By Heather Brown


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Most Minnesotans know Post-It notes, the pacemaker and SPAM were invented in Minnesota, but what about the snowmobile, cortisone and the automatic thermostat? Those are all creations showcased right now at the Minnesota Science Museum exhibit celebrating our state’s inventions.

(In fact, if you have a great idea, let the Science Museum know about it and they might include it in the exhibit!)

For years, Minnesota has consistently ranked high when it comes to creating new ideas. In Bloomberg’s 2019 U.S. State Innovation Index, Minnesota ranked 11th.  In 2018, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, issued 4,513 patents in Minnesota. All of the states in the top 10 have millions more people.

Minnesota brought us rollerblades (inventor Scott Olson), waterskiis (inventor Ralph Wilford Samuelson in Lake City) and diaper adhesives (H.B. Fuller). A professor at the University of Minnesota patented black boxes on airplanes and Minnesotans Reyn Guyer invented both the Nerf ball and Twister.

“The greatest generation in Minnesota has built the innovation base for all of us to climb on their shoulder,” says Dr. Art Erdman, director of the Medical Devices Center at the University of Minnesota. He holds 45 patents ranging on everything from a nose stapler to a brake system for inline skates to digital dentistry.

Dr. Erdman, a mechanical engineer, says Minnesota’s innovative spirit started 70 years ago with C. Walton Lillehei, a surgeon at the University of Minnesota, and Earl Bakken, who co-founded Medtronic with this brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie, in a Minneapolis garage.

Back in the 1950s, Minnesota was a hotbed for the super-computer industry.

“As the super-computer industry leaked from Minnesota, then those people were available and the medical device industry grew up,” Dr. Erdman said.

Now, Minnesota is home to Medtronic (242 patents in 2018), Boston Scientific (103 patents in 2018) and St. Jude’s (66 patents in 2018). In 2018, IBM Rochester was assigned the most patents in originating in Minnesota (508), followed by 3M (409) and Medtronic.

Others point to a friendly climate for inventors from the regulatory systems to local firms that can develop the products once they’re invented. Minnesota was also the first state to have a pro bono patent assistance program, said Jim Patterson, an intellectual property attorney with Minneapolis-based Patterson Thuente. That program was later copied at a national level.

“All those people are within a 15 mile radius,” Dr. Erdman. “You don’t know have to go somewhere else, you just have to go down the street.”

And, he says that innovative spirit trickles down to individual inventors. Minnesotan Bob Anderson has invented 40 different popular products still on the market, including the Fresh Brew coffee maker, Water Pick shower massage and Strong Trimmer weed whacker.

In 2018, The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office assigned 327 patents to individuals in Minnesota.

Heather Brown

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