our readers who don’t know you, please give us some background on your career
as an inventor as well as a Minnesota
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.
did the inventing bug bite? Were you “that kind of kid”?
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.
did you start to be an inventor for real? Please talk about the skill set
needed to take an idea from start to finish.
Jernberg: It started with my first invention, which led to the Arestin product.
Arestin is a locally delivered antibiotic for treatment of periodontal disease.
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.
is your creative process? In particular, where is the point of inspiration? Do
you work alone?
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.
are the steps that take an idea through development to its being a product on
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
do you know something is ready to be evaluated by someone else? Do you make a
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
does it take to move a patented idea into preparation for commercial
application? How involved are you in this process?
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.
is a marketing phase like?
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.
the product is in the marketplace, what are the sequellae? Do the companies
want more? What are your rewards?
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
does all this mesh with the rest of what you do?
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.
kind of change did this bring to your life? Ever want to give up? How much does
luck play in the mix?
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
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
you compared notes with other inventors?
Jernberg: Other than Drs. Simonsen and Block, no. And we wing it as we go on
projects I am working on with them.
world is full of inventors. What made you different? What experiences have you
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.
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?
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.