For probably the 10th time in my life, I was part of an invention that already existed. Cousin Charlie and I had a wonderful conversation today about his idea, and I was very excited about it, until I found an article from two years ago discussing FOUR companies already marketing his invention. Since we're not going to get rich off it, I can divulge that it was a sticky RFID tag that can be tracked by an app on your device. The article says that there were several more companies also offering the devices. The basic idea is to stick an RFID tag on your keys or mp3 player or SLR camera. When you misplace it, you use your device to find it. Fine, after looking up all the options, Charlie's idea is an improvement to some extent, but it's still not new, and I don't know the technology to make his version happen. Here's one option, which is more of a card than a sticky microchip. Another option sticks to items, but it's reviews on Amazon aren't awesome. Another item uses crowd-sourced GPS (and there are a few like this) that will track your lost or stolen items if ANOTHER user is within range of the Bluetooth chip. I guess you could also walk around your neighborhood to find the culprit who stole your bike. Hopefully, Charlie will look at the items available and see where he could still make his ideas work. Or he'll just get frustrated, which can certainly happen when you invent something that's already been invented.
Another example of this for me was my collaboration with Mickey, a co-worker from when I was teaching. He came up with the idea to provide fundraising for schools and churches by using affiliate marketing. Basically, you put ad links on sites and give the non-profit a percentage. The problem for us was that creating the websites and tracking the cashflow meant pennies per hour of work, and then the organizations never really pushed the program, meaning only a few people were participating. Beyond that, it wasn't new. Over a year into our attempt, I found that another company had done the same thing. Only, instead of one money/sales guy and one web guy, that company had all kinds of high-paid developers, which meant bankruptcy in about a year.
Another idea I had that my sister later emailed to me was my tutoring database site. Mine is probably as good as the other one, which appears to have a large staff of computer kids working on it, but when I looked that one up, it had been around years. I went to the site assuming it stole the idea from me. The truth is that, just like the first two examples, I had the idea separately, not stealing from any of the similar ideas, but also not being first.
A fairly frustrating invention that I came up with along with my English 10 students many years ago was the tablet. Honestly, it was. We took the laptop and stuck it to an touch-screen notepad (remember those?). The funniest part was that we took third place in the competition we entered. I think it's because the contest was meant to create a school-based business, like t-shirt printing.
This past summer, I invented something while at a bar with a police officer friend. He was talking about a car chase, and I asked him why Milwaukee Police cars weren't equipped with a gun on the front that shot a tracking device onto the car being chased. He argued against it for some time, giving me several reasons why it would not work. A few weeks later, I read that the MPD was installing my idea on many of its cars.
My latest idea could save homeowners a lot of money. It reworks another one of Mickey's ideas (The Cranium Chromebook Protector) and turns it into something useful in the home, assuming he can figure out which materials work best.
Honestly, I have not seen other web designers pre-build spec websites like me, but I'd probably find something similar if I looked. I probably got the idea from my days in Architecture when we were creating designs with the intent of winning a contract. Unfortunately, six months after building spec sites, I have yet to sell one, even though I rebuilt really bad websites into really good ones.
Sure, I still have about three or four big inventions I won't mention here, since I'm still trying to figure out a few details. That's where Cousin Charlie was today, and I hope the revelation that his idea is one of many will help him focus on what makes his idea better, at which point we'll both sit on the couch and watch Packers games without a worry about money.