should be noted. While Frank is a very smart guy, and his advice is accurate, he is not a patent professional. Don Kelly is a practicing patent agent.

What celebrity invented that?

I have often said inventing is the great equalizer. It cares nothing about your education, your money, or what city you grew up in. It’s a process of discovery equally achievable by all. It’s also a process participated in by many you may not think would be inventing. However, you may be wrong, as witnessed by this list of celebrity inventors MentalFloss so kindly compiled for us from the pages of Us Weekly.


Part of guitar wizard Eddie Van Halen’s signature sound was his two-handed tapping technique, but letting all ten fingers fly while simultaneously holding up the guitar’s neck could get a bit tricky. Van Halen came up with a novel way to get around this problem, though; he invented a support (top) that could flip out of the back of his axe’s body to raise and stabilize the fretboard so he could tap out searing songs like “Eruption.” While Van Halen was obviously interested in improving his guitar work, the patent application he filed in 1985 notes that the device would work with any stringed instrument. Want to tap out a scorching mandolin solo? Find someone selling Eddie’s device.

2. James Cameron

It’s probably not surprising that Cameron—who designed a submersible to take him to the deepest known part of the ocean—will often invent technology to make his films if what he needs doesn’t exist. He holds a number of patents, including US Patent No. 4996938, “apparatus for propelling a user in an underwater environment,” that he and his brother, Michael, created to film The Abyss and patented in 1989. The device is basically an underwater dolly equipped with propellers that makes it easy for a camera operator to maneuver in the water—and allowed Cameron to capture the shots he wanted for the 1989 film, part of which was filmed in an abandoned nuclear reactor.


Lincoln wasn’t just splitting rails and winning debates before he moved into the White House. He held quite a few jobs before becoming a politician, and in one of these capacities he helped float a boatload of goods down the Mississippi River. At one point, the boat got stuck in a shallow spot, and it took quite a bit of effort to wrench it free. Lincoln thought that there must have been a better way to keep ships off of shoals, so he invented a convoluted device that involved putting a set of bellows on the bottom of a boat. Lincoln’s reasoning was that if the boat got in a sticky situation, sailors could fill the bellows with air to make the ship more buoyant.

Lincoln received Patent Number 6469 for this invention in 1849, but unfortunately, Abe’s creation never made it into stores. It turned out that all of the extra weight associated with adding the bellows device to a ship actually made it more likely that the boat would get stuck.


McQueen’s driving abilities extended far beyond his legendary racing scenes in The Great Escape and Bullitt. In fact, he was a pretty serious motorcycle and car racer who toyed with the idea of someday becoming a professional racer. He even competed in some big-name races, like the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring. McQueen didn’t just drive his cars, though; he also liked to tinker with them. In 1969, he filed a design patent for an improved bucket seat, and that’s how he became the proud owner of patent number D219584.

5. Bill Nye

He’s not just the science guy—Bill Nye is also the inventor of a better ballet toe shoe. The design and materials of the traditional pointe shoe have remained unchanged for centuries, Nye points out in the patent application, and can cause a dancer discomfort and even pain. Nye’s design takes into account the forces exerted upon a dancer’s body when dancing en pointe and provides additional support via a “toe box” located “in the toe of the toe shoe, an upper and an outer sole. Support structure within the toe shoe includes a longitudinal support member, a foot encirculating tubular sleeve, and/or a toe ridge.”


In 1987 Curtis designed and patented a disposable diaper that included a waterproof pocket that held baby wipes. She hasn’t profited from her idea yet, though, since she refuses to license the patent until diaper companies make biodegradable products.

7. George Lucas

If you’ve ever played with a Star Wars toy, chances are George Lucas owns a patent on it. This Boba Fett action figure, which Lucas holds a patent on with co-inventors Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, was the first of 11 the director would come to hold; it was filed in 1979 and granted in 1982.


