There have been more than six million patents issued since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office opened for business in 1790. The office has helped to give birth to some of the world's most innovative and successful products everything from mousetraps to microwaves, Post-It notes to power tools.
In Southwest Virginia, a new company aims to be the mother of many more such inventions. It's called the Egg Factory but, this is no ordinary brick and mortar assembly plant.
To understand what the Egg Factory is, it helps to explain what it isn't. It's not a venture capital company or an incubator. And you won't find a research laboratory on site. Instead, it's a virtual think-tank, fertilizing innovations to sell and license to large Fortune 500 companies.
"Companies have gotten so large that when you're a $20 billion company wanting to be a $40 billion company because you have no choice but to be that or your CEO gets fired because the shareholders aren't happy because the growth rate isn't right, there's a real problem with large companies getting larger and that's where we step in," says Ron Blum, the Egg Factory's founder and chief executive officer.
Mr. Blum has put together a global network of specialists in fields from engineering to science to business administration. The company's head of research and development, Dwight Duston, once led R & D for the U.S. government's hi-tech anti-ballistic missile program, the Strategic Defense Initiative. Mr. Duston says he was attracted to the company because it defies the standard entrepreneurial business model.
"The Egg Factory Model is not a model that says we want to be a product manufacturer," he says. "It says instead that there are large corporations out there, major Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies who have a need for innovation in order to sustain their growth. As a consequence they need companies who are going to be dedicated to helping them grow, to develop innovations in their family of product lines to allow them to license those technologies or buy those technologies directly to increase their bottom line."
The Egg Factory is unique also in that it maintains majority ownership and management of its projects. Each of its business concepts is called an "egg," and each has its own small team to develop it. Once the team has put together the necessary technology and a business plan, the egg can then be sold or licensed to a corporate client.
The Egg Factory's development money is now focused on a few patented projects including one of founder Ron Blum's own inventions. An optometrist by trade, Mr. Blum is especially excited about what he calls e-vision, a technology he says will forever change the way people who wear glasses see.
"Think of your camera," he says. "You don't sit there - at least with the new cameras - and focus them. The camera focuses itself, right? These glasses will know where the glasses are looking, where you're looking at, and do the focusing for you so that you what you look at is in focus in milliseconds."
Other projects in the Egg Factory "nest" include industrial strength cleaning systems for the home, such as the Tech-Mat. Basically a sticky floor pad, it's expected to revolutionize the residential doormat industry. A similar product is already used in high-tech clean-room technology.
Mr. Blum says a patent has also been issued for what's called the Agro-Shield, a biodegradable, non-toxic polymer that protects crops against freezing temperatures.
"It actually works like an electric blanket," he says. "So as the temperature goes down, it actually gives off heat. So the next day, when the temperature goes up, it stays on the plant. And the next night, when the temperature goes down, it gives heat off again."
The Egg Factory's interest in nature doesn't end there. The company is also working on a technology that would to weaken hurricanes and reduce the damage they inflict on people's lives, property and the environment. Taking care not to divulge any trade secrets, Mr. Blum says only that the plan involves cooling the ocean water directly under the storms.
"We've figured out how to drop the temperature in a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way that will reduce the severity of hurricanes," he says. "We realize this Hurricane opportunity that we're playing with does have a giggle factor to it, but we really challenge our people to push the envelope and that's what this one is."
The Egg Factory's head of Research and Development, Dwight Duston, says the Hurricane Project exemplifies the company's pledge never to be intimidated by the magnitude of a project.
"When you add up the total loss of property and life over the past decade, it's unbelievable," he says. "So as far as benefit to society, the hurricane project rings a bell at the highest level. On the other hand, it's going to be very challenging, because it's very, very difficult to modify hurricane behavior without disturbing the energy balance of the earth."
Mr. Duston and Mr. Blum believe that technology has advanced to the point that when brilliant minds gather, they can solve virtually any problem provided, of course, that they have enough money to work with. The beauty of innovation, they say, is that Golden Eggs - the real life-changing inventions - often hatch from the simplest ideas.