As a patent librarian, it's easy to become too comfortable with the stereotype of the independent inventor as someone who tinkers with simple inventions, such as toys and garden tools. After all, many people who seek our help are students and first-time inventors with little technical training, not neurosurgeons and electrical engineers. But maybe we should be more aggressive in marketing our services to the latter.
A recent article (see below) by Bruce Reiner offers a different perspective from the point of view of an independent inventor working in the high-tech field of medical imaging and informatics. Reiner offers some interesting statistics on the number of working independent inventors and observations on the weaknesses of industry-sponsored R&D. He also argues that the strategy of "outsourcing innovation" will create new opportunities for technically savvy independent inventors. Reiner offers good practical advice to high-tech independent inventors, but he discourages them from doing their own preliminary prior art searches, although he does list "conducting a review of the current technology" as the second step in the innovation process. This is a curious bit of advice given that their technical training and experience would be a big advantage in using free online patent databases. Unfortunately, Reiner fails to identify librarians and libraries in his list of resources for the independent inventor.
Reiner, B. I. Intellectual property in medical imaging and informatics
Journal of Digital Imaging, vol. 21, no. 1 (March), 2008: pp. 3-8. (Available on SpringerLink.)