The life of an independent inventor is rife with questions. How can I find a decent overseas manufacturer? What’s the best way to deal with infringers on my patent? How can I be sure that my patent attorney is giving me quality advice?
The Texas Inventors’ Association was created so that inventors can share the answers to such questions and others like them in a casual, collegial environment. Using the motto “Friends Helping Friends,” the group meets on a monthly basis at the Davis Library in Plano.
Association officials try to ensure that a number of members who can be resources for less-experienced inventors are present at every meeting. At December’s session, the resources included patent attorney John Baker of Plano’s Baker Law Firm; Matthew Smithers, whose Lewisville company, MCS Products, assists with the creation of prototypes; and Elliott Brackett of Dallas-based Exceptional Products Inc., which helps inventors test the marketability of their ideas.
“We volunteer each month to help and guide people with their products, so they don’t get scalped trying to get their product to the market,” Smithers says. “Some us have been helping for 10 years or more. We use non-disclosure forms and step in the kitchen or closet for a private consultation about anything from design to manufacturing, giving detailed instructions on how to proceed and what to buy from where.”
The association’s membership is diverse, not only in terms of race and age but also as it relates to their inventions. Attendees at the most recent meeting included Beth Baruch, a middle-aged woman from Arlington who created decorative sleeves that slide onto wired earrings, and Rufus Nicholson, a retiree from Grand Prairie who invented an accessory for electrical outlets that’s designed to make the plugging and unplugging process easier and safer.
“When you talk about invention, you’ve got to be crazy a little bit,” Christina Goree says. “So I came here to meet some more crazy people to get some crazy energy.”
Another attendee, Christina Goree of Arlington, asked us not to describe her invention in detail because her patent application is still pending. (What we can say: it is designed to aid people who can’t afford to stop working because of a cut on their hands. The former stylist dreamed it up after she sliced herself during a hair-cutting competition with thousands of dollars in prize money on the line.)
“When you talk about invention, you’ve got to be crazy a little bit,” Goree says. “So I came here to meet some more crazy people to get some crazy energy.”
The December meeting was led by Alan Beckley, who has expended plenty of crazy energy since 2002. That’s when the Plano resident invented the Savvy Caddy, a flexible wallet that remains amazingly thin despite having the capacity to hold 24 credit cards. He sold 20,000 of them himself through “brute force marketing” efforts such as setting up booths at military bases and Veterans Administration hospitals. But last year he licensed his creation to a company called All-Star Products that changed the product’s name to Wonder Wallet. It’s sold by that name at Walmart, Target, Sears, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, with a new retailer coming on board seemingly every month.
“It’s very exciting for me,” Beckley says. “It’s only taken 13 years to get to this point.”
As inspiring as Beckley’s story may be to other inventors, he’s not willing to just rest on his laurels and collect Wonder Wallet royalty checks. He’s hard at work on his next invention, a cat toy that needs a bit more research and development.
“So far,” he says with a laugh, “humans like it more than cats.”
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