Mag-Trans Corporation News

Hope Is a Strange Invention
CityPages by William Wroblewski - June 22, 2005

A confidentiality agreement awaits at the door. Everyone has to sign it. "There are guidelines we all must follow," a man whispers conspiratorially. "What we say here does not leave the room." About 75 people--mainly inventors, but also patent attorney and marketing types--have gathered this evening in the meeting hall at the Van Dusen Center, an old mansion located just off Franklin Avenue in south Minneapolis. ...........

In the world of inventors, angels can sprout devil's horns. Everyone knows this, but no one knows it better than the president of the Inventors' Network, Robert Albertson. With his plaid collared shirt and tan slacks, Albertson looks more suited to the basement workroom than the corporate testing lab. But he's no mere hobbyist--he's the mind behind the weed eater, the shower massager, and dozens of other inventions, and he owns a patent list nearing 250.

Albertson got his start in the tinkering game more than 50 years ago when he came up with what remains his best known innovation: the paper coffee filter. He sold the idea to a vending machine company for a couple of thousand dollars--a fortune for him at the time, but a pittance when you consider that the concept launched Mr. Coffee.

Years later, Albertson would gain a reputation for brawling with the big boys. In 1984, when Albertson was installing private pay telephones through his Tonk-a-Phone, Inc., he even took on Ma Bell. Bell had challenged the legality of his enterprise and, he says, even resorted to sabotaging his phones. Albertson filed a suit with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Bell gave in, and Minnesota became the first state to allow competition in the payphone market.

"It's a mercenary world out there," he warns his fellow inventors. "We're not in the good old days where distribution is the local hardware store or the drug store. All these ma-and-pas are going by the wayside. It's all become a Kmart, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club market. It's all about the biggies. In order to sell the biggies, you have to be a biggie yourself."

These days, Albertson spends more time as a mentor to other inventors. He is also developing a TV show called Inventing with Bob, a meet-the-inventor, interview-format cable access show he expects to syndicate on more than 100 networks. Among his guests: Art Fry, inventor of the Post-It Note; and Earl Bakken, inventor of the portable pacemaker. Future episodes will feature four teenage girls who he says are on their way to millions, thanks to such inventions as the microwave bacon cooker.

As the meeting draws to a close, a woman named Wendy Thomas takes the floor in the meeting hall to get some reactions to her invention: a special quilt that is split in the middle so it is thick on one half and thin on the other. This, she thinks, will go over well with couples who disagree over how warm a bed should be.

When most left the hall for the evening, a dozen or so members stick around to get a closer look at Thomas's bedding. "This is how we learn," she says with a smile. "If I can answer all their questions confidently, I have a good idea. If I can't, it's just a pipe dream." presents new electric car
Image by Tony Nelson