Lamarr’s name may not be so familiar now, but in the 1930s and 1940s, the Austrian-born MGM actress was one of the hottest things on the silver screen. She was quite the scientist, too. In 1942 Lamarr and composer George Antheil received a patent for a “secret communication system” that could use carrier waves of different frequencies to remotely control devices like zeppelins and torpedoes. Unfortunately, mechanical engineering wasn’t quite ready for Lamarr’s major breakthrough, and the technology didn’t come into use for over 20 years, at which point Lamarr’s patent had expired.

9. Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola is a renaissance man. He directs and produces movies. He owns a winery and a restaurant. He’s also dabbled in fashion, and holds a patent for a t-shirt with a turtle on it that has its shell divided into numbered regions. The purpose is to “permit the wearer to identify for a third party a particular location on the wearer’s body” in the event of something like an unreachable itch. The patent describes the scenario in detail:

It can be especially difficult for a person to scratch his or her own itch when the location of the itch is in a hard-to-reach spot such as the back. … [A]bsent a device such as a scratching stick, a person with an itch in a hard-to-reach location must ask a second party to scratch the itch. This, in turn, requires orienting the second-party-scratcher by using a series of directions, which are often being misunderstood by the second party. … “Could you scratch lower? To the left . . . No, the other left. Now, down lower. To the right. No, no . . . Too far! Back to the left.”  … [T]here is a need for an object that assists a person in precisely identifying a location on the person’s own body for a second party.

It’s brilliant, but what else would you expect from the director of The Godfather?


Even the man in purple has a patent to call his own. In 1992 Prince got the thumbs-up for a design patent for a “portable keyboard instrument.” Yup, it’s a keytar. This one’s a curvy purple design with two pitchfork-type spikes on the end. In other words, it’s something that could only have come out of Prince’s noggin.


In 1999 everyone’s favorite funnyman illusionist received a patent for a “hydro-therapeutic stimulator.” What exactly does that mean? According to the application, it’s “a spa of a type including a tub for holding water and a user, in particular, a female user.” The spa’s jets are strategically located to make the experience a bit more, ah, enjoyable for female bathers.

12. Paula Abdul

Most mic stands are flat-bottomed, and meant to stay in one position on the stage, which requires a performer to be close to the microphone in order to be heard—or to drag the heavy mic stand along the stage. That just didn’t work for Paula Abdul, who in 2009 patented her own mic stand, a “dynamic microphone support apparatus.” Her device has a concave base filled with cement and a cover on the base that “is positioned over the base and covers the compartment such that weight of a user positioned on the base cover applied in a direction causes the base to tilt with respect to the surface in the direction; and a rod member.” The resulting invention looks like a cross between a workout apparatus, a mic stand, and a death trap, but because the base is weighted, the singer can stand on top and move around without fear of falling over.


To say Brando got a bit eccentric in his golden years is something of an understatement, but the aging actor also started to get innovative. Brando’s inventiveness focused on the drums, and in 2002 he received a patent for a “drumhead tensioning device and method,” one of several patents he held for drum devices.

14. Andy Warhol

Not content with just one watch face, Andy Warhol created a watch with five, which was patented by the American Watch Company after the artist’s death.


Your grandma’s favorite accordionist and bandleader was also an inventor. In 1953, Welk received a design patent for a new type of ashtray that looked like (what else?) an accordion. Not a huge breakthrough for humanity, but it went nicely with Welk’s other patent; ten years earlier he had received a design patent for a menu card that looked like a singing chicken.


Zeppo may not have had the same comedic chops as Groucho, but he was handy with inventions. In 1969 Zeppo was part of a team that received a patent for a cardiac pulse rate monitor that was designed to let people with heart problems know if their pulse was shifting into a danger zone.


The supermodel received a patent for an educational toy she designed in 1991 that seems to mostly be useful for helping kids learn the alphabet.


How did Michael Jackson seemingly lean in defiance of gravity in the video for “Smooth Criminal”? He wore a pair of specially designed shoes that could hitch into a device hidden beneath the stage. Jackson and two co-inventors patented this “method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion“ in 1993.


