REPORTER : TOMI HINKKANEN – SAN DIEGO
Last week 73 inventors from around the world – including Finland – gathered at the annual Response Expo trade fair held at the Bayfront Hilton in San Diego to present their products to the marketing people. They hoped to get their innovations to the consumer market. Only one out of ten ideas succeeds.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office receives over half a million patent applications a year. Approximately 300,000 are accepted.
Larry Moad invented the T-Bone Luggage Handle Extension – a suitcase handle extender.
-Many of the handles for carry-on luggage are short enough to cause lower back pain. Also, you have to turn your wrist around, so that your wrist is facing forward, which is not an ergonomic position. It can create muscle fatigue, carpal tunnel, arthritis, etc.
With his handle the bag is pulled like a garden hose. The idea came to him at an airport cafe.
-I was between flights. I had lower back pain, because I had walked this long concourse with my bag. I was in a café and watching all the people walk by. One guy who stood as tall as I, had a bag similar to mine with wheels. He was carrying it under his arm like a briefcase. I thought he is having the same problem as I. They just don’t make those handles long enough, I thought. Then I looked over to the cash line. There was an older woman who was waiting for her sandwich. Her handle was extended, but she was rubbing her forearm like she has discomfort from pulling her bag, the inventor recalls.
There and then Larry outlined the first draft of his invention on a napkin, then chopped it into pieces and put the cutting in two trash cans – just in case.
-I got home, went to the closet, took out a wire hanger, pliers, tin foil, McGuyvered up my first T-Bone. I still have it.
Then the real work began. Over time he designed and finessed the handle, applied for a U.S. patent and hired an engineer to do a three-dimensional CAD drawing of it. That was used to make the mold and out of the mold the actual handles were produced at a workshop in Mission Viejo, California. The process took eight long years and tens of thousands of dollars.
-I have 950 T-Bones in the garage ready to go. Last year I sold 80 and this year 30 handles at a price of $16.95 a piece, Larry says.
He rented a table at the fair with $300 in hopes of finding a niche on the handle. He got lots of media publicity – like an appearance of the local Fox affiliate morning show.
Over the last 30 years Telebrands has sold hundreds of millions worth of products in a hundred countries around the world. They are impulse purchases, goods which the consumer does not even know they needed, such as the collapsing garden hoses and a three-legged walking canes. At the end of each Telebrands commercial the consumer is asked to call a phone number or to order the item online. This selling method is called direct response advertising.
A.J. Khubani founded Telebrands right after college in 1983. The company finds innovative products, manufactures, markets and distributes them in 100 countries world wide. Some of the recent Telebrands successes include the Trusty Cane and the Pocket Hose.
-People who have an invention can submit to . We have a staff of people who go through all the ideas, A.J. Khubani tells.
He is a dark-haired man with an air of a high-powered CEO.
-If we like anything, we offer them a license agreement. It’s like a book deal for an author. The inventor is like the author and we are the publisher. We never ask the inventor any money at all. We invest all the money. If the product is successful, we pay them a royalty. A.J. explains.
Only a few of the ideas will sell.
– I would say that 10 per cent of them have a chance, AJ knows.
At any given time one can see 30 to 40 marketing company Mercury Media’s infomercials play on TV channels across America. The company is based in Santa Monica, CA with offices in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Boston
-We do media placement with direct response commercials and infomercials on TV. We get a lot of inventors knocking on our door – we probably talk to an inventor once a week, Mercury Media CEO Dan Danielson says.
His company builds an advertising campaign around the product.
-Some inventors have money, some don’t. So, we help them either to find money or with the resources we have, use their money wisely, create an infomercial, figure out what TV station to put it on, work with the telemarketers, credit card processing, creating a website and all the digital marketing that goes on as well.
Danielson’s main job is to decide whether an invention has commercial potential.
-That’s the biggest decision we have to make. It’s a very expensive business to get into. So, if it’s not a product that is suited for TV, we tell them to go do print, radio, internet, multi-level marketing. We direct them to another channel of marketing, if it doesn’t meet the basic criteria of TV.
In order to meet the demands of TV, the product must answer “yes” to the following questions:
-Does the product appeal to a mass audience?
-Does it have a good enough cost –selling margin?
-Has there been success in that genre?
If a product retails for $30 or less, Danielson will sell it with a 1-2 minute TV commercial. If it’s more expensive than that, a half an hour infomercial is required. A commercial costs $100,000 and an infomercial $200,000 to make.
Director Jessica Delich from the United Inventors Association advises inventors to do their homework before investing their life savings to the invention.
