Volume 34, Number 6, June 1999

Great Idea!
Steps You Can Take to Turn That Creative Concept Into a Viable Invention

by Tara Taffera

Most of us have had one at one time or another. It wakes us from our sleep, makes us stop suddenly in the street, causes us to excitedly call a friend and say, "Listen to this ... " Yes, we’ve all had ideas we thought would change the world (or at least make life easier). While most of us never follow-through with these ideas, there are those creative geniuses who do.

On page 48, you will find the USGlass 16th Annual Guide to New Products and Services. While you read about new products every month in our publication, you don’t learn about the inventors or the process that goes into new product development. So, in this issue we decided to showcase inventors and their products. Jeff Cook is one such innovator who has developed a new technology he is attempting to market to the glass industry. As he has found out, it’s a tough, long road without any guaranteed success. We also include advice to Cook from established glass-industry entrepreneurs.

Cook is only one of many in the glass industry who may have a great idea but needs guidance on how to follow-through. Below are a few resources we thought may be helpful to these individuals:

Books Available Through Amazon.com:

Great Idea! Now What, by Howard Bronson, Peter Lange and Peter Langram
Synopsis: Gives inventors valuable advice on first steps to take and how to determine if the product or invention has merit or marketability.

Marketing Your Invention, by Thomas E. Mosley
Synopsis: Helps inventors determine how to convert ideas into marketable products and outlines what steps are needed to protect ideas from infringement.

The Inventor’s Desktop Companion: The Guide to Successfully Marketing and Protecting Your Ideas
by Richard C. Levy
Synopsis: An experienced inventor, Levy gives tips on what to avoid, common pitfalls and valuable advice for both novice and experienced entrepreneurs.

How to License Your Million Dollar Idea: Everything You Need to Know to Make Money from Your New Product Idea
by Harvey Reese
Synopsis: Reese, a licensing expert, teaches inventors and entrepreneurs how to reap the rewards of a commercially viable idea, without exposing themselves to the hazards involved in manufacturing and marketing.

Eureka! The Entrepreneurial Inventor’s Guide to Developing, Protecting and Profiting from Your Ideas
by Robert J. Gold
Synopsis: Gold teaches inventors the art of brainstorming, patents and trademarks, design, fund-raising and marketing. Includes sample forms, letters and checklists for the decision-making process, testing, evaluation and establishment of professional credentials.

Commercializing New Technologies: Getting from Mind to Market, by Vijay K. Jolly
Synopsis: Jolly delves into the commercialization process breaking it into five sub-processes: Imaging, incubating, demonstrating, promoting and sustaining new technology in the market.

The Inventor’s Handbook: How to Develop, Protect and Market Your Invention, by Robert Park
Synopsis: Covers all phases of the inventing process including idea creation, development of a prototype, financing, production and marketing.

Invention Marketing Services

A quick search on the Internet, or a brief look through the local phonebook will yield names of companies who will help market your invention. While these companies provide valuable services, for a fee, such as patenting and development of a prototype, some warn against the use of these organizations. Richard Levy, author of one of the books mentioned above, said these companies prey on an estimated 25,000 inexperienced inventors each year. "The marketers praise every concept submitted, no matter its merit, charge the inventor fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars and do little or nothing to commercialize the invention," he said.

Valuable Resources:

The Eureka Club
This website is designed to help inventors promote their inventions around the world. Inventors from any country can submit a patented invention for inclusion in the database.

Solutions Newsletter
Monthly newsletter, available automatically by e-mail, addresses the viability of taking new inventions to market. Subscribers may ask specific questions which may be answered in a future issue.

This site links to various websites providing valuable information concerning patents and trademarks.

Triggering the Lightbulb
How to Spark Innovation in the Glass Industry

Technology is changing all our lives with new advances seeming to occur daily. Where do all the great ideas come from and how do they turn into products and services that we use with confidence? Sure, there are plenty of high-minded inventors who find a thrill in creating something new. But consider the rolls of competition and company survival. It is easy to say that incentives follow the dollar, which we all know, is the basis for a healthy, profitable, ongoing business. Being there first with a new product has its rewards. So do changes in products keep prices level without giving up performance? Or, maybe one new product replaces the need for several others and lowers the end users expense by reducing total job cost.

