8 Floridian Inventors You Need to Watch & Learn From!
The Decades Fly By
Wow! 20 years as a practicing Florida board certified patent attorney has flown by yet I vividly recall just about every inventor who has walked into my patent law firm over the past two decades.
While I have been involved in over 1,200 patent filings, several Floridian inventor success stories stand out offering enticing nuggets of wisdom for those entrepreneurs who follow in their footsteps.
I share some of their stories below, including additional famous Floridian inventors who used the Sunshine state to launch million dollar brands.
#1: David Coggswell: Inventor of the Toilet Purifier®
When I watched David launch his product, the Toilet Air Purifier on the Home Shopping Network, I had to admire the wit, savvy, perseverance and intelligence of this inventor who used his engineering and marketing knowledge to craft a simple, powerful product that quite simply “smells of success”. On the initial patent consult for the Toilet Air Purifier, he shared with me how he had become increasingly annoyed at the odor present in bathroom toilets and the off-putting and noisy fans that were touted as solutions. As his patent attorney, David gave me his prototype to test at home. His product is pure genius: It has successfully stood up to rigid testing in my household of five kids. Like the other inventors below, David understood the importance of following through with his invention and taking tiny, measurable steps towards reaching his goal. His product is now on the store shelves of Walmart and Costco and he has a winner on his hands. But it all started with solving a small, annoying problem that the rest of the world had missed!
#2: Troy Faletra: Inventor of the ThrowRaft®
This man – this inventor – is not only my client but a friend of mine who inspired me to write my Amazon best-selling book, Escaping The Gray. When Troy’s boat sank miles offshore from Fort Lauderdale he faced a life-threatening decision: Wait for help or risk swimming back to shore. After several hours of swimming, he crawled his way onto the sand and pictured a new portable marine device that could save the lives of people who found themselves in a similar predicament. When he approached me for a patent he still had many oceans to cross in order to get his device workable and accepted in the highly-regulated marine industry. Troy poured his heart and soul into perfecting ThrowRaft®, a throwable self-inflation device that weighed just three pounds. Along the way, he had to overcome the terrible loss of his dad and wife, which like Marguerite further below, tested his resolve and willpower to stay the course of being an inventor. When the U.S. Coast Guard approved his device, a staggering endorsement, the floodgates opened, and Troy has never looked back. After winning awards at the Miami Boat Show, Troy’s company has gone global, a remarkable success story that shows us that no idea is too small or any dream too big to pursue.
#3: Sara Blakely: Inventor of Spanx®
This billionaire titan barely needs an introduction, but we often forget that Sara Blakely, inventor of Spanx® undergarments for women, was born and bred in Florida. She had a spotty and underwhelming career after graduating from Florida State University, but the lessons she learned while working at Disney World for three months, followed by a grueling period selling fax machines door-to-door, gave her the foundation to win the hard yards. Creative sparks struck her while getting ready for a party when she cut the bottoms off her pantyhose to feel more comfortable wearing a new dress she planned to wear later that evening. In that instant, Spanx® was born, which would later attract the attention of Oprah Winfrey and make her the world’s first female self-made billionaire. Her inventing story is riddled with lessons for entrepreneurs which I share on The Patent Professor®.
#4: Marguerite Spagnuolo: Inventor of Grandmas2Share dolls®
Sometimes the hardest part of the inventing journey is overcoming self-doubt. My client Marguerite experienced a painful and crushing setback when her dad died while she was helping a retailer restock inventory for her patented Grandmas2Share dolls that she crafted in the likeness of her two grandmothers. Understandably, she blamed herself for not being at her father’s side and for a long period relinquished her dream of becoming a successful and profitable inventor. During this period of introspection, she remembered her dad’s support and enthusiasm for her product line that at one point earned her an appearance on ABC’S hit show, Toy Box®. With renewed focus and energy, she bounced back to continue building her brand that continues to win affection from families across the United States. It’s worth mentioning that Marguerite is the holder of three poker championships, showing her versatility and coolness under pressure as she drives Grandmas2Share into the winner’s circle.
