If you approached Mark Kroll, the world's most prolific medical device inventor, and asked him whether an idea for something new was dancing in his brain at this very moment, he'd probably say, "Not necessarily."
"I'm not quite like I used to be in that regard," he says. "But when I was in my prime there weren't many times when I wasn't thinking about how to create something new, or how to improve upon something already out there."
What a prime indeed. To list all of Kroll's inventions and patents here is not feasible, as he has more than 290 issued or pending patents to his credit. That ranks him as Minnesota's top patent holder in all categories and, as noted, the No. 1 medical device inventor in the world.
"I was in ninth grade when I read about the first heart transplant," recalls Kroll, who is technically "retired" but serves on corporate boards and advises a number of firms. "I decided right then that I wanted to create spare parts for the body to help keep people alive – maybe forever."
One of his best-known accomplishments was figuring out how to reduce the size of the implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which shocks an irregularly beating heart into rhythm. Surgeons had been leery of inserting the ICD because of its bulk, but Kroll shrunk it to the size of a stopwatch and helped create a $5 billion market for the device.
Interestingly, even though Kroll's career has been rooted in technology, he touts former MHS English teacher Glen Skoy as a major contributor to his success. "I was afraid of writing, but Mr. Skoy broke it all down for me and showed me how to organize my writing," he says. "He had a way of explaining it that stuck with me over the years."
It certainly did, as Kroll has co-edited four books, written scores upon scores of academic articles, and explained, in detailed writing, his inventions in hundreds of patent filings.
So what is he working on these days? Plenty, but top of mind is PetChatz, a device that allows away-from-home owners to communicate with -- even provide a treat for -- their pets. He's working on the project with his son Braden and his business partner, Lisa Lavin.
"I've come to the realization that the human body is much too complicated for spare parts to keep it alive eternally," he says with a smile. "So I'm more focused on quality of life issues. And because I believe that pets add to our quality of life, I think a device that let's people check up on their pets is certainly a worthwhile endeavor."