July-August 2014
Volume 93 - Number 4

Find Your Way by the Star of the North

Development of a National TMJ Implant Registry and Repository - NICDR's TIRR

The Thought That Counts

Golden: Recognizing the MDA's 25-Year Members and Retirees

How Does That Work?

Mankato periodontist Dr. Gary R. Jernberg is an accomplished inventor. his most famous invention is the locally delivered antibiotic Arestin. We recently sat down with Dr. Jernberg to find out about his, as he describes it, hobby of inventing, patenting, and marketing products that are in widespread use in the health care field. Basically we just wanted to ask the owner of a very inquiring mind, "How does that work?" What we do know is that it works for us. The Editors

NWD: For our readers who don’t know you, please give us some background on your career as an inventor as well as a Minnesota dentist.

Dr. Jernberg: I graduated from the University of Minnesota in chemical engineering in 1969, dentistry in 1978, and periodontics in 1980. I worked as a chemical engineer from 1969 to ‘74. Much of my engineering training and work experience was oriented toward problem solving. I started my practice in periodontics in 1980, and filed a patent for my first invention in 1981. I have practiced periodontics since 1980 in Mankato, and I am in the process of writing my twelfth invention patent filing. My inventions include drug delivery systems, tissue engineering and regeneration systems, host modulation for control of inflammation, biofilm inhibitors, cardiac stents and grafts, and novel catalyst systems for enhancing chemical reactions and pollution control.

NWD: When did the inventing bug bite? Were you “that kind of kid”?

Dr. Jernberg: My interest in invention began during my chemical engineering career. We needed new solutions for many of the projects we wanted to do. As a kid? Well, I had some fun with a chemistry set my parents gave me for Christmas. I didn’t blow up the house, but I did alter the chemical composition of the kitchen table.

NWD: When did you start to be an inventor for real? Please talk about the skill set needed to take an idea from start to finish.

Dr. Jernberg: It started with my first invention, which led to the Arestin product. Arestin is a locally delivered antibiotic for treatment of periodontal disease.

Skill sets needed to invent include being able to think outside the box, not being shackled by conventional dogma, persistence, ability to work with others and include their expertise, and taking the invention to an end point in a usable product — otherwise what’s the point? Also, the invention has to be useful and serve a good purpose. Otherwise it will not gain support.

NWD: What is your creative process? In particular, where is the point of inspiration? Do you work alone?

Dr. Jernberg: First it is to look at a problem that doesn’t have a good solution, then to dig deep and learn a lot about it. Look at what’s being done in other fields or industries that might have relevance. It involves a lot of searching and reading. Then I let it sit and simmer. My family life and periodontal practice keep me very busy. The ideas for an invention often emerge on vacation when my mind can roam. I typically work alone, although my last two inventions have been in collaboration with other inventors, Drs. Richard Simonsen and James Block. Dr. Block is an oral surgeon who practices in Minnetonka here in Minnesota. Dr. Simonsen is a transplanted Minnesotan who is now dean of Midwestern Dental School in Glendale, Arizona. These two individuals are extremely bright and innovative; it’s a pleasure to work with them.

NWD: What are the steps that take an idea through development to its being a product on the market?

Dr. Jernberg: Numerous steps are involved. For intellectual property protection, you need patent protection. First you summarize your invention. Then you do a prior art search. If your invention is novel, unique, and has utility, you can file a patent. Typically you need prototypes or examples to demonstrate utility. When a patent is issued, you can start a company around it, form a joint venture to develop it, or license it to an interested company for product development. With pharmaceuticals or medical devices, the process involves prototype testing and optimization, animal model testing, and several phases of clinical testing to obtain FDA approval. Scale-up to production occurs simultaneously with preparation for market launch. Many years or decades elapse from start to finish.

NWD: When do you know something is ready to be evaluated by someone else? Do you make a formal presentation?

Dr. Jernberg: When I decide. It’s not a cookbook or boilerplate format. I do a lot of research to select prospective development and marketing partners. I do make formal presentations.

NWD: What does it take to move a patented idea into preparation for commercial application? How involved are you in this process?

Dr. Jernberg: I typically am a consultant to the company developing the patented idea toward commercialization. My involvement can vary depending upon how involved I want to be and how involved the company wants me to be.

NWD: What is a marketing phase like?

Dr. Jernberg: Typically I am kept away from the FDA approval process and marketing other than giving occasional lectures or presentations. I cannot handle extensive time involvement away from my practice.

NWD: Once the product is in the marketplace, what are the sequellae? Do the companies want more? What are your rewards?

Dr. Jernberg: I am usually retained contractually as a consultant. The company takes over with a specific product. I do have more than one patent licensed to a particular company. It has been both intellectually and financially rewarding.

NWD: How does all this mesh with the rest of what you do?

Dr. Jernberg: I do this part-time as a hobby. I don’t want it to interfere either with my family life or my practice. Our children are grown and on their own. My wife, Mary Jeanne, owns several businesses, and I can work on my projects when she is busy with hers. We are very supportive of one another and encourage each other’s efforts. I can work on my projects at my own pace and when I want to, so any pressure is self-imposed.

NWD: What kind of change did this bring to your life? Ever want to give up? How much does luck play in the mix?

Dr. Jernberg: Changes were positive, with a great deal of satisfaction in moving these various projects along. I did get frustrated when my fourth invention, which I thought was a good one, did not license for five years of working hard to promote it. Then it finally was licensed by a company I had contacted five years previously and licensed for vascular graft and cardiac stent application. A good idea, hard work, and good timing are important. Good luck never hurts either.

I have to say my family keeps me very centered. There was the day my first patent issued, for example. It had taken so long and so much work that when it finally issued I got a little, you know, excited. I am a very verbal person, so I guess I got a little braggy. My wife, on the other hand, is a very mischievous person. The next morning I came down to breakfast to discover the kitchen table piled up with our kids’ sports trophies, tae kwon do awards, and a variety of her honors, too. I took one look at all of that and neither of us had to say another word!

NWD: Have you compared notes with other inventors?

Dr. Jernberg: Other than Drs. Simonsen and Block, no. And we wing it as we go on projects I am working on with them.

NWD: The world is full of inventors. What made you different? What experiences have you had?

Dr. Jernberg: Having a good invention that is needed or desired is paramount to success. Hard work and persistence are also needed to generate an actual product. You have to attend to numerous details and all the business aspects. I have experienced lots of ups and downs with these projects. It has been a real roller coaster ride. But I have to tell you that identifying and pursuing appropriate companies and negotiating with them is more fun and challenging than hunting or high stakes poker. I have a lot of great stories I can’t share with you due to confidentiality restrictions. I’ll save them for some time in the future – maybe I’ll tell my new friends when I get to the nursing home.

I want to see dentistry continue to advance. I have been recently asked by Dean Steven Crouch of the Institute of Technology and Dean Patrick Lloyd of the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota to consult with them on ways to foster dental innovation. Collaboration between dentistry and IT is something I have wanted to see happen for years.

NWD: For the potential inventors and their creative offspring out there, let’s include the critical element, the human connection. Was there someone on your personal journey you felt had a special influence?

Dr. Jernberg: It would be Dr. Erwin Schaffer, who was director of periodontics and dean of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. He is an extraordinary individual. He has had a superb academic career, and is a master periodontist. Dr. Schaffer has been great with all of the students going through the periodontics program, giving them support and confidence during their training. He is a role model. For all that he deserves the thanks of many people, and he certainly has mine.

Copyright 2007. Minnesota Dental Association
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