My thanks to Trevor Theriault, inventor of the Divers Communication Torch ( DCT ) for agreeing to do an interview for Ideas Uploaded. I contacted Trevor after reading an online newspaper article about how a scuba diving accident led to his invention.
Trevor: I am originally from Bright’s Grove, Ontario, Canada and have been residing in Leamington, Ontario, Canada for the past 15 years, My background was in Radio Broadcasting, sales and marketing and for the past 13 years I have been employed as an insurance broker. In 2003 I was on a scuba diving trip in the Caribbean (CUBA) and was involved in a potentially life threatening experience, as highlighted in the newspaper article. A few months after that experience, I was awakened from a deep sleep, and began to investigate this product that was so vivid in my dream; I looked through all of my past issues of dive magazines, looked on the internet, and could not find anything like what I had envisioned and wanted to buy for my next dive trip. I began sketching this new safety product on a napkin, and the next day my long journey began.
Tara: Please could young tell me a little bit about the Moray Divers Communication Torch (DCT), what it does, and how and why you came up with the idea?
Trevor: The Divers Communication Torch ( DCT ) is a multifunctional scuba divers accessory that combines a high powered 150 lumen LED flashlight with a patented noisemaker that when shaken by a diver can be heard in excess of 100 Feet (30Metres) away. When you are Scuba Diving you have no peripheral vision because you have a mask on, most divers will pull on a fin or bang their dive knife off of their tank to get attention, pretty dangerous if you can’t see beside or behind you. It is not reliant on the batteries or the diver’s air source to make noise like some other devices on the market.
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
Trevor: The first step I took was lots of research, trying to find a similar device in the market place. I knew nothing about the invention process at this time, and did not really want to go through all of the hassle of trying to do it myself. I began drawing better pictures and starting talking to my friends and family to see if there were any services that could be provided to make the idea look great to be able to pitch to a large corporation that could develop the product with their expertise and resources and pay me a royalty. I talked to the local dive shop and found out the top dive light and equipment manufacturers, and began to put a list together to start researching, and finding contacts at these companies that I wanted to pitch. I wrote a letter to a large US manufacturer, and managed to get a response like” It seems like a good idea, but our engineering budget is spread thin right now so we will have to put it on the self for now” in English that means buzz off, you have no idea what it takes to develop a product.
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?
Trevor: Now is the time where you need to make a decision….do I forget about this “idea” or do I take the less traveled path and try and get a patent? What is the next step? Who do I talk to? How much is this going to cost? , Everyone thinks I’m crazy…..if it’s such a great idea why is it not our on the market yet? The inner battle begins common sense vs. creativity. At the time there were not a lot of resources to educate myself on patents, there are TV commercials from Invention marketing companies that promise to get your idea launched in the market and help you get a patent, and they will take care of everything, especially your money. Talk to professionals, and have a good non-disclosure agreement. I first sought out an Invention Company and they charged me $500 dollars to tell me that nothing existed on the market and we were good to go, they performed an initial patent search and came back with 6 devices that had absolutely nothing to do with my product. I was not convinced as it sounded way too easy so I found a local law firm in my area and set up an initial meeting where they took the time to explain the patent process and the future costs associated with it. We engaged the law firm and ran another extensive, proper patent search and then proceeded to file a provisional utility patent.
Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or make a prototype for your idea?
Trevor: I had very crude drawings and enlisted a friend to make some more professional drawings to highlight the look and feel of the product how I envisioned it to be. Problem, artists and engineers think and work differently. My law firm put me in touch with another client of theirs that is an inventor and has launched products in the marketplace, and works as a consultant. We engaged his services and recommended building a functional proof of concept prototype, great idea but can it be built? and will it work?, and be heard underwater? So in 2005 we met with a product developer that used off the shelf parts and we made a few prototypes to get in the water and test. Problem, new design outside of the scope of our initial filed patent, this design was much simpler, less complicated from a manufacturing stand point. So we had to re file another patent!
Tara: How did you go about promoting your Divers Communication Torch, 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?
Trevor: Initially we wanted to license our patent and get paid a royalty, but problem is, no company will do business with you until you have an issued patent. It’s too risky for them to invest in, as there is no IP protection, and it costs hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to retool and develop a new product. We went to industry trade shows, called, emailed, and got told “no,” “not interested”, we do not invest in “not developed in house products” “ We spend a lot of money so our lights so they don’t rattle” the list of rejection was long….. We tried all the banks, Venture Capital, business incubators, investor nights, government grants etc….….you name it we tried it. Then in 2006 I decided I needed to investigate how I could build it myself, I needed to know how much it would cost, so I met with another inventor through my accountant, and he put me on to a company in Toronto Canada that develops products, I made contact with them and we started an engineering feasibility study, all the while building a business plan with a retired accountant, and working with a local university MBA program to prepare for an investor night where I could present to local investors my vision of my company and its product. The study took 8 months to complete, and in May 2009 I got word from my patent attorney that our patent was officially issued. In August of 2009 I started contacting companies again and managed to make a deal with a company in New Jersey USA that manufactures dive lights. We got our product built based on an existing light that was modified to include our noisemaker, this in my opinion is the best thing that could have happened as it eliminated our non-redundant engineering expense. The Manufacturer had us in the market within 4 Months.
Tara: How long did has it taken from your initial idea to where you are now?
Trevor: It will be 7 years in February 2011
Tara: Where can your product be purchased from?
Tara: What are your future hopes and plans for the Divers Communication Torch?
Trevor: I hope that the DCT gets some great exposure within the diving industry, and becomes the new required piece of safety equipment for scuba divers globally.
Tara: If you had to do it all again is there anything you would do differently?
Trevor: Would have, should have, it really doesn’t matter at this point, I think the best things to do is keep focused, committed, and enjoy the ride, all of the mistakes and triumphs and people that have help out on the project make it what it is, makes you stronger, and smarter moving forward. on second thought…… I would have not wasted so much time talking to bankers.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Trevor: Never, never, never, never give up, keep going, you can always go broke tomorrow. Work hard, no one is going to give you money, you need to be creative in coming up with solutions to move the project forward. Use all the minds around you, be humble, everyone has opinions on how and what, but remember you are the one in the driver’s seat, and you steer in the direction you want to go..Proceed with your idea responsibly, do not put you or your family’s financial future in jeopardy…calculated well thought out risks are great to take. Be patient, and remember that the odds are against you, less than 1% of patents that get filed get issued, and less that 1% of the issued patents get to become commercialized products. Daunting but definitely doable, and have fun, you get to meet some awesome people along the way. Familiarize yourself with real business, very, very important; learn as much as you can about gross margins, profit, logistics, sales and marketing and brand building.
Tara: Do you have more ideas you hope to bring to market in the future?
Trevor: Absolutely, got a few in my head right now, I am going to focus on taking existing products, and re branding to other niche markets.
Tara: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Trevor: There is no easy way, or specific formula on how to be successful in inventing and building a new product, it come down to hard work, and the effort that you put in. Stay positive, listen, and learn from experienced people. Get a business mentor, and join networks of people that can potentially help you to the next level. Watch your spending, do what you can afford, and most of all have fun.
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