It’s been quite a ride for patent guru Larry Udell of Castro Valley. And at age 83, he isn’t slowing down a bit.
You might find him lecturing to a class at U.C. Davis today, consulting with a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley tomorrow, and flying off to a meeting of innovators in New York City next week.
Udell, whose picture is on the cover of the current issue of the national “Inventors Digest” magazine, has lived here for the past 50 years. But even his closest neighbors probably aren’t aware of the role he has played in the successes of many of the world’s most notable ventures during the past half century.
Such giants as Samsung, HP and Applied Materials have relied on Udell’s know-how in obtaining patents, licenses and capital for everything from toys and aerospace technologies to medical products and solar energy.
“I’m not an expert on anything,” he’s quick to say. “But I know a little bit about a lot of things.” And he has recuited a cadre of some 50 experts around the globe who can supply him with information on virtually any topic.
Born in Chicago, Udell gained an early interest in how things work from his inventor father who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission at White Sands, New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was developed.
In the early 1960s, Udell began lecturing about inventors and their contributions to the world economy.
Later, he became a professor of entrepreneurship at Cal State University where he created the California Invention Center (CIC) while working closely with U.C. Berkeley, Stanford and other schools.
Today, the CIC office in downtown San Francisco is one of the most important free resource centers for inventors in the nation, and its founder, Udell, has become the subject of articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Time and many other publications.
His advice to would-be inventors? Get as much free information as possible from such places as the CIC, hire a reputable patent attorney and then be patient – there’s a three-year backlog of more than a million patents waiting to be approved or rejected by the U.S. Patent Office.
Udell says the biggest obstacle is financing sales and marketing of a new product. The Small Business Administration has a $2-billion budget for start-ups, and about $100 billion is available in investors’ money. But do your homework, he warns. Scam organizations fleece some $100 million from inventors every year.
Although he seems to be always on-the-go, Udell says he and his wife of 55 years, Bess – “a fourth generation Hayward farm girl” – enjoy the quiet, small-town ambiance of Castro Valley and look forward to occasionally “eating out” at the Subway restaurant in the 580 Marketplace. They have two children, Michael and Susan, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, who live back east.