By Justin Boron
A job loss can be catastrophic for a person with a wife and two children. But for Jonesboro resident Norman Johnson it was inspirational.
Having been laid off from his airplane mechanic position by Northwest Airlines in 2003, but unwilling to let a poor economy stifle his work ethic, Johnson, 49, developed a project that he says will transform oil changes for cars.
His invention: An environmentally friendly, re-usable oil filter that will save on natural resources.
That's about all he says he can divulge at this point because the project is still in the patent process.
Like a miner staying quiet about a gold strike, Johnson is careful not to let the details of his invention get too far from his home.
Plans, drawings, and work materials hidden down in his basement office are the only signs that he may be sitting on a million-dollar idea.
"If it gets out someone could take the idea and run with it," Johnson said.
Part of the secrecy stems from an agreement he has with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Invent-Tech, a marketing firm that advertises support for inventors in finding a manufacturer for their designs.
For a price, which the company could not disclose, inventors are helped through the patent process and receive promotional materials that can be sent to manufacturers, said Shonte Everett, a public relations specialist for Invent-Tech.
But the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office cautions inventors about using the marketing firms, which a patent official said have been known to fall short on the promises they make.
"Every year, millions of dollars are thrown away on these companies that promise things they don't deliver," said Richard Maulsby, the director of public affairs at the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office. "Everybody is in love with their invention. These people will tell them it's the best thing since sliced bread."
The patent office offers a list of recommendations that inventors should follow when looking to promote their products.
é Ask a company to respond in writing to questions about its success rate, the total number of inventions it evaluated in the past five years, and its relationship with other marketing companies.
é Ask what up-front costs are and what will be supplied for them.
é Do a little market research to determine if a invention actually would have a demand.
There are some inventors groups that can be helpful such Inventor's Digest, Maulsby said.
"(But) unfortunately, there are a number of firms that are not reputable," he said.
Johnson admits he had some reservations about using a marketing firm.
He said he researched Invent-Tech and found they were including in better business reviews in Florida.
"In the back of my mind, I still worry about it, but I just have to wait and see," Johnson said.
Jorge Puertas, an inventor relations specialist, said the company works within federal laws and delivers what it promises in a contract with inventors.
Regardless of what happens with the invention or the marketing firm, Johnson said the process has helped him in his life.
After over a year of hammering out the design for the new oil filter, he is back to work at Lockheed Martin in Marietta.
Johnson said his path toward becoming an inventor exemplifies how work ethic and drive can catapult someone who is down on their luck.
After the terrorist attack in 2001, which sent the airline industry into dive, Johnson was forced out of his job in Atlanta and had to commute to Detroit, the major hub for Northwest.
Eventually, the adversity of tiresome travel eroded further when he was laid off.
With no work, Johnson said worries about providing for his family consumed him.
But that didn't hamper is imagination.
"I had a lot of time to sit around and think," he said.
His idea for a new kind of oil filter had been with him for awhile.
"I thought it was kind of stupid," he said.
But one of Invent-Tech's late night commercials sparked his entrepreneurial spirit.
He went to work on the idea fueled by his childhood passion for science.
"My teacher's used to get on me for reading too many science books," Johnson said.
If all the work comes to no avail, it still wasn't a waste, he said.
"It's worth the risk if it does something to make life better," he said.