Successful suppliers are always looking for ideas which will give them a competitive edge. They internalize a system for identifying opportunities, which fit their product line or service mix. By staying close to their customers and understanding how customers operate, suppliers find changes will make their products more desirable, or what new product would create successful new demand.

If you have a great idea, you may become a product champion—an individual or company willing to test new ideas created by new suppliers. Evaluating new ideas or products certainly has a cost for the champion, but the champion is usually the first to benefit from the new products or services that will grow his business or lower his overall costs. The product champion may be asked for input in concept development to pre-market testing.

The glass industry is extremely innovative. New technologies in processing and fabrication, combined with new hardware and materials, have expanded the industry’s offering to designers, architects and others. Fashion, security and energy efficiency have added to the industry’s value in building and home construction. The ongoing evolution of ideas, products, materials and processes which are successfully commercialized, benefit the entire industry. If you have a great idea, put it to work. USG

Kenneth Hegyes is president of Capital Tape Company, His experience includes developing pressure sensitive materials for use in the automotive and health care fields.


Cool Concept

We asked a first-time inventor to allow some industry experts to critique his product and offer advice.

As Jeff Cook stood in the scorching parking lot of a theme park one summer day in 1995, he noticed a man desperately trying to cover the windows of his car with cardboard to block out the sun. He thought to himself, "There has to be a better way to do this." Four years later, Cook has the answer in the form of his patented invention, Insta-Shade.

The invention consists of two lites of tempered glass with a variable airspace filled with an opaque fluid sandwiched between the lites. The outer panel is stationary, while a small motor moves the inner panel. As the lites move apart, the fluid fills the space and changes the light transmittance of the window. When the panels are close together, the liquid is forced into a neoprene reservoir around the perimeter of the glass which again becomes transparent. By varying the space between the lites, the user can adjust the amount of light transmittance to any degree, according to his or her needs. A safety lock restricts the system to 50 or 60 percent light transmittance while the vehicle is in operation.

Cook feels the Insta-Shade could be used in the windshield, back- and side-lites. The command to shade could be obtained by wiring to the ignition switch of the vehicle so when the engine is turned off, the solenoids relax and the glass automatically darkens.

Cook, who lives in Stafford, VA, says the invention could eliminate the need to wear sunglasses while driving and enable drivers to see roads clearly without interference from the potentially dangerous glare of the sun. While the car is parked and the windows are placed on the opaque setting, the vehicle would be kept cool, and valuable items that might attract thieves would be hidden from view.

Cook’s background as an operating/civil engineer of 17 years, with a focus in power engineering, gave him the skills necessary to bring his idea to fruition. His current job with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) at Reagan National Airport requires intensive knowledge of thermal, mechanical, chemical and hydraulic dynamics. Cook works with automated and electrical systems and reads technical manuals extensively. "I knew I had the intellectual ability to figure something out," he said.

Cook is also no stranger to invention. He has invented a self-sustained electricity generator which generates 28 amps and a device that keeps drinks carbonated. Like most inventors, Cook observes a common problem, and, instead of accepting the problem, attempts to devise a simple solution. He has the enthusiasm typical of inventors which seems to be sustained by an ongoing belief that things can always be improved upon.

It took Cook almost a year to get the product to work the way he envisioned it. He explains his perseverance in this way: "I’m a tinkerer. I get obsessed with something and I don’t stop until I solve it."

Cook did solve it, and in his opinion, with a product that is superior to other attempts at automotive shading. Six similar products (of which Cook was not previously aware) have been invented and patented, many of them featuring liquid crystals to provide a similar effect. Cook says his invention is superior to those which use liquid crystals for three reasons. First, liquid crystals provide tint when they are being viewed straight-on, but at an angle the view becomes distorted and tint is lost. The fluid used in Insta-Shade allows the window to provide a clear view from any angle. Also, Insta-Shade can achieve true opaqueness, so the sun can be completely blocked out to keep the car cool. True opaqueness cannot be achieved using liquid crystals. Finally, unlike liquid crystal’s expensive price of $150 per square foot, the fluid used in Insta-Shade is inexpensive.