The man who played Radar on M*A*S*H also invented a device he calls “Chum Magic,” a floating apparatus that fishermen can fill with chum to lure fish to their boats. He received a patent for the device in 1992.

20. Albert Einstein

It’s probably not surprising that this Nobel-award winning scientist holds 50 patents for things like hearing devices, refrigerators, and compasses. But one of his patents is not like the others: In 1936, Einstein patented a design for “a new, original, and ornamental” blouse: “The design is characterized by the side openings A-A (Fig. 2) which also serve as arm holes; a central back panel extends from the yoke to the waistband as indicated at B.” Smart and fashionable, that Einstein.

21. Mark Twain

The writer formerly known as Samuel Clemens loved to scrapbook—but he hated the standard scrapbooking process. So in 1872, he invented a better scrapbook:

The nature of my invention consists in a selfpasting scrap-book … The leaves of which the Book A … are entirely covered, on one or both sides, with mucilage or other suitable adhesive substance, while the leaves of which the book B is composed have the mucilage or adhesive substance applied only at intervals … It is only necessary to moisten so much of the leaf as will contain the piece to be pasted in, and place such piece thereon, when it will stick to the leaf.

According to PBS, by 1901 there were 57 different types of his new scrapbook available. Twain also patented an “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” in 1871, which was referenced in a 1999 patent for a bra arrangement.

22. Steven Spielberg

The man behind Jaws holds a patent for a dolly switch, filed in 1999, as well as a patent for “Method and apparatus for annotating a document,” filed in 2011. It allows those editing a digital document—a script, say—to do so from anywhere; it also allows them to add verbal annotations to the document. Spielberg has also filed a patent for a holodeck.

23. JULIE Newmar

In 1974, the actress better known as Catwoman patented the delightfully named “pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief.” What makes it so much better than regular pantyhose? According to the patent, “An elastic shaping band is attached to the rear panty portion and is connected from the vicinity of the crotch to the vicinity of the waist band and fits between the wearer’s buttocks to delineate the wearer’s derriere in cheeky relief.” Okay then.

24. Neil Young

You know him as a rock legend, but Neil Young also loves trains—so much that he owns a stake in a model train manufacturing company and has an extensive collection. He also holds seven patents related to model trains, including Patent No. US5441223, “Model train controller using electromagnetic field between track and ground.”

25. Kurt Vonnegut Sr.

In 1946, the father of author and Saab dealership manager Kurt Vonnegut Jr. patented an easy-clean tobacco pipe “which may be cleaned without disturbing the burning tobacco in the bowl” and also without dirtying the fingers.

26. Charles Fleischer

The voice behind the title character (among others) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? patented a toy egg “adapted for pulling, stretching, and bouncing which includes two intertwined helically cut shells” in 1979.

27. Jamie Hyneman

He’s held a number of jobs—boat captain, dive master, and pet shop owner among them—but as head of special effects company M5, MythBusters star Jamie Hyneman patented a “Remote control device with gyroscopic stabilization and directional control” in 2000.


Terms you need to know if you sell to retailers

My good friend Roger Brown often makes these lists of terms that are important to know if you’re doing business in the retail products world.

Inspired by Roger, and with a little cut and paste, I expanded on some of these terms and focused them into terms you would run across selling into a retailer.

woman_clipboardMinimum Order Quantity (MOQ)- The minimum amount of product required to place an order.

Freight on Board (FOB) – A term used to establish the point to which shipping has been paid on an item. For example: FOB West Coast would mean freight is included to a west coast port of the US.

Landed Cost – the total amount it costs of a landed shipment that includes freight, insurance, port fees, purchase price and any other costs that might be incurred to bring the product to the final point of distribution.

Wholesale Price- The price a company charges for a product normally sold to a retailer. The retailer will then increase the price they paid and sell it to the consumer. Note: This is normally the price used when referring to a royalty rate percentage paid per unit in a licensing agreement to an Inventor. It is not to be confused with the Retail Price that is charged to the consumer.

