This week's cover story, "Idea Man," deals with University of Colorado Denver undergrad Caleb Carr's quest to help other student inventors control the rights to scientific discoveries and other intellectual property they may develop while still in school. Carr believes that university policies that assign most (and sometimes all) of the revenues to the institution discourage student innovation.
It's hardly a local issue; it's estimated that commercial products generated by academic research generate more than $22 billion in sales annually. And a couple recent roll-outs of Colorado-based products show how student innovation can yield technological and economic benefits.
Grant Wilkinson and Alec Tremaine, two University of Denver graduates, have launched a new browser app for Mac that TechCrunch has described as "a multitasker's dream." Fluid Browser floats on top of other windows and can be adjusted to different levels of transparency, making it easy to shift back and forth between texts and links, Photoshop projects, Netflix and homework, or whatever. Tremaine says the two "saw a huge need for this app while studying and typing a paper. From the entertainment aspects as well as productive ones (tutorials, lectures), there is a use to fit the multitasking lifestyle." It's currently one of the top-selling paid apps for Mac.
Another local tech company, founded by University of Colorado grads, is providing a way for children to multitask better. Goally is a WiFi-connected, customizable device that acts as a kind of smart clock for the younger set, prompting them to get basic chores done without stressing out their parents. It uses tunes, lights and other cues to remind kids to brush their teeth or get ready for school, then offers positive reinforcement (points that can be converted into games and rewards) for completing the task.
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The road to innovation is fraught with hazards, as Carr has discovered. But those products that can make life a little easier — or multitasking a little less, well, taxing — have a good shot at making their way, generating jobs and more innovation in their wake. It's a lesson that student inventors like Carr can't stress enough.