Lack of follow-through may prevent riches

I need to invent a way to keep people from stealing my inventions.

Two of my best ideas were stolen just before I applied for a patent and are now on store shelves, clear evidence that my ideas are lucrative and worth stealing. Now someone else has made a fortune and is no doubt living on a Caribbean island where I was planning to live once my invention royalties started rolling in.

I'm perplexed by these idea thieves. I only confide my amazing ideas to my wife and my inner circle of confidants. Either there's a thief among us or my beautiful wife has a secret bank account in the Cayman Islands (she does work at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, no stranger to Cayman Island banking). Perhaps I should keep an eye on her.

Many years ago, I needed something to support newly painted wood projects so they wouldn't touch any other surface. Off the top of my head, borne of sheer necessity as are many great inventions, I took small blocks of wood and drove a little nail through the middle of each. I put them under freshly painted projects and, voila, not a mark in the new paint. I made several of the little stands and still use them.

Before I could patent my ingenious invention, Craftsman came out with a suspiciously similar product called TriGrips Non-Slip Work Supports. Craftsman's are more attractive than mine, but it's undeniably the same product. I'm getting blackout curtains for my basement.

As if that wasn't bad enough, for years I was annoyed by the way we water a Christmas tree. Laying sideways on the floor with a liter bottle of water while a pokey needle waterfall cascaded down the neck of my shirt was not something I was particularly fond of. I began inventing a long green funnel that could hide in the tree when not in use. Perhaps mistakenly, I discussed this with my inner circle.

As I worked on a battery powered alarm to beep when the stand was full (ingenious and high tech, I know), my wife came home from a local store with the very same product! The Ultimate Christmas Tree Funnel, known in my house as the Ultimate Stolen Christmas Tree Funnel, is available for $9.95.

I've discovered that inventive ideas are protected by the U.S. Constitution, which recognizes "intangible rights" protecting the products of human intelligence and creativity. My wife gently suggests that my ideas are neither intelligent nor creative, but no matter. Our Caribbean retreat awaits.

Forging on, as all great inventors do, I have another remarkable idea in development. With the full force of the U.S. Constitution and my crack legal team, Dewey Cheatem & Howe, behind me, I can safely give you a hint: it involves how to stop your car perfectly in the garage. No more stopping too close to either end, cutting off access. And it's not the time worn tennis-ball-on-a-string contraption.

If my wife brings this product home from the store before I get my patent, I'll be forced to bring out the lie detector I invented.

JOHN STEWARD OF WATERFORD, A RETIRED AIRPORT FIREFIGHTER WHO WORKS AT ELECTRIC BOAT, CAN BE REACHED AT TOSSINGLINES@GMAIL.COM

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