– Make a Google Patents search to find out if someone else has already come up with the same product. Patent the invention. Do not fall in love with your idea, but ask people what would you change to make it even better. And do not ask for it from your mother, who thinks that everything you touch is as good as sliced bread.
-A good invention has to solve a problem that a lot of people have – a common problem. So, that when you are running media on it, people relate to it immediately.
Inventors should check the United Inventors Association website www.uiausa.org for useful tips.
And now to those other inventions.
Raymond Thomas from New Jersey was trying to sell his invention, the Trunk Savior – a rack to hang your shopping bags in the car trunk. The idea came to him from his own life.
-My wife and I do fresh juicing – vegetables, fruits. They come in a lot of shopping bags. I have a sedan. When we put it in the trunk, by the time we get home, the potatoes and watermelons are all over the place, so you have to dive in the trunk to get them, Raymond explains.
The Trunk Savior installs in the ceiling of your trunk. The hooks bend behind as not to obstruct the trunk space.
Kathryne Walker invented ComfyTape – an adhesive plastic strip that gets rid of the rubbing shoe pain.
-With my product you can wear your shoes and be comfortable all day. Bandaid is our worst competitor but it only works on the friction part and doesn’t take away the pain. Comfytape is clear and reusable – you get 4-8 uses out of it. It also works on different parts of the foot, Kathryne tells.
Hanger Station promises to keep your clothes on the door and off the floor.
-It’s for or wet, just ironed clothes, or when you are staging an outfit or packing or don’t have a closet. The product is a strip of plastic. Each strip holds 8 articles of clothing. You take off the adhesive tape and stick the strip over your door and you can hang hangers, inventor Mike Owens clarifies.
Wine maker Stephen Sublett from the British Columbia came up with the Ultimate Box Clip. The little plastic clips easily seal and subsequently open any cardboard box.
-One day I was bottling my wine at home and wanted to close the cardboard flaps. I got frustrated tugging the corners in and thought there’s gotta be a better solution. I pondered it for 15 minutes and came up with a simple design.
Christine Charpentier from the bayous of Louisiana became an inventor out of necessity.
-I have a daughter who got poison in her baby milk when she was five months old. She is 35 now. I still have a 160,000 dollar hospital bill left. I’ve been paying it off 100 dollars a month for all these years, Christine reveals.
She invented Microwave Pot Holders – cotton mittens that you can heat your microwave food without burning them. The secret is the material in between the layers, which Christine won’t reveal. She sells them for $20. That gets you a assortment of three pot holders in different sizes.
Andrew Yaros’ Trio is a combination of two bathroom fixtures. He is looking to get a retail licensing deal for his brainchild.
-It’s a toilet paper and disposable wipe dispenser. You put it in a regular toilet paper mount, Andrew explains.
However, you can’t just use any old wipes – only three companies make biodegradable wipes that you can flush down the toilet, one of them being the Finnish Suominen Company, whose wipes Yaros uses in his dispenser.
Ryo Masukawa introduced the CordRite – a sleeve to keep all your electric cords in order.
-I was looking at the mess of my cords. I wanted to make it safer for people so that they don’t trip over cords.
CordRite offers different size sleeves for different size cords. They proved to be useful and easy to install in test use. The product is available at Amazon.
Many inventors have tinkered with kitchen items. Lunch Sense organizes food items in plastic boxes that fit neatly in a cube-shaped box. Lid Gripper is a tool to open tight lids.
Handle It provides an easy-to-pour handle to any plastic bottle. Calendar Sponge relies on the idea that the sponge is the dirtiest thing in your kitchen and nobody knows when to change it. Experts agree it should be changed every month, so the way to know when to change it is to write the name of each month to the side of the sponge. Thus a 12-pack covers your full year.
Norman Strohdach’s eureka moment was to invent Cats of Thrones – a $75 system to train your can to use a human toilet.
-It teaches a cat how to use a toilet in an average of 3-5 weeks. You start with a full litter box and gradually train the cat in the six step system. In the final stage you only have a seat for the cat – a small platform without sand, you don’t share the seat with the cat. We tested this on 1300 cats and we have 100% success rate, Norman beams.
Antti Leppäkorpi from Jyväskylä, Finland traveled all the way to San Diego to try to distribute his invention, the StemMate weed guard to the American market.
-StemMate prevents the growth of weeds or grass on the base of the tree. When you plant a tree, you put StemMate around the tree. When the tree grows, it will grow along with it and finally breaks down. It does not kill the tree, Antti says.
The product has been tested in cold and snowy Finnish winters. Antti is selling the StemMate for $20 a piece. You can order yours by writing to: