Miami Herald, The (FL)
September 23, 1993
Section: NEIGHBORS BSW
FIU SEMINAR FOR INVENTORS
FRANK FERNANDEZ Herald Staff Writer
Nancy Burch's alarm clock rousted her out of bed with all the delicacy of a Marine sergeant banging on trash cans. She hated it.
"I'm sound asleep and the alarm rings and I'm traumatized," said Burch, an art teacher at Stirling Elementary School in Hollywood.
So she did something about it. She invented an alarm clock radio that wakes her as gently as a sunrise. The bioclock, as she calls it, is connected to a light, and it works like this: Burch sets the clock for 15 minutes before she wants to wake up. The light and the radio switch on softly and gradually grow louder and brighter.
"I'm the only one in the world that can enjoy it right now," Burch said.
But she wants everyone to enjoy it -- and make some money for herself.
Those two ambitions drew Burch, and about 100 other inventors, to a seminar Wednesday and Thursday night at the South Regional Library in Pembroke Pines. It was organized by the Florida International University Small Business Development Center and Pamela Riddle, director of the Florida Product Innovation Center in Gainesville.
The seminar touched on subjects crucial to inventors, like trademarks, patents and something near and dear to David Letterman -- intellectual property. (NBC claims some of the gags on Letterman's former Late Night show belong to the network.) It also taught them marketing -- how to get their product to the right people.
"Inventors are always inventing a better mousetrap, but we want to make sure there are enough mice out there," Riddle said. Only about one of 100 patented inventions makes money, Riddle said.
The creators of these mouse traps and artificial sunrises are an independent breed.
"Inventors are mavericks," Riddle said. "It's of not giving up, of seeing a better and brighter future, of being able to change the future."
Burch never gave up on her sunrise. Since 1986, she spent between $6,000 and $7,000 to finally claim U.S. patent No. 5,243,568 on Sept. 7. The money paid for convention trips, filing fees and a technician who drew up diagrams for the gadget.
Of all the hurdles inventors must overcome on the trail from idea to invention, add another -- rejection. Burch's first bioclock was a crude mechanical model, and the patent office was not impressed.
"They said something similar had already been invented to wake up chickens," Burch said. So she tried again with a more sophisticated electronic model and succeeded.
What keeps them coming back?
"'We are just ordinary, everyday people that come up with ideas," she said. "Some people see a problem and they say somebody should fix that. We see a problem and we fix it."
Sharon Westberry of Davie, who runs a typing service in Fort Lauderdale, was another inventor at the seminar. Westberry's husband, Robert, owns a crane company and kept getting his back greasy and dirty from working on the machines. The pair hit on an idea that could scrub his back clean and give him an invigorating message at the same time without her help.
She calls it a therapeutic washing and massaging device, patent No. 5,228,165, awarded on July 20. The device has suction cups on one side and brushes on the other. She created a crude prototype from a soap dish and a scrub brush.
"You stick it on the wall and rub up against it," Westberry said.
It's great for people who live alone and don't have a mate to massage or scrub their backs. But it's great even if you have a spouse, she said.
"With this," she said, "I don't have to get in the shower with my husband on a regular basis."