Monday, October 08, 2001

Idea people carry on


Tristate inventors push their products, despite patently unpredictable futures

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If it's not love, what the world needs now is one of these:

        • A motorized ice-cream cone.

        • An all-terrain stroller.

        • A cheese-filtered cigarette.

        • An automatic hair braider.

        • A beer keg that attaches to your head.

        At least that's the thinking of the people who came up with such inventive notions and convinced the federal government to issue patents for them.

        All are included in a new book by inventor/author Ted VanCleave, who amused himself by scanning records of the U.S. Patent Office to come up with more than 100 examples in Totally Absurd Inventions — America's Goofiest Patents (Andrews McMeel; $8.95).

        Tristate inventors appeared to be a little more practical in their thought processes.
       

"Commercially feasible"?

               Oriz Wickline Johnson, a retired marketing manager from West Chester Township, confesses an occasional leaning toward the goofy side, but insists, “I never did anything I didn't think was commercially feasible at the time.”

        That would include his “automatic domestic toilet-seat lowering apparatus and disc-brake assembly,” which shows up in government files as Patent No. 5,546,612. It does not show up in Mr. VanCleave's book.

        Mr. Johnson, a 72-year-old transplanted Texan (“I just missed being a Mexican by 4 miles”), says he is consumed by inventing.

        “Others do golf. Some go fishing. I do patents,” he said.

        His toilet product, in case you haven't figured it out, sends the seat downward with every flush, slowing near the bowl to prevent a crash landing. It could mean a new peace between the genders.
       

"I always believed"
               Lawrenceburg's Yavone Seymour thought the answer to the world's woes was a compartmented laundry basket, for which she received a patent in November 1998.

[img]
Yavone Seymour poses with her patent for the compartmentalized laundry basket she invented.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        But, like the toilet-seat operator, it has not been produced or marketed.

        “I always believed in it,” she said. “It was just the money issue. That's what it all boils down to.”

        The “Pick Up and Go” basket has compartments for detergent, fabric softener and stacks of coins. Originally, it was to target, in bright concept colors, college students with no laundry facilities of their own.

        But, “I had other ideas, too,” the 33-year-old Mrs. Seymour says. Like the version with wheels that would be marketed to older men and women in retirement centers.

        Bids for setting up molds to begin the production process ranged from $20,000 to $50,000.

        “We (she and her husband) were not willing to go out on a limb.”
       

Truck idea nixed

               When Solomon Woods went to Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Toyota with his image of a pickup truck “with a real sleek design and a lot of features that had not been seen before,” the automakers were not appropriately impressed.

        “Their letters said they couldn't be sure my designs were original,” he says. “I guess they didn't want to be liable.”

        But Mr. Woods, 38, of Forest Park, said he wasn't willing to give up.

        “I decided there were a lot of nice features I could sell” individually ... What was unique was my window.”

        His window is a back cab window, the center section of which opens vertically, rather than horizontally, as they do on existing truck models.

        “The biggest advantage, for me...is being able to open and close it while moving in traffic,” he said. The driver “can just reach back with his thumb and feel for it and doesn't have to turn around.” The electric model, he says, is even easier to operate, from a dashboard button.

        And because his design calls for a single pane of moving glass instead of a pair of horizontal sliders, air flow, no matter the size of the opening, is always centered inside the truck.

        But again, “I have not marketed it, other than to go to Ford and the others,” since the patent was issued in 1997.
       

No one interested

               Walton's Norman Rice, 64, had had it with frozen car doors when he went to the patent office with a “butane lock de-icer” in July 1997. The patent was issued 15 months later.

        “My sister-in-law gave me the idea,” he said. “We were having so much bad weather, and she couldn't ever get in her van.

        “I thought it would be great for these trucks, these tractor-trailers that are parked outside all the time.”

        His creation, which “looks a little like a cigarette lighter,” ignites when you push the dime-sized cylinder. “It only takes about 10 or 15 seconds to do the job (and) it won't hurt the car or the paint.”

        But “I didn't have money to get it in production,” he said. “Nobody was interested in it.” After an investment of more than $15,000, “I could never get it going.

        “A couple of years ago, I quit fooling with it.”
       

"Really rather simple"

               Luis Villavicencio, a soccer player who made his way from Peru to the United States in 1972, now teaches the sport to kids and thinks about easier, more efficient ways of teaching the game.

        His patent, D395,690, for an “instructional soccer ball,” calls for arrows and other instructions superimposed on the ball.

        “It's really rather simple,” said the 53-year-old coach from Springdale. “It's like in baseball, where the placement of the fingers determines where the ball will go.”

        Markings on his ball indicate proper foot positions and placements for intended results (drop shots, banana shots, curves). The ball is being used to instruct young players nationwide.

        “The coaches like it pretty much,” he said.

        The ball, which he developed and patented in 1998 for children 10 to 15 years old, was discontinued after a Pakistan production run of 5,000. He is now at work on a new version and hopes for another production run in Pakistan.

        “It takes a lot of energy,” he said. “It takes money; it takes dedication.”

        Mr. Villavicencio, a psychiatric nurse at Summit Behavioral Healthcare, Roselawn, today is coaching four select girls' teams.

        “I coach girls mostly,” he says. “Boys fight too much.”
       

Idea the easy part

               Ideas are easy to come by, says Mr. Johnson, the toilet-seat creator. “One moment, the idea's not there, and then it is. . . .

        “Bringing the idea to fruition is where the (problem) is.”

        In the midst of his toilet seat dreams, he imagined unparalleled success. “I would have a whole line of commode seats, just like Amazon.com,” he said.

        But, “I have too many other interests,” he admitted.

        Among them is Omni Air, an air-pressure reliever for compressors that could save 40 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year by shutting them off more frequently.

        And Racer Tracer, a system that would identify and track race cars for fans with hand-held computers and provide statistics on the race.

        His inspiration? “I went to a race with my son, and I couldn't tell who the hell was ahead.”

        Part of the invention process is failure, he said.

        “You're constantly failing . . . but always moving ahead.”

        Mr. Woods, an Ethicon technician busy improving trucks, said the initial reception he got from family and friends was less than enthusiastic.

        “They thought I was wasting my money.”

        “But I don't worry about what other people think,” he said. “If you believe it, you can achieve it. That's what my mother used to say.”
       

Patent facts

               Since 1996, more than 4,200 patents have been issued to inventors in the city of Cincinnati alone.

        In the Tristate, 2,741 were issued for employees of the Procter & Gamble Co.; 629 for GE Aircraft Engines.

        There were numerous laundry and personal care products and airfoil designs, all of which made perfect sense.

        There were others. A bowling ball finger insert. A ready-to-assemble casket. A peelable floor coating. A tire deflator. A doll with simulated bowel movements. A dipstick guide. A snare-drum-head patch.

        For more examples and information, go to www.uspto.gov/patft.

       



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