Procrastination is the killer of all dreams.
That’s the motto that Mike Turner has near the top of the Columbus Phenix City Inventors Association’s website. It’s just that simple, says the president of the organization he founded in 2010.
The native of Bronx, N.Y., and resident of Smiths Station, Ala., said he loves to teach, having done so early in his career, with that thread continuing through a nearly two-decade stint as a human resources professional.
Retired two years ago, Turner, 66, got into the inventing world after having determined a product needed to be developed for those men suffering from prostate-related frequent urination. Getting up in the middle of the night and waking a spouse was disruptive for both, he said, thus he created a device with a tube for when nature calls. It led to growth among is customer base, which includes long-haul truck drivers and pilots of small airplanes. He’s sold about 3,000 of what he calls “Bathroom Eliminator” via the Internet in recent years.
The overall confusing experience of getting his product patented, manufactured, marketed and distributed motivated Turner to launch his association, which will have its monthly workshop — Facts You Should Know About Inventing — on Saturday at the Troy University-Phenix City campus, 1510 Third Ave.. It is 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for non-members and 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for members.
“Our first hour is for non-members, which means they probably just heard about us and they want to know what they need to do to get their product or idea moving,” he said. “Then the second hour is for members only, which we will have a couple of speakers.
The Ledger-Enquirer sat down with Turner recently to discuss his task of teaching people how to make money from a product they invented, why he can occasionally find it challenging, and what he enjoys about it. His association also recently added a chapter in Atlanta. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity:
Q. Describe your organization and its basic mission.
A. We’re a nonprofit educational association, and what we do is help people learn about the journey they have to make to become an inventor. We work from the concept in the mind, then take that from the mind and put it on paper. We have business members that help us with the kids and adults, and get a 3-D rendering (with help from Columbus State University). We file a provisional patent for members, and we have a business member who’s an attorney in Atlanta who files the (20-year) utility patent. Then we try to get that product into the stores.
Q. Your group works with the school system?
A. Our organization is involved with the school system in terms of the science and engineering fair that they have every year. We are one of the co-sponsors along with CSU. We go into the middle and high schools and talk with the kids. The last one we went to was Spencer High last week, and we talked to them about creating items and projects that are patentable, because they’ve got to come up with some kind of project for the science fair. Then when their project is displayed at CSU at the fair, our members go in and observe. There are about 100 projects that were there last year. What we do is choose three student winners that have patent-potential projects — first, second and third prize winners. We also provide trophies and plaques, and the business community, like Walmart, Sears and Target, they all contribute prizes for the student winners. We’ve been doing that for the last four years.
Q. How much is membership to the association?
A. Membership is only $47 a year. We want to keep it low. We figure people can afford that. What they get is access to our business members. They get a monthly newsletter that comes out, one for non-members and one for members only. At our meetings, there’s a lot of new things in terms of the laws that come out about inventions. We update them on that.
Q. Is your organization’s assistance free after that?
A. Most of it is free, particularly for the students it’s free. But for adults, along the way they have to pay a little something to get certain things done. But the information that we provide for them is free. We have free workshops every month, and we’ve been doing that every year.
Q. You also work with the group, ColumbusMakesIT?
A. They’re involved in helping people get product prototypes ready and helping them find investors ... (In September) our organization was a mentor to those (inventors). We provided some free consultation to them. Of course, they had to prep themselves to make a pitch to investors. The 18th of this month is when they’re going to start a new program that will last for six months. So our organization is part of that in terms of being a mentor to folks who want to get their products into stores.
Q. How long does it take to get a product patented?
A. When you invent something and take it to market, it takes a long time. When you submit the application to them, it takes them 18 months before they actually publish it to the general public. The reason they do that is if there’s somebody out there who feels they have a similar product, that is the opportunity for them to fight it.
The next 18 months is when the examiners decide whether or not they’re going to issue you the final patent. The final patent is good for 20 years, as long as you keep paying the maintenance fees … Every day those examiners have to look over and read about 100 applications. They don’t read the whole thing. They’ll take snippets out of it because it’s sent electronically and they have some kind of computer system that looks for key words. If those words come up similar to something that’s already patented, they automatically reject it. If it’s rejected, they tell the inventor why, and because the patent attorney filed the application, the attorney is the one that fights on behalf of the inventor.
Q. What percentage of applications is rejected?
A. Very high, about 80 percent of all patents submitted across the country are rejected.
Q. Because in this big world it’s hard to believe someone hasn’t already invented every product?
A. Anything that’s out there is not new. It’s a modification of something that’s already out there. That’s the key thing that we share with people … if you do some modifications to it, if you change some things around, then you have a good chance of getting it through. ... That’s the key thing I tell folks, is do research before you spend a dime on anything. We have various software to do a search online. We also have links where they can do searches.
Q. How many people has your organization helped?
A. We have 35 active members now, with five members in Atlanta. But over the years I would say over 300 people have come through our association. Some came for the information. Some joined and didn’t do anything with their idea, they just fell off. We have three with us now who have already been with an attorney and filed their patent, and now they have to wait two years to get it officially approved. But in the meantime, they’re marketing their product now.
Q. There’s some expertise involved from your people?
A. One of our business partners, who’s been working with some of our members, he acts like the middleman between the inventor and the manufacturing company. There’s a lot of detail things that have to be worked out … He does a lot for our members at a reasonable price, because he wants to help folks just like we all do.
Q. Why did you get involved?
A. I like the teaching aspect of it ... That’s why I go into schools and teach kids about inventing. We have our meetings and people come and learn some information. That’s what I love to do. I love to teach.
Q. What’s the most challenging aspect of your job or mission?
A. For me, it’s when you teach people what they need to know, what they need to do, and they don’t do it. To me, they lose a great opportunity to be financially rewarded. When I know they’ve got a good product, and I know this product will sell, and they don’t do anything, it kind of frustrates me that they don’t take advantage of it.
Q. What’s the most rewarding aspect for you?
A. Helping people. Helping people be successful. Because if they are successful, we are successful. Now we don’t ask anything from them, but because in my heart I feel that because we’ve helped them get to that point to be financially set, they will give back to the organization ... That’s the gratification that we get from it, is running this organization and helping others.
Hometown: Bronx, N.Y.
Current residence: Smiths Station, Ala.
Education: 1968 graduate of Food Trades High School; earned a bachelor’s of science degree from Cornell University in 1972 and a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix in 1999
Previous jobs: Regional human resources manager with ServiceMaster
Family: Mary, his bride of 21 years, and four grown children — Mekell, David, Skyler and Tanesha
Leisure time: Enjoys fishing and reads quite a bit