A RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS {WEDNESDAY SERIES} – MEET THE GUY WHO’S GOT MORE PATENTS THAN THOMAS EDISION- FREDERICK SHELTON 

A RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS {WEDNESDAY SERIES} – MEET THE GUY WHO’S GOT MORE PATENTS THAN THOMAS EDISON- FREDERICK SHELTON BRUCE HOROVITZ

I celebrate ACHIEVEMENT EVERY DAY!  WEDNESDAY SERIES – “A Rainbow of Role Models”, highlights role models of ALL colors.  “There is dignity, in achievement and success—in becoming, a great factor in civilization.” Carter G. Woodson.  

I hope you will share these short articles, and perhaps a few people will be curious to learn more.

Disclaimer: Good Day, Readers.  WealthBuildingPowers blog is a financial literacy/competency blog and does not provide specific investment recommendations.  

FREDERICK SHELTON, THE GUY WHO’S GOT MORE PATENTS THAN THOMAS EDISON – A RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS 

 Johnson & Johnson’s Frederick Shelton is the world’s most prolific inventor of valuable patents. Many ideas occur to him on his farm. (Johnson & Johnson Ethicon)

Somewhere around 5 a.m., deep inside the chicken coop where he can be found conversing with his chickens as he feeds them, Frederick Shelton often gets ideas for his next patent.

He’s already left Thomas Edison in the dust. Yes, that Thomas Edison.

Give or take a light bulb, Edison had about 1,000 patents in his lifetime, and Shelton, who is engineering fellow at Ethicon, the medical devices unit of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), already has amassed upward of 1,500.

And he’s got roughly 1,000 more sitting in the U.S. Patent Office right now, awaiting approval. But how can this 50-something fellow actually own more patents than Edison — widely viewed as one of the greatest inventors of all time?  Put simply, he planned it. 

This is what great leaders do. Set A High Bar Like Frederick Shelton

And Shelton isn’t pumping out useless inventions. Just the opposite. His patents aren’t just numerous — they’re worth more than anyone else’s.

The researcher generated patents worth $14 billion, putting him well ahead of any individual inventor, says PatentVector, a system that measures the value of patents. He’s invented everything from a surgical staple innovation to surgery equipment. Ethicon itself, significantly due to him, is miles ahead of anyone in generating the world’s most individually valuable patents, too.

Topping Edison drove him. “Somewhere early in my career, I set that as a goal,” said Shelton. Shelton, who typically wears Hawaiian shirts to work (he owns 60), spends early hours every week taking care of the 20 head of cattle, 20 donkeys, some peacocks — and, of course, the chickens — at his 100-acre farm more than one hour northeast of Cincinnati. As for why he wanted to amass more patents than Edison, well, he says, “It was something to keep me going.”  He’s going, all right — going to be a legend in the world of medical devices.  

Let Internal Motivation Drive You

Shelton, who says until now he has never been interviewed by a reporter, is hardly a household name. Yet.

But he’s led Ethicon — and parent company Johnson & Johnson — into a gloriously rich period of new medical devices and surgical instruments the likes of which few companies have produced. Along the way, these inventions and patents have served to help potentially save thousands of lives and helped to lift millions of people globally from their pain.

His claim to fame at J&J is in pioneering the design and development of the Echelon family of surgical stapling products. He patented two surgical staplers — one in 2005 and an update in 2011 — whose staples are nimble and delicate enough to fit through tiny incisions. They may be small but they have helped to save many lives.

He’s also working on an implantable device that’s absorbed into the body and helps with wound healing. It’s particularly helpful for cancer patients whose natural healing processes are compromised by chemotherapy.

Most recently, he’s delved into digital surgery. This futuristic platform combines robotics, advanced instrumentation and data analytics which guarantees surgeons more precision and patients less invasive surgery.

Frederick Shelton: Keep Moving Toward A Goal

How many patents does he hope to amass before calling it a career? In fact, he has no specific goal in mind — though he believes it will ultimately be well beyond 2,000. He views the patent world as a sort of documentation of his success.

As far as his failures go, well, he doesn’t believe in those. Sometimes the patent office rejects a patent because it’s too similar to another one. Or maybe something is missing in the application. “I’m not certain that any of my rejected patents are complete failures. Everything is a learning experience for me.”

