I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


5 May 2014

Another episode of Make me a millionaire inventor

Last night was another episode of Make me a millionaire inventor (Sundays on Pick, 11 on Freeview, 7 pm), which featured a nursing bra and a remedy for seasickness. I have posted on a previous show and the format, and as before had the pleasure of seeing my name credited at the end for help.

Declan McDonnell, an administrator in Omagh, Northern Ireland, had invented a nursing or maternity bra which can be adjusted to increase by a cup size, say from 34B to 34C. This is useful as breast sizes increase a a result of breastfeeding. A hook and eye arrangement at the sides do this.

McDonnell had formerly worked in a factory making bras, and his wife had complained when they had their first child of the problem with tight nursing bras. So he had both knowledge and a motive. A World Patent application, An expandable brassiere, was published in 2011. This document listed at the back five patents that had a certain similarity, which can be seen here. This important aspect was not mentioned in the programme. I see from the European Register data that a patent will be granted in the European system, and there is an American application. Below is the main drawing.

As before help was provided. McDonnell sourced a manufacturer in Latvia. He estimated that it would cost £6 to make, would be sold to shops for £12, and would probably retail at £24.99. 44 sizes would be needed (colours would of course make for more variations). Xpanda Bra was registered in the UK and EU-wide trade mark systems with the favourite artwork being given below.

The second invention was by Tim Flaxman, a Norfolk farmer. He was prone to motion sickness, and once when on the London underground had tried sticking his travel ticket inside his spectacles to block the vision in one eye. His desperate measure worked. He had bought 10,000 sunglasses at a cost of £30,000 and these were still stored at his farm, years on. Presumably blocking one lens is less obvious with sunglasses. TravelShades was registered as a trade mark in the UK as long ago as 2007.

In this case it was estimated that it would cost £5 to the retailer and would probably sell for £9.99 although £20 was later spoken of. The boat ride where people prone to motion sickness had a go with the adapted sunglasses was interesting, although it was crying out for research on variants on the basic principle: was a white card blocking one eye the best ? Did it matter which eye ?

Again a World Patent application was published, but only a British patent was secured, in 2011, as A pair of spectacles to reduce travel sickness. For a simple idea, it may seem strange that a 17 page document was needed. Below is the main drawing. It is still in force, says the British Register data.

Flaxman had also not researched if the concept was dangerous, and learnt from an eye specialist that while it was not a good idea for children it sounded safe enough for adults. It also emerged later on that as he was making a medical claim he might need permission to sell it as a medical device.

After training in presentation skills, which included for some reason singing, the two inventors had to make pitches for their inventions before people working in the trade. McDonnell asked for £75,000, Flaxman for just £25,000.

An existing £5 pill to deal with motion sickness was a possible problem but Flaxman was offered help, as was McDonnell for his bra. In the end McDonnell decided to go it alone.

While a single episode cannot cover all aspects of developing and marketing an invention some excellent points were made -- the need to make good, sensible presentations, the need to remember figures, the need to put together a sound business plan. It made for entertaining as well as informative viewing.

There is a website for Xpanda Bra, which is available to purchase, while TravelShades is not yet available but has a "contact us" website.

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