Academy of Applied Science
Please Meet: Don Kelly
A SPARKS interview with Don Kelly, who joined the Academy in 2000 as its Chief Executive Officer.
SPARKS: ?After a long and distinguished career with the US Patent and Trademark Office, why did you decide to join the Academy??
Don Kelly: The better question might be "When did I join the Academy?"? I worked a lifetime within the intractable constraints of the "system" at the USPTO and sometimes stretched the boundaries. It was this stretching that led to my involvement in forming the United Inventors Association in 1990 and to the formation of the Patent Office's young inventors' program PROJECT XL.?That's about the time I became aware of the Academy. Here was an organization, small in number but gigantic in passion. "When did I join the Academy?" Maybe I'd joined the Academy long ago and just didn't know it.?The moment I was given the chance to make the formal transition, I jumped at it.
SPARKS:?When you were at the USPTO, you were referred to as the "Champion of Inventors." Where did your interest in inventors begin?
DK:?Years ago I was privileged to serve as Science Advisor to a US Congressman who was known for helping exploited constituents. One issue I became involved in was invention marketing scams.?I was stunned to hear from many poor souls who fell victim to their nasty business techniques.?I remember one gentleman who spoke of handing over his meager life savings in hopes that his invention would be carried to the marketplace.?Choking back a sob, he said, "It ain't so much the money, it's that they stole my American Dream."
SPARKS: Do you have any inventive talents?
DK: Well, I'm certainly no Thomas Edison or Robert Rines, but I admit to thinking of myself as an inventor.?When I was with the USPTO, 10,000 patent applications crossed my desk.? Federal law makes it quite clear that the only people on earth who can't qualify for a US patent grant are the officers of the US Patent and Trademark Office.?So, there was no incentive to pursue inventing.? Besides, I might have ended up in jail.?Since leaving the Patent Office after 36 years, I've kept inventor notebooks on a few ideas that are certain to change the face of the world.?Not really, I'm just dreaming. While working on a British company's project developing a multimedia workstation for on-line text search of patent literature, our inventive developments were the subject of patent application drafts, but our legal counsel discouraged filing.?Software-based inventions weren't "patentable" until recently.?So, I missed my chance at the "patentee" title, but I'll try again.?
SPARKS: Is anyone in your family an inventor?
DK: My grandfather was an inventor, a lawyer, a poet, and a Methodist minister.?Whatever was needed, he could provide it.?My dad was the tinkerer.? When he undertook a project to make something, he often invented his own tools.?
SPARKS: When you were a kid what did you think of inventors?
DK: Growing up in Sarasota and spending time around the Red Sox spring training park, I didn't give inventors a thought.?But I remember watching a Jimmy Stewart movie where he played an aeronautical
engineer who invented a new airplane design.?In the dramatic climax, a daring vibration test proved he was right, and the hero of the day. I saw that movie four times.? Perhaps it was that experience, coupled with my marginal skills on the baseball diamond, which brought me to study aeronautical engineering in college.?
SPARKS:? It's fun to think back on the things that influenced us as kids especially when they were positive influences.?With your experience with the USPTO and inventors and invention programs for kids, what do you think is the most powerful message we can spread?
DK:?The Academy's passionate message to our children is that they are naturally creative and inventive.? Our natural capacity for inventive thinking, along with the opposable thumb, is what separates us from God's other creatures.?We want to work with school administrators who want to include critical and creative thinking skills into curricula development. I'm extremely excited about the Academy's national campaign to encourage inventive thinking in all the classrooms of America.? As I look back on the different jobs I've held, it seems as if all those roads and paths prepared me to join the Academy.?In addition to my grandfather's poems, one of my very favorite lines is from Robert Frost's The Tuft of Flowers.?"Men work together,' I told him from the heart, 'whether they are together or apart.'"?I'm happy, at last, to be working together with the Academy.