Retail Price- The price for a product or service sold to the consumer. Note: This price is not used when calculating an Inventor’s royalty rate.

Distribution Center (DC’s) – a location used by a retailer for receiving and redistribution of goods out to the stores.

Stock Keeping Unit (SKU’s) – Every SKU is identified with its own unique number tied to a particular item. This helps track product and inventory.

Universal Product Code (UPC’s) – This is a 12 digit barcode placed on the item being sold. UPC is used for pricing at the checkout, inventory tracking, sales, ordering stock and a host of other options. (12 in the U.S.; 13 in Europe)

European Article Numbering (EAN) – Standardized 13 digit bar code system for identifying almost anything. The EAN code is compatible with the UPC.

Shipping Container – a container that can be sealed and reused normally used to ship product from one country to another via ship or overland by truck or train. They are typically two sizes twenty foot in length and forty foot in length.

Product Turns – This refers to how many times you will need to refill the product space. Example: If you have ten items that fit on a shelf in Target, and you expect to sell all 10 items over the course of a month, the item will have 12 turn per year.

Fulfillment – The distribution process of moving products from the factory to the retailer, managing sales, and collection and distribution of funds.

Sell-In – A term used by product sales people for the wholesale price a retailer pays.

Products Footprint – The amount of space your product will take up on the store shelf or on the store floor display.

Profit Per – Profit Per is the calculation retailers use to figure out the profitability of a space based on the product in that space. For example: If you have 10 items that take up a square foot of shelf space and the retailer makes $1.00 profit on each item the Profit-per on that square foot would be $10.00. The same would apply to a hook that held ten items, or a floor display that took up two square feet and held 30 items.

Planogram or POG – It may not always feel like it, but everything in a retail space is methodically accounted for. The main tool used to map everything in the store out is the Planogram. This is a computer generated layout that designates the location of every product, on every hook and every shelf in the store.

Mark Reyland

Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb!

Okay – I’m just going to blurt it out for all you would-be inventor historians out there. Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb.

In fact – The light bulb was invented 45 years before Thomas Edison was even born. Humphrey Davey invented the light bulb in 1802. He was also the inventor of the battery.


In 1840, seven years before Thomas Edison was born, British scientist Warren de la Rue enclosed a coiled platinum filament in a vacuum tube and passed an electric current through it, giving us something that more closely resembles modern day light bulbs.

In 1860, when Edison was just thirteen years old, English physicist Joseph Wilson Swan created a working prototype “light bulb” by enclosing carbonized paper filaments in an evacuated glass bulb.

In 1878, a full 76 years after the first light bulb had been invented, Thomas Edison began research into developing a practical incandescent lamp. After devoting much of his lab (yes, Edison had a lab full of inventors, including Tesla, that did the actual inventing) to the problem for over ten years, and obtaining US patents on many of the previous English designs, Edison finally gave up.

In 1910, just twenty years before Edison died, William David Coolidge (while working at General Electric) invented the Tungsten filaments used in modern day bulbs. This last piece of the puzzle, the end of a 108 year inventing process, made light bulbs commercially viable.

So why over 108 years, and hundreds of people trying, does history give credit for the light bulb to Edison? Because when it comes to inventions, history often gets it wrong. (Ford didn’t invent the automobile any more than the Wright Brothers invented the Airplane)

What Edison did invent, is the screw base used to mount the bulb itself.

Inspired by the screw lid of an oil can sitting on his back step. Edison helped give the light bulb commercial viability by giving consumers a way to install it. That said, had Coolidge not solved the problem with the filament inside the bulb, Edison’s contribution would have been for not.

So, while Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb itself, he did make an important contribution to the process.

History has been kind to Thomas Edison, accrediting him for many inventions that may or may not actually be his. I guess in the end the important thing is that these inventions helped society. Although a strong argument could be made, that the greatest thing Thomas Edison ever invented, was Thomas Edison.

Mark Reyland

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