As a child, Don Fridley was unaware of the profitability of his leather shoestring invention. When strung from one earpiece to the other and cinched with a bead, it simply kept his sunglasses around his neck.
Someone beat Fridley to the patent. In 1978, a sports extremist from Jackson Hole, Wyo., invented Croakies by using an old wetsuit and sharp scissors.
The 42-year-old Fridley is now hoping to put his newest invention on the market.
He created what he calls a "whimsical suncatcher," a household toy that "projects dynamic and active images."
His product is under contract but is still in a conceptual phase without patent. He can only tease the public - even his parents - about its appearance and specific function.
"You gotta cross your fingers and just be patient," Fridley said. "It's really a slow process."
A complex process
Fridley's suncatcher idea came into fruition about a year ago. He is now under a two-year contract with Invention Technologies Inc. (Invent-Tech), a Florida-based company that specializes in marketing and licensing new inventions. He found the company by typing "inventions" into an Internet search engine.
"I don't have time to do all the footwork," Fridley said, which is why he hired Invent-Tech. Fridley lives in Greenwood with his wife, Karen, 42, and their Belgian shepherd, Jake. He works as the facilities manager for a health-care information company in Downtown Seattle.
If Fridley were to pursue a patent on his own, the complex process could take years. For a relatively simple invention, IPWatchdog.com, an inventor education website, estimates a patent could cost between $3,500 and $5,000 - after paying for filing fees, formal patent drawings and patent lawyers.
Fridley's first step as an inventor was to buy materials and create a prototype, which he then showed to his wife and close friends.
"I asked if they would buy one, and they said, 'Yes,'" Fridley said. "It's simple, it's easy and anyone above the age of 2, (in) any country can play with it."
Trusting the judgment of his companions, he pitched the idea to Invent-Tech, which quickly offered to go into contract to market it. Fridley hopes to see the product picked up by a manufacturer within the next year.
Testing the market
Maria Pang, an inventor-relations representative at Invent-Tech, said the company looks for products with novelty and public appeal.
Pang refused to disclose the total number of successful licensed inventions represented by Invent-Tech, compared to the total number of customers they have represented.
Fridley first received a free "market analysis," as Pang called it, which included a preliminary patent search on his suncatcher to ensure originality. Fridley then paid Invent-Tech an initial fee of about $600.
The suncatcher is now in the "advanced development stage," for which he paid a fee in the thousands of dollars for Invent-Tech to network the product and design a formal portfolio.
"We're still searching for a company to license it," Pang said.
A few months ago, Fridley signed press-release packets that Invent-Tech distributed to 20 manufacturing companies.
Invent-Tech also will take the suncatcher proposal to invention trade shows. So far, they have taken it to three shows, one of which was in Frankfurt, Germany, Fridley said.
Once a company agrees to license and manufacture the suncatcher and Fridley agrees to the final design, he has two options: He can pass over rights of the product to a company in return for one total buy-out payment, or he can choose to be a partner and collect royalties. (Invent-Tech also gets a cut of the profit.) The test market would likely be a website for on-line purchases of the suncatcher.
Fishing for ideas
Fridley's eyes gleamed when he talked about his future should the suncatcher succeed. If his wallet indeed gets fatter, he said he would probably quit his job.
"I'm definitely looking for other avenues of excitement," Fridley said. "Of course, one being travel."
Fridley's other hobbies lend themselves to his knack for original creations. He paints, writes poetry and even published a cookbook.
"I'm thinking every day," Fridley said, as his eyes darted around his office. "[I] start looking around and start wondering 'What could make someone's life a little easier, simpler and more fun?'"
His eyes fell on a whiteboard eraser, called a Ghost Duster, that has a surface sheet that can be torn off to reveal a new, clean one.
He pointed out a set of padded wristbands designed for people who travel with their laptops, called Compu-Cuffs, also marketed by Invent-Tech.
From Post-Its to paper binder clips, he saw potential all around him.
As for his suncatcher, all Fridley can do now is wait. He said it's like fishing: He's just hoping for some bites at this point.
"You gotta be positive," he said.