#5: Valerie Carbone: Inventor of EyeBandz®
Whenever I hear the words “grit” or “determination”, my thoughts immediately drift to an early client of mine, Valerie Carbone, who invented the dual-purpose EyeBandz®. She grasped the power and relevance of a small, tiny idea that solves a common problem, in this case using reading glasses without the torment of frames getting stuck in hair or easily misplaced. By combining the best attributes of reading glasses with the common hair-holding characteristics of a hairband (or “Alice Band”), Valerie created a novel new product that appealed to women leading busy lives. She immediately sought me out for a patent before approaching Chinese manufacturers and touching base with major retailers at trade shows. In a long-winding journey, fraught with technical challenges, Valerie established herself as startup determined to overcome any obstacle in her path. On The Patent Professor website, I deep dive into her inventor journey that includes a fascinating look into her prototyping process which required some painful decision-making along the way. Valerie showed “true grit” to reach a point where a major TV retailer is on the cusp of profiling her EyeBandz on an upcoming segment.
#6: Alan Amron: Inventor of the Press-on Memo Sticky Note
It’s often the case that two people – or companies – come up with a similar idea at more or less the same time. When this happens disputes arise over who was the rightful inventor. This occurred in the 1970s when Alan Amron, a prolific inventor and “ideas man” stumbled upon an idea for a new product that resembled the legendary Post-it® Note I recently chronicled on The Patent Professor. The idea came to him while MacGyvering a quick and dirty way to leave a note on the refrigerator for his wife. Using some of the residual stickiness from gum he was chewing at the time, he realized he had found a new approach to gently bonding paper notes to any surface. His big mistake was not following through with a patent for his idea which he called Press On Memo. Upon developing a basic prototype, he shared his idea with visitors and companies at a trade show. He claimed that one of these companies was 3M which would later release their best-selling Post-it Note to worldwide acclaim. While Amron would go on to patent 40 other products and earn good financial returns from his entrepreneurial output but he would always hold deep regret for not patenting this tiny winner and receiving recognition as the rightful holder of the invention. He would later sue 3M and win a settlement, but it has remained a contentious issue for this plucky inventor to this very day. He still believes that 3M stole his intellectual property and considers his Press-on Memo as one of his finest inventions. His story reminds us once again of the importance of keeping your idea a secret until you have bulletproof patent protection place. Keep watching this inventor who has built, patented and marketed some nifty products including a battery-powered squirt gun and a digital photo frame. I’m sure more ideas (and patents) are on their way!
#7: Donal Inman: Inventor of the Inman Dental Aligners®
How many dental inventors would love to claim that over 4 million Americans use their invention? This achievement belongs to one of my enterprising clients, Donal. P. Inman who found a clever way to help dentists fix crossbites and overcrowded teeth with his Inman Aligners®. Even as major titans entered the marketplace including Invisalign and Six Month Smiles, the Inman Dental Aligner continues to be the go-to orthodontic teeth straightener of choice for many dentists across America. His braces work quickly to straighten teeth, endearing them to “impatient” dental patients reared in the social media age. Within several weeks they see results which have earned his product several kudos in a competitive marketplace. You can read the full Inman Aligner story on my parent site, The Patent Professor.com, which includes some novel enhancements to his product line including custom-colored aligners that typify the age of personalization we all live in.
The preceding examples show the remarkable value of small, tiny ideas that solve common problems in our lives. In some cases, the ideas have medical advantages but are still marvelously simple and elegant. Other products save lives while still occupying a tiny physical footprint. Others have a family appeal or solve two problems at once. They may be items you wear or make you look good; or both. In all cases, the inventors did not let the idea slip through their fingers. They fell in love with their ideas and inched their way towards a patent and product commercialization. In nearly all the examples above, a patent was used to launch the inventor to the next level. In the solitary case where a patent was NOT pursued the inventor lost millions (maybe billions) in potential annual royalties along with the recognition that comes with inventing a product that disrupts an industry. All these inventors had a footprint in Florida and in some way will mirror your dreams, ambitions, and the self-doubts that invariably arise as an inventor.
Yet all of them became successful despite the roadblocks and obstacles in their way.