A big thank you to Inventor Ian Davies www.iantheinventor.co.uk who agreed to do an interview with me. Ian has used his chronic illness to invent products to help elderly and disabled people. Ian’s inventions include the Plugster™ a simple device which you can put over an electrical plug which makes it easier to remove from the socket and the Slingster™ which supports a mobile phone while its charging.
Below: Ian Davies, right, with Paul White demonstrating
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into inventing?
Ian: Dad was a Tackler and always seemed to be fixing things at home, I’ve always preferred to fix things myself or come up with simple solutions to problems I’ve had. Trouble was I never had the time or inclination to do anything with my ideas.
Tara: Please could young tell me a little bit about the Plugster and how you came up with the idea?
Ian: The Plugster was an idea that came about because of my incapacity, my chronic illness weakened my grip and moulded plugs became extremely difficult to remove. I had seen plugs with handles but they needed to be wired and that would need someone who had some dexterity, I also felt that removing the moulded plug might invalidate any warranties.
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
Ian: The sourcing of materials that had the specifications I thought the product needed was my first step, then I started making prototypes and testing them. It was around this time I discovered that my council gave help and advice to inventors, this included a free consultation with a patent lawyer.
Tara: Did you try and patent your idea straight away or did you develop it first? how did you go about getting protection for your idea?
Ian: The initial advice was that I was unlikely to get a patent granted and that I should write what’s known as a spoiling patent, what I did do though was read all the patents that the advice was based on and write my application by focusing on the differences. What had happened was the patent lawyer had focused on the similarities and missed the improvements, it took a few years but my patent was granted. A patent application gives the inventor a priority date that gives the inventor some protection and that is when potential manufacturers should be approached, finding a manufacturer who likes the idea gives the inventor someone with an interest who may help protect the idea.
Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or have a prototype made for your idea?
Ian: I produced my own drawings and prototypes because it is cut out of flat material this was fairly straightforward to do.
Tara: How did you go about promoting your idea, did you contact possible companies with the idea of licensing your product or did you want to maintain control and manufacture and sell it yourself?
Ian: Initially I found a promotional gift manufacturer and explained my aims in developing The Plugster and I was advised by an ex-marketing director of a utility company that the utilities had a duty to supply aids and adapters to vulnerable customers so I approached all the utilities that I could find the details of, initially they all seemed to like the idea especially because as a promotional product they could claim the cost back. But what happened was the utilities asked OFGEM to remove the condition saying they’d help the vulnerable and that the licence to supply didn’t need the condition, as soon as OFGEM removed the condition the utilities lost all interest. It seemed odd to me that OFGEM would make a decision that would remove help from elderly and disabled consumers, that’s when I decided that electrical retailers might be interested. The way I saw it they sell appliances but the products don’t say what shop sells them, with The Plugster I thought they could put their brand into customers homes and as a promotional gift can be claimed as an expense against profits how could they refuse. I approached lots of businesses that sell electrical products because it is a little help, one of the supermarkets seems to attract a lot of elderly customers but they didn’t understand that helping their vulnerable customers might be good for business. I was lucky enough to be interviewed on Radio 2 and was contacted by a Lion from Plymouth Tamar Lions, I suddenly realised that instead of trying to convince businesses of the benefits of helping vulnerable customers I should have been looking for organisations like the Lions who actively help elderly and disabled people. I have contacted other Lion clubs in my area and the response has been very good, Peel Lions are offering them to local people and think other clubs will do something similar.
Tara: How long did has it taken from your initial idea to where you are now?
Ian: It’s been over six years and had it been about making money I would have given up, for me the aim has always been to help vulnerable people and that’s what kept me trying to find interested parties.
Tara: Where can your product be purchased from?
Ian: I offer them via www.iantheinventor.co.uk to endusers, but businesses can contact me by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tara: If you had to do it all again is there anything you would do differently?
Ian: I’d assess who would do the things I want to achieve and approach them first, I think that I spent too much time trying to convince businesses of the benefits.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Ian: Seek advice from fellow inventors first as they won’t charge you, before you do talk to anyone get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement first. If they refuse to sign one don’t tell them anything. One book serial inventors should read is The Hypercreative Personality, it helped me understand how I keep thinking things up. An important piece of advice I was given, “If it’s to be it’s up to me”.
Tara: I see you have also developed a new product the Slingster, please could you tell us a bit about what it does and what your plans are for it?
Ian: A friend told me how he’d plugged a mobile phone in to charge overnight and put the phone on the floor, during the night he got up to visit the toilet and stood on it. The Slingster is simply a support for a mobile that fits onto the earth pin and forms a loop into which most phones fit, the idea was “don’t leave your phone laying around sling it”. Again I thought promotion gift that mobile companies can claim the cost of, it would put the brand into customers homes for all to see. The intention is to keep approaching mobile companies but finding the person with the brain is difficult.
Tara: Do you have more ideas you hope to bring to market in the future?
Ian: Always having ideas and I intend to work on the simple low cost first, for instance some of my ideas are for puzzles that could be made into phone apps and a US company is considering some of them for the iPhone, iPad and the new iPhone4. If any get to market then I would use the income to work on some of my other inventions, who knows maybe one day I might be able to afford an iPad.
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