Cook was aware of several different materials to use for the opaque fluid in Insta-Shade. He finally decided on pure glycerine mixed with tracing dye, a concentrated dye that allows the window to achieve opaqueness when the glass panels are separated only 3/16 of an inch. The Glycerine is non-toxic, even when it comes into contact with open wounds. Cook explains that as long as standard laminated glass is used, there shouldn’t be a threat of leakage unless an object penetrates the glass. Additionally, Cook said safety precautions could be taken to prevent the system from accidentally being switched to opaque while the car is in use, and a photosensitive cell and preventative locks could be incorporated to limit use of the system at night.

Cook presented Insta-Shade to the Invention Submission Corporation (ISC) in February of 1996 for evaluation and submission to industry. GMC and Chrysler requested information about the product, and 80 percent of companies that received press releases showed interest, asking if the product was ready for production. He said Hyundai wanted to purchase the full rights for the product, but Cook felt he could find a better deal. Cook says he needs interest and support from a company large enough to have the means to test and produce the product. Since his contract with ISC expired in January, he has been working to market the product himself.

Another obstacle Cook faces is the current law in most U.S. states which prohibits reflectance of greater than 17 percent on auto glass. During operation, Insta-Shade could achieve reflective levels of 50 or 60 percent. Cook said it would take lobbying from a large group of auto producers to change the law. He would also have to prove the benefits of his product. "I would have to install it in a car and demonstrate its positive effects; actually show how it could prevent accidents," Cook said.

Going into his fourth year of promoting Insta-Shade, Cook has not lost his inventor’s persistence. He said he is not frustrated with the process, and is always looking for ways to promote his product. "A lot of inventions weren’t accepted right away, and now we use them every day," he said.

Cook recognizes the difficulty of this venture and is now considering architectural applications for Insta-Shade. There are few laws against tinting in homes or office buildings, and there are numerous application possibilities, including restaurant windows and glass used in conference rooms and china cabinets. Although Cook would like to eventually see Insta-Shade produced for the automotive industry, he is content to get it started on the architectural market. "Like anybody’s baby, they champion seeing it do well," he said. "The product works, and I want to see it produced."

Erika Meredith is an editorial intern for USGlass magazine.

Expert Opinion ...

Ray Asbery, President, Equalizer® Industries Inc., Round Rock, TX

Equalizer Industries invented the Equalizer and other tools used for the removal of windshields, all of which were developed by auto glass technicians. Ray Asbery invented the Equalizer and holds over 20 patents in 15 different countries. The company regularly solicits ideas from inventors and evaluates these product ideas.

Asbery’s advice for Cook: We have all wished for such a product as Mr. Cook invented. The sun gets brighter and your windows get darker. Whether you’re in an automobile, office building, or home, the market for this product seems endless.

Why, then, has it been so hard to market? My guess is because of the mechanical parts involved to make the product work. A motor, moving the glass, removing a liquid, a perimeter seal–it all adds up to a lot of engineering and a lot of things that could go wrong. Most manufacturers, myself included, really love the KIS principle: Keep it Simple. My feelings are that it is a little too complicated and putting all those working parts into a door glass could be a very difficult task. I believe Mr. Cook should have a hard look at the mechanics and see if they can be made simpler.

Although I see problems, they are easier to overcome in a building. My suggestion to Mr. Cook would be to find a architect who is designing a unique building and convince him or her to put this type of window in the building. From personal experience, I have found that architects and flat glass manufacturers are more open-minded to outside ideas than automobile manufacturers.

As inventors, we all want to invent a product, make millions and retire. In the real world, inventing is the easy part–marketing is more difficult. Products sell one product at a time. If Mr. Cook could find that right architect who would work with his manufacturer then build just one building with his windows in it, I think the second will come easier. The product may then, perhaps, take on a life of its own and everyone will be beating a path to its door.

I have pointed out several negative factors, but I do think this invention has many applications in the industry. I am writing this article on a $3,000 high-end computer, looking at the words on a color-balanced $3,000 monitor and printing to a $4,000 color printer. At night, I draw my blinds and go home, but anyone can still see through, in places, into my office. It would be great if I could shut off the lights and the window automatically went dark. A wandering thief would not know that 5 feet from the window is $10,000 worth of equipment.

