Hawai'i's patents hit highest total in decade
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Sean Hao
Christopher Mithen said his first idea to patent a "hang loose" oven mitt was a bit too illogical for U.S. patent officials.
Evidently the shaka sign ran afoul of a previously patented oven mitt inspired by Spock's split-fingered greeting from "Star Trek."
"They said it was too close to that, so that was kind of unusual," said Mithen, a waiter from Pa'ia, Maui.
However, that failure ultimately fueled success when Mithen was awarded a patent on a shaka-style golf club cover. That idea was among 137 patents granted last year that involved Hawai'i inventors — the most in at least 10 years, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office data.
"It's strange how that works out," said Mithen, who hopes to start selling the golf club covers this year. "Getting denied on that (oven mitt) patent led me to this patent. It took a while, but I finally have a product that I'm happy with."
Patent activity can be a barometer for an area's ability to innovate. Hawai'i, with its tourism/agriculture-based economy, generates relatively few patents. Only recently has the state begun to diversify into more innovative fields such as biotech, information technology and telecommunications.
Hawai'i ranked 47th among the 50 states in patents issued per 1 million people, according to a report released in 2006 by the Corporation for Enterprise Development.
Among the patented Hawai'i inventions of 2006 are a garden tool, backpack chair, life preserver and new varieties of grass and pineapple. Some innovations address basic needs of the home, such as a diaper bag and a fire extinguisher. Other innovations were more complex and involved technological breakthroughs in imaging, medicine, agriculture and other fields.
Some ideas were the work of serial inventors such as Art Simpson, who received his fourth patent in 2006.
Simpson, owner of World Pest Control in downtown Honolulu, patented a reflective insect ad-hesive strip. He came up with the idea while looking out the windows of an office building in China. The green reflective windows attracted dragonflies, which Simpson surmised was because of the surface's similarity to water.
So he created an adhesive strip that attracts insects in part by mimicking the reflection of water's surface.
The reflectivity "enhances the chances that a fly is going to touch the adhesive and get caught," Simpson said. "It works. There's no question."
Patents, which cost about a thousand dollars or more to obtain, protect the right of inventors to profit from their ideas. Unfortunately for inventors, the odds of striking gold with a patent are long. That's because inventors often still need to raise money, market and distribute their new product.
"I can make anything," said Simpson, who already has patents on a pest catcher that looks like a dome light, garbage bags trimmed with flypaper and a camouflaged pest trap. "The difficult part of course is in marketing."
At naval architect Navatek Ltd., a newly patented boat hull design is scheduled for military trials in February. That may ultimately pave the way for future government and private sector sales, said Navatek president Steven Loui.
The new hull design incorporates underwater structures similar to an airplane wing that make for a smoother and more efficient ride.
"It produces a lot of dampening, and it creates dynamic lift — by lifting the ship out of water it reduces drag," Loui said.
Among the other patents awarded to local inventors in 2006 were:
Reach Sean Hao at email@example.com.