FOR THE KIDS : Fresh Ideas : Alan Tratner helps children get their creations to market. An expo will offer youth programs.


Imagine it: Your kid is the inventor of a new board game that sells out at Toys R Us over Christmas.

It's not so unlikely, according to Alan Tratner, president of Inventors Workshop International in Camarillo. The worldwide organization, formed 21 years ago and now with a membership of 22,000, began a youth division three years ago.

"Children have the most incredible energy, and they have good ideas," Tratner said. Ideas, he said, that should be taken seriously.

He has only to point to the success of Joshua White, a workshop member from Washington. At age 8, Joshua came up with the idea of a board game involving dinosaurs.

"We helped him get the board drawn and the pieces designed," Tratner said. Now the game, "Dinomite," is being sold in toy stores around the world and Joshua is raking in the profits.

Children are capable of inventing marketable products, toys and thingamajigs, Tratner said. But often all they get is a "pat on the head" and the idea is never followed through on.

To get an idea of what some inventive youngsters are up to, visit the Fourth Annual International Inventors and Entrepreneurs EXPO '92 in Long Beach today through Sunday. Sponsored by the workshop and other inventor organizations, the event is at the Queen Mary-Spruce Goose convention complex.

For the second year, the expo is offering a youth conference for the last three days, with workshops for kids, parents and teachers. The inventions of kids and adults will be on display. Tickets are $10, and workshops are extra.

Children younger than 16 can gain free admission by drawing a poster, 11 by 17 inches, that depicts an idea for an invention they have come up with.

One invention that will be on display is the brainchild of Markus Reinke, an upcoming sixth-grader at Weathersfield Elementary School in Thousand Oaks.

In April, Markus invented the Reinke Wash Rescue, an adjustable net designed to save people who have fallen into rain-swollen rivers. He came up with the idea during flooding from heavy rains early this year.

His invention won first place during Weathersfield's third annual invention contest this spring. The competition is sponsored by Invent America! through the nonprofit U.S. Patent Model Office Foundation, a national program designed to encourage creativity among schoolchildren.

Tratner was the judge for the local competition, and Markus' prize included membership in the workshop and a shot at Invent America!'s regional competition. However, organization officials said last week that his invention didn't make the final cut. It will be entered in competition at the expo.

Tratner had high praise for the idea, though.

"It's very marketable," he said. "It's the kind of stuff adults would be hard pressed to do."

Markus believes strongly in the idea, according to his father, Rudy Reinke. The youth has already talked with professional rescue personnel about its effectiveness.

"It's pretty original," said Reinke, an electrical engineer. He guided his son during construction of the miniature prototype and helped him refine it.

Since the youth division of Inventors Workshop International opened, about 100 youngsters have joined throughout the country, paying the $35-a-year membership fee. A dozen or so have joined from Ventura County, Tratner said.

The workshop, a nonprofit organization, has a longstanding Ventura chapter and another chapter in the Conejo Valley that is being reactivated. Children are not allowed to attend chapter meetings.

But, Tratner said, they still get a great deal from the membership. They get a special journal to document every step of their creation, a process Tratner says is essential for any inventor. They also get book lists about inventions, instructions, legal documents and a game that helps sharpen their inventive skills.

But of most value are an unlimited number of 30-minute consultations with experts at Inventors Workshop International headquarters. Children can get advice during every step of the inventing process--from idea to marketing. Also, the organization will provide a written critique of a proposed invention.

"We'll tell them if it stinks or it's great," Tratner said. "I've had children come in with ideas from the sublime to the weird." One proposed bubble gum in the shape of an eyeball. Another had drafted plans for a single-person Hovercraft.

Tratner, 44, is an inventor himself. When he was 12, he designed a futuristic car that caught the eye of General Motors officials in Detroit. A gifted artist, he studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

He has eight patents on inventions, most dealing with alternative energy sources. His latest is a bicycle he calls the Infinity HPV, which can be adapted for mountain riding, racing, even riding in sand or snow. Plus, it folds up.

"I think we're in a golden age of invention," he said. A hundred years ago, an inventor needed to build a factory to carry out his or her dream. Now one only needs an office, telephone and fax machine, because subcontractors can do the rest of the work, he said.

Patents issued to inventors are on the rise in the United States, he said. After he appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 1990, the workshop received more than 10,000 calls and letters.

But success doesn't happen overnight, he cautioned. It takes perseverance, sometimes for years.

"Eureka! I've got an invention! It just doesn't happen that way."


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