Need a lizard heat lamp that plugs into your cigarette lighter? How about a rat-repelling gadget to keep rodents off your boat? What about a patented pillowcase with a secret pocket for condoms?
These nifty inventions will take center stage at the 25th Annual Rocky Mountain Inventors Conference and Expo, taking place April 12 at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. This year's Expo will feature forty exhibit booths, inventor award contests, and nuts-and-bolts seminars that walk amateur inventors through the process of bringing their brainchildren to reality.
And while plenty of participants come just to show off their wacky gizmos, some come to hype their products' hoped-for launch into stores. For instance, first-time inventor Karen Nichols believes her Just In Case pillow cover serves a need that the public will appreciate.
"It all started when our oldest daughter went off to college," recalls Nichols, who's a quilt designer by trade. Not yet ready for grandmotherhood, she stitched up a pillowcase with a hidden three-by-three-inch condom-sized pocket in the seam. "If you've been in a dorm, you know there are not always nightstands," says Nichols. "It's very discreet."
After test-marketing the pillowcase in residence halls and subsequently adding another, larger pocket, Nichols trademarked the name and patented the concept. Now she's eagerly awaiting the green light from retailers. But she thinks her clever product could be popular with more than just randy safe-sex fans: Elderly folks who desire a secret pocket to secure jewelry, folks who need instant access to pill cases, and passport-stashing globe-trotters are all potential customers.
Like Nichols, many first-time creators aren't scientists; rather, they're regular folks who started with a bright idea sprung from real life. Take David Thomas, who invented a reptile heater that plugs into a cigarette lighter to keep his beloved hermit crabs comfy. Or former hospice nurse Denise Anker, who created the BreastSense self-exam reminder after seeing too many patients ravaged by cancer. And finally, proving that necessity truly is the mother of invention -- for mothers, anyway -- is Diana Clark, who, after running short of diapers and formula during an airport delay, thought up the Wee Traveler machine to vend kiddie supplies.
All were helped by the non-profit Rocky Mountain Inventors and Entrepreneurs Congress, which sponsors the event. RMIC member Jerry Forman, who has seen plenty of clever creations over the years, swears that the success of any invention depends more on creator chutzpah and persistent promotion than sheer brilliance of design. "If you're an inventor and not an entrepreneur, you're not going to get any money," he cautions.
In order to give attendees sufficient bang for their buck, Forman and his group have lined up a bevy of speakers for the expo, covering everything from patent and trademark basics to manufacturing, financing and packaging one's creation. Scheduled speakers include Al Gebhard, inventor of the Gerry umbrella stroller and Snugli carrier, who's got more than a hundred patents to his name. Patent attorneys, independent financiers and From Patent to Profit author Bob DeMatteis round out the schedule.
If you've ever seen the latest doohickey and muttered to yourself, "I could have thought of that," then here's your chance to take your place in history next to the likes of Hungarian inventor Enro Rubik, who was just 29 when he invented the Rubik's Cube. That invention went on to become the best-selling toy in history, making Rubik a zillionaire in the process. Imagine that.