Vail Valley inventor may help keep the Cheerios off the floor
Vail, CO, Colorado
Like many inventors, Vail Valley inventor Al McGrew got to work because of something that needs improvement.
In McGrew’s case, he and his wife were tired of picking up the food and toys that came flying off the high chairs of their three grandsons. So McGrew, a retired petroleum engineer who had spent a career looking for oil reserves all over the world, got to work on a more personal project. A few years and several hefty checks later, McGrew is the proud holder of U.S. Patent 7,475,937. He calls it the “Kid Tray.”
“Most of the credit goes to my wife,” McGrew said. “She saw the need.”
What the tray does is fairly simple: There’s a pop-up platform on the tray surface that parents ” or grandparents ” can use to lock down bowls, plates or toys. The bowl or plate stays on the tray, and adults get to stay off their hands and knees.
McGrew first got to work making plywood prototypes in his garage at his home in Olathe, Kansas. He ended up with his first invention.
“Once I returned (to the United States) and had a shop I could do something,” he said. “When you’re living in an apartment in Cairo, it’s hard.”
While McGrew was working, he joined a local inventors’ group that was led by a patent attorney. When McGrew had gone about as far as he could with plywood, he had a plastic version made.
He applied for a patent in September of 2006. It was awarded Jan. 13 of this year.
The entire process was an education, McGrew said, but an education largely into the workings of the machinery that looks to take advantage of inventors. One of those companies notified McGrew he’d been awarded a patent before he got word from the patent office.
But beyond just having been recognized for a unique invention, McGrew would like to see the Kid Tray brought to market.
“Just having a patent is an expensive piece of artwork,” he said.
But as daunting as it can be getting a patent, actually getting an idea turned into a product can be even more difficult.
“Something like 3 percent of patents are turned into products,” he said.
After pitching his invention to several companies and being rejected, McGrew is now working with the Innovation Institute, a project partially sponsored by Wal-Mart that evaluates new inventions. Between 4 and 5 percent of the patents sent to that group are deemed marketable, but a high rating can help.
If the product is ever put into production, McGrew said he’d be more interested in a piece of the accessory business than the actual chairs. And, he said, there’s a natural market for his idea.
“Every year about 2 million babies are born in the U.S.,” he said. “If I could get 20 percent of that market, that would be something.”
Getting a company to actually make Kid Trays has another advantage, though. Just having a patent doesn’t automatically provide an inventor with much protection. If a company happens to copy a patented invention, the inventor has to protect himself in court. It’s far better to have a big company enforce its rights to a product than a lone inventor.
Whether or not McGrew’s Kid Tray finds a company willing to bring it to market, he said he’s had quite an education in building it.
“There’s all sorts of advice out there,” he said. “We paid research companies and it turned out they did a job we could have done ourselves.”