He has absolutely no idea which of his inventions or patents is the most important. “The true value of a patent doesn’t show up until many years after it’s filed,” he said.

Listen To Your Thoughts

Even then, he credits much of his success to always saying what he thinks. “I tend to be a pirate in the engineering field,” he said. “I’m a little more outspoken than my peers.”

He listens to his own thoughts. He gives himself plenty of time to think — and not just while feeding the chickens. He’ll typically spend another hour reading early in the morning — after his farm chores are done.

Then, on those days he drives the hour-plus commute to the office, he doesn’t listen to the radio. He listens to himself. “My best ideas often come during a rainstorm on the drive into work,” he said. “I don’t know how I’d have succeeded without that long drive.”

Find Joy In Your Work

Then, when he arrives at work, he says he typically feels shivers of excitement as he approaches the entrance. He can hardly wait to rush over to one of his many whiteboards and scribble down his latest idea. “I love the place I work,” he said. “Every day for me at work is like a vacation. I come to a place that allows me to do what I want to do.”

Which might help explain why he basically shuns vacations. Outside of some visits to Canada, Shelton says he has not traveled outside the continental U.S. “I like consistency,” he said.

That doesn’t stop him from “conversing” with other scientists worldwide. Nor did Covid-19.

In fact, he believes that the pandemic opened the door for him to interact virtually with other scientists around the globe. “Thanks to Zoom and ideation programs, I’m now capable of collaborating with people on the other side of the world who I would not have even considered,” he said. He now regularly has Zoom talk with scientists from Spain and Japan — and they literally show each other their work.

Well, not everything, of course.

He doesn’t show them the intricate array of puzzles that he likes to solve — such as the large, complex puzzle-in-progress that is typically sitting on the team table outside his office. Yes, solving these puzzles as a group helps to facilitate teamwork.

Be A Mentor

Those who work on these puzzles with Shelton tend to worship his brainpower. And his mentoring.

Take Jackie Aronhalt, a new product development design engineer who ran a brainstorming session with Shelton at Ethicon. At one point, the session split into two groups with Shelton leading one of them. Someone who had been grouped with Shelton told Aronhalt they believed it was the first time in their career they actually felt like they were innovating. “After my first brainstorm with Fred, I felt the same,” said Aronhalt.

Shelton takes special pride in lifting younger workers. In fact, he founded and led a development opportunity for young, innovative engineers to be Ethicon’s next generation of idea creation leaders. “Our group of trained leaders then led our peers through a patent training to further share the knowledge we learned,” said Sarah Worthington, primary design engineer at Ethicon. “Fred’s initiative is inspiring.”

Find What Drives You

Way back when he was a fourth-grader in East Cleveland, Shelton says he already sensed that his career would involve math and science. “I knew I had to solve problems for a living.”

For more than 21 years, he’s been solving problems at Ethicon.

That said, he hints that a career change might be in the offing. “I think I will probably change fields in the not-too-distant future,” he said. He hopes to use some of his engineering skills to help nonprofits get off the ground.

For example, back in 2008, during the Great Recession, he personally helped build a large, mobile kitchen that served meals to hundreds of area residents who needed assistance.

Apply Your Creativity Everywhere

Just as he puts his head into solving people problems at work, he also puts some concepts that he develops at work into solving problems around his farm. He’s built a high-tech chicken house that makes feeding the chickens much easier in the morning.

But for all of Shelton’s smarts, he hasn’t yet figured out how to convince his favorite pet donkey, Ginger, that she’s actually a donkey and not a lap dog. The 400-plus pound creature just adores being petted by Shelton, and on one unfortunate occasion, she accidentally knocked him flat into the mud while swinging her 85-pound head his direction.

Shelton was tempted to get back up and give her what-for. Instead, he inhaled a chestful of farm-fresh air and did something far more constructive.  He fed the chickens.

Frederick Shelton’s Keys

World’s most prolific inventor of valuable patents, topping even that of Thomas Edison.

Overcame: Periodic rejections of patent applications.

Lesson: “Every day for me at work is like a vacation. I come to a place that allows me to do what I want to do.”

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