Rocky Mountain News: He wants to launch a museum of future inventions in the Denver area, an institution that would be the first of its kind. And Frey is pitching the idea of having the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office open a division along the Front Range, should Congress approve a bill to sharply boost the number of patent examiners.

The Rocky Mountain News caught up with Frey to talk about these and other issues.

News: What’s the significance of having a museum of future inventions in the Denver area?

Frey: Something like this is very unique, very different. We think this can create a new image for the metro area here. We think this could create the image of Denver being kind of the center of ideas. The place where ideas happen.

News: The museum idea sprang from your book project. Can you tell us how it came about?

Frey: In January, I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I decided a book is really so one-dimensional. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. To make something that really serves as a way to stimulate people’s thinking – a place where people can come and really get their mind energized and recharged – we thought about this whole museum idea.

News: How do you see this museum taking shape?

Frey: Originally the concept was to just do some nice artwork about these inventions. And then you’d put on headphones and listen to the narrative about each idea. As we got into it further, we decided the museum needs to be more than just artwork on a wall. If you can make it interactive, you need to.

News: How might the interactive exhibits work?

Frey: Some of them might be actual models. Take underground farming, for example. It’s the idea that you could drill giant holes into the ground and then grow plants around the inside of the holes. The plants would grow inside a honeycomb casement.

You’d have a robotic arm on a pole in the center that goes up and down and plugs in seeds. The robotic arm would also pull the weeds. And it would harvest everything when it’s done. There would be an optical system to channel light down this tube.

Something like that could actually be built in some sort of scale so people could walk into it and actually get a feel for what it might be.

News: Where do the museum plans now stand?

Frey: One of the cities in the metro area kind of dangled a land offer. We had to tell them that we weren’t in a position to consider land just yet.

We’re going through a concept-refinement workshop with a museum consulting firm, Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management. Then we’ll work on doing a feasibility study.

News: How much will this project cost?

Frey: That’s one of the things the feasibility study is going to tell us. We’re thinking that we could actually open a phase one of this with somewhere around $10 million. But to do it the way we really want to do it is going to be considerably more than that.

News: What kind of fund raising do you envision?

Frey: We want to explore some kind of creative options. We’ll talk with individuals. We’ll talk with businesses. We’ve held some focus groups. And some of the large corporations in the area have been involved.

News: Is there a timetable for breaking ground?

Frey: It’s all contingent on how fast the money comes in. We’re anticipating that we’ll be engaged in the feasibility study early next year.

News: Did the idea for the museum play into the idea of having the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office set up shop in Colorado?

Frey: It was kind of a spinoff. If we’re able to create a museum of future inventions, that’s a very strong natural tie-in to having a patent office located out here. We think of the patent office as being the archive of all the inventions of the past. Our museum would be an archive of all the inventions in the future.

News: How did that idea come about?

Frey: We’ve been doing a lot of research on the museum project and I ran across some articles about what’s happening with the patent office. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to hire another 2,900 patent examiners over the next five years.

We may be jumping the gun on this. It hasn’t passed the Senate yet. I don’t know how early is too early on something like this. But if you’re going to put together a full-scale effort or campaign to bring some institution like that to Colorado, it takes more than a few people saying they want it.

News: Why are more patent examiners needed?

Frey: The number of patent filings continues to go up every year. The amount of time it takes to get a patent through the patent office is 27 months. With some of the more complicated ones coming down the pike, it’s anticipated the lag time in getting your patent issued could grow all the way up to five years.

News: What are Colorado’s selling points for a patent office?

Frey: We have one of the highest educated populations in the country. We already have a large federal work force here, second only to Washington, D.C. They would have an easy time attracting talent to work at a patent office here. In Washington, D.C., they have a real struggle. We have a good quality of life. And we have an available work force and available office buildings.

News: Where do you do your best thinking?

Frey: It’s odd places. Driving in a car. Seeing something on television. It can be reading a book. It can be just walking down the street. And a lot of times I get a new idea when I hear incorrectly something that’s been spoken. That sparks a new idea.

News: Are there any particularly unusual circumstances you can recall?

Frey: Probably the more unusual ones are when you have a dream about it. Usually the dream sparks an idea into one direction. Then you kind of fill in the details when you wake up.

By Roger Fillion, Rocky Mountain News
August 14, 2004 – [email protected] or 303-892-2467

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