Expert Opinion ...

James P. Johnson, Executive Vice President, Sommer & Maca Industries Inc., Cicero, IL

Sommer & Maca, a company founded by two inventors in 1920, has extensive experience in bringing new machinery inventions and supply inventions to market. The company has worked with many inventors to bring new products to the glass industry, but also has individuals on staff who invent new products.

The patented Rapid Height Adjustment System is one of Sommer & Maca’s most recent inventions. In one second, the system automatically adjusts the height settings of its horizontal glass washers for glass thickness. Compared to manually adjusting a glass washer thickness, this system saves 5-10 minutes of setup time. The adjusting system is also faster and considerably less expensive than electrical positioning alternatives. It is ideal for glass fabricators who wash glass of various thicknesses.

Johnson’s advice for Cook: Jeff Cook’s invention is interesting but may not have commercial possibilities for our company. The target customers for this invention may be the OEM automobile firms and the glass manufacturers. Their research and development departments are always evaluating new ideas. I am aware of similar technologies that are under development or introduced in the recent past. I am unaware of the relative cost of the existing technologies as it relates to a finished product cost.

 Expert Opinion ...

Peter Gold, President, Gold Glass Group, Bohemia, NY

Gold has been inventing products for the past 15 years and holds approximately 85 patents. In the late 80s, he was the first to develop the concept of an easy-to-use universal style moulding which would allow auto glass shops to drastically cut both costs and inventory. Having spent most of his life involved in the auto glass industry, he has extensive knowledge of its inner workings. Gold’s advice for Cook: Everybody thinks inventions that work have to be complicated, but the exact opposite is true ... the simpler the invention is to understand, to make and to use, the more likely it will have a viable market life. Most people who see a new invention say, "Why didn’t I think of that?" A simple invention is harder to get around and easier to explain, which hopefully will lead to a quick sale and great financial reward.

Though the problem Mr. Cook is trying to solve is easy to understand, his solution is not. It involves a lot of mechanicals parts, which complicates matters. This very well might be the competitive advantage he needs if the major auto manufacturers do not make him a fair offer. He should find small manufacturers already in the markets he wants to target. They are much more likely to utilize his invention and Cook can teach them.

I have learned the hard way that it is essential to have a partner when trying to develop a new market. Utilize their knowledge of distribution and allow them to bring a finished product to market.

Expert Opinion ...

Brian Smith, National Manager of Field Sales, Johnson Window Films, Carson City, CA

Smith’s advice for Cook: The Insta-Shade is an interesting concept. It offers a workable solution for those who desire windows with a variable light transmittance.

As far as U.S. automotive applications go, I believe the resistance from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will be difficult to overcome. A 50 to 60 percent visible light reflectance (VLR) is simply too high, especially at a time when many states are attempting to enact legislation to keep VLR below 20 percent. It also may be prohibitive cost-wise for most consumers to have dual-pane, curved glass with mechanical parts as an OEM option or aftermarket accessory.

I believe flat glass holds the most immediate potential for this product, such as storefront windows. Businesses usually want to offer a clear view of their merchandise during business hours but don’t want their goods on display at night.

The market is definitely there, but whether or not the market will embrace this product depends on several factors. Will the difference between the price of the Insta-Shade and the price of the leading visible light transmittance reduction products, such as window film, be so large that it becomes prohibitive? How is the optical clarity of the product? Another factor is the warranty of the Insta-Shade: Will the tracing dye in the glycerin base fade or change colors after years of solar exposure? How long of a warranty period can be expanded?

Certainly, there is a potential market for the benefits of the Insta-Shade. The litmus test will be whether those benefits can outweigh the considerations such as cost, clarity and durability.

 Cook’s Reaction to Industry Comments ...

"Insta-Shade, as described, is an invention of a glass-related product meant to shade when needed, or on command, and return to a clear view as desired or on command. The unit is designed to be self-contained and only require a power source and means to control it, for example, a potentiometer or an on/off switch. No external support equipment should ever be required for the various and extensive uses of this new window product. The start-up costs related to producing any new product is always a factor. I feel these costs should become negligible very quickly with Insta-Shade."


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