You Too Could Be Thomas Edison from a Remote-Control Car Starter to an Electronic Baseball Mitt, Inventors Detail What It Takes to Get a Product from Idea to the Shelf

By Amy Kaslow, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 1995 | Go to article overview

You Too Could Be Thomas Edison from a Remote-Control Car Starter to an Electronic Baseball Mitt, Inventors Detail What It Takes to Get a Product from Idea to the Shelf


Amy Kaslow, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


SO you've figured out a great new way to make mobile homes immune to twisters or to sleep soundly in bed while your dog is walked by remote control in the middle of the night.

Before you dream of stocking store shelves with your new design, take a closer look at what it takes to line your pockets with profits from your great idea.

Just ask Joey Prunckle about bringing an innovation to market.

Last year, the San Pedro, Calif., sixth-grader wanted to improve the performance of his kid brother's Little League team. He invented a "ground-ball trainer" - a mechanism attached to a baseball mitt that buzzes when a player fielding hits touches it to the ground.

Team members and coaches encouraged Joey to develop his idea. So he joined the ranks of American inventors caught up in the detail and expense of feasibility studies and legal proceedings.

As one seasoned inventor observes, imagination comes cheap. "There are always plenty of people who come up with novel concepts and ask: 'Wouldn't it be great if?"' says Skip West, a Virginia-based inventor. His company, DesignTech International Inc., is selling 25 products here and abroad. But getting them into the hands of consumers requires a tireless effort and a bundle of money.

Mr. West began his business 10 years ago in his partner Mark Gottlieb's Washington, D.C., town house. From his Springfield, Va., factory, he ships a line of electronics products he says "make life safer and easier."

One of his products is a remote-control key ring that chirps when it locates your car, unlocks its doors, and turns on the headlights. He has also sold 1 million "Back-Up Alerts" - beepers for the back of trucks, vans, and cars that help drivers avoid hitting pedestrians and colliding with cars when they reverse.

And he is the world's largest manufacturer of a remote car starter, a device that allows you to sit at your kitchen table on a cold winter's day, 400 feet from your vehicle, and start the ignition or turn on the heater.

Employing 75 people, West sells to the American Telephone & Telegraph Corp., Radio Shack, Pep Boys, Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Brookstone, and a host of retailers. But, typical of inventors who sell their ideas, West's success has been hard-earned.

While doing market research to determine if they can sell their products, inventors spend an average of 20 months getting a United States patent - a process that can turn out to be quite cumbersome and costly.

Big bucks for a patent

Between government filing charges and legal fees, inventors routinely spend $5,000 to $25,000 per patent, according to Richard Maulsby, spokesman for the US Patent and Trademark Office. He recommends that inventors at least consult a lawyer, if not hire one, before they begin the process.

So-called "invention-development companies" are ready to prey on unsuspecting inventors anxious to cash in on their originality, Mr. Maulsby cautions. …

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