Design for success
Sisters, students ... inventors of a 'scoop and seal'
While others might complain about what the cat dragged in, two local sisters came up with a way to deal with it -- and invented a product they hope will sell to homes, food and packaging industries, laboratories and even police departments.
The combination scraper, scooper and container was conceived in 2009 by Fiona and Orla Lamont, both Pleasanton students. Earlier this year, the pair received a patent for the device, which they've named Yuckease.
"We were watching some of the police programs and how they would have to pick up the evidence," Orla explained. "There was no good way they had to do it. We came up with something that could pick things up and keep them in."
The pair created 16 different prototypes in their effort to create their product.
"We both came up with ideas," Fiona said, "and just chose the one we thought would work best."
After that, with a little help from their parents, the sisters hired a patent attorney.
"We hired someone who could take on the job and also do the drawings for it," Fiona said.
She explained that the attorney took their drawings and recreated them in the specific format required by the patent office.
Their attorney worked with them to create a product that was significantly different from others that had received patents.
"There were parts of one that were too close to other ones and also weren't as effective," Fiona said.
Orla compared the process to evolution.
"You have a version and the version keeps changing," she said.
Fiona, a 17-year-old senior at Foothill High and Orla, who's 12 and attends Pleasanton Middle School, used a fast-track application to get their patent. That process looks at the differences between their product and similar ones and anticipates questions from the patent office.
While it can often take years to receive a patent, Yuckease sailed through -- from idea to patent in less than two years, including all their prototypes, which the sisters drew, cut and folded into working models.
"We'd already come up with why it was different and why it was patentable," Fiona said.
They applied for their patent at the end of summer of 2010 and received notice it had been approved at the beginning of this year.
The two spent hours on weekends and summer and winter breaks refining their design, although Orla said it was difficult to work on it on school nights when homework had to be a priority.
The two envision both paper and plastic versions of Yuckease, although no infomercial is in the foreseeable future.
"We hope to maybe manufacture it, maybe put it on the market," Orla said. "I think it really has a lot of different uses.
"You can use it for picking up food," she said, demonstrating with some M&Ms they keep on hand to show off the product. "You can use it for picking up things at a crime scene."
Fiona said they want to refine their plan a bit more before deciding what path to take. One use, she said, is apparent.
"If anyone has a pet that brings in weird things, when they don't want to touch it," Fiona said.
"We use it for picking up tarantulas," she added, pointing toward the hill behind their home.
The sisters are a rarity in the world of patents, which is largely dominated by men. Agnes Lamont and her daughters did some research on patents and this is what they found:
* The USA has the most patents but is behind Japan and Korea in patents per capita.
* In the last 10 years, 538 patents were granted to people or businesses in Pleasanton. Of those, 12 went individuals, with the rest going to corporations such as Clorox.
* Only one went to a woman.
Lamont said if young people in general and girls in particular were encouraged to seek patents, it could open up a whole new era of creativity in America, pointing to the number of startups that were begun by 20-somethings. Her daughters had a similar message for their peers.
"I think the main thing people need to do is not sell themselves short," Fiona said.
Orla added, "Just work hard at it and don't say you can't -- believe in yourself."
As a senior, Fiona is just beginning the college application process. While she doesn't necessarily think having a patent will help her get into the school she wants, she said it can't hurt.
"I don't think it's one of those things that will make or break me," she said. "I think it'll be impressive."
Orla said she's interested in science, but said it's too early to make any long-term career commitment.
"In the seventh grade, we're still thinking about being firemen and Navy SEALS," she said.