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Masters of Invention

The stories behind five of Missoula's most brilliant and bizarre patent applications



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Patent application: 20070074359 (denied)

Product: "Teaching tootbrush"

Learning a lesson from the Teachbrush

Imagine a toothbrush that talks and encourages kids to keep brushing.

"Three minutes. Get going!"

"Let's get those teeth clean!"

"One minute left. You're doing great!"

"Now reach those back teeth. Good job. Thirty seconds left!"

It comes as no surprise that a certified life/spiritual coach, Theresa O'Lynn, conceived of "The Teachbrush Toothbrush." She came up with the idea when she realized a talking toothbrush might be more effective for her son than "mommy always being there telling him [how to brush] over and over."

"I wanted to have a toothbrush where the novelty wouldn't wear off so quickly," says O'Lynn in a thick Irish accent that reveals her Northern Ireland upbringing. "I didn't want cartoon characters on it, because kids get over it and that's it. Rather than flashing lights and music, I wanted a voice of positive reinforcement."

Unfortunately, O'Lynn's brilliant idea, like so many others, never saw the light of day, nor the inside of a kid's mouth. In 2004, just months before O'Lynn submitted her patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an inventor from Tokyo, Toshinori Kumagai, received a patent for a "toothbrush assembly with sound generating function." Kumagai's patent went on to explain the sound would provide "excitement and entertainment to a user and [encourage] a young child to brush his or her teeth." The ideas were too similar. Kumagai beat O'Lynn to it.

Life coach Theresa O’Lynn may have failed at patenting her Teachbrush, but she’s not done coming up with new ideas. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Life coach Theresa O’Lynn may have failed at patenting her Teachbrush, but she’s not done coming up with new ideas.

So go the travails of inventors. And so went O'Lynn's dream of making a million bucks. It appears Kumagai didn't cash in either, though, since the product, at least as far as O'Lynn knows, hasn't been widely produced.

"That should be on the shelf by now," O'Lynn says of her first and only attempt to patent something. "It really should. Why it's not on the shelf I don't know."

O'Lynn blames the Pennsylvania-based patent company she hired to develop a Teachbrush prototype and proposal package for not being aware of Kumagai's claim to the idea. And she blames herself for not being diligent enough.

"I feel like I handed the idea over to this company and said, 'Go for it,' and I took a back seat," she says.

But O'Lynn, ever upbeat, has other ideas in the works.

First, there's the step garden, a series of flowerpots that sit on steps outside a home. It's designed for people who don't have space for a garden, and the pots are connected by plastic tubes, which protect them from being accidentally kicked over and allows water to trickle down from pot to pot. The step garden is also designed to fold into itself for easy storage.

Then there's the "Flush and Brush"—bristles built into the underside of a toilet rim. When the toilet's flushed, the bristles move down and clean the toilet bowl, aided by a cleaning solution in the toilet. It's designed for airports, hospitals and schools.

"Who wants to clean the damn toilet, you know what I'm saying?" says O'Lynn.

Or maybe O'Lynn will patent a sofa with a big drawer that slides out from beneath the cushions for storage.

"I'm looking for something to work for me...," O'Lynn says. "Someone can make a pet rock, stick eyes on a rock, and it will sell millions, you know?"

O'Lynn's passion to invent has been emboldened by her belief that innovation is in her genes. When her father learned of the Teachbrush, he told her he tried patenting a smokeless chimney in the late 1960s. And her son, now 10, dreams up wild ideas, too. "Third time's a charm, Mom," he tells her.

But O'Lynn's ideas are only "extracurricular activities," as she calls them. Her main focus is her Missoula-based life coaching business, Talk About Life, LLC. She also recently published a book titled, If YOU Are Someone Who...On the Humorous Side!: An Acknowledgement and Life Lesson for Each of You.

Clearly, O'Lynn is in the business of morale boosting, whatever form it takes—toothbrush or otherwise.

"The world is in no state to be declining positive change of any kind," she says.

—Matthew Frank

Patently awesome

A quick search for local connections on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website turns up about 387 hits from 1976 to the present. Missoula has yet to see a patent for a shrink ray (warning: obscure Honey, I Shrunk the Kids reference.) but we found plenty of kooky Wayne Szalinksi-caliber inventors in our midst. Here's an extra taste of what your neighbors are up to.

Patent No.: D594705

Inventor: Linda McComas

Product: Plate with caddy. McComas essentially combined the age-old concept of the plate with every couch surfer's favorite friend: the cup holder. Finally, an answer to that precarious backyard balancing act of barbeque and beer can.


Patent No.: 20070000033

Inventor: Philip Allan Dixon

Product: Periscope swim goggles. Using fiber optic cable and a viewer molded directly to the eyepiece, Dixon's goggles would help swimmers locate landmarks without lifting their heads and losing their rhythm. And just when we thought Michael Phelps couldn't get any faster.

Patent No.: 7467904

Inventor: David Wager

Product: Tree-ring chronology pens, key chains and other everyday items. Odds are you were counting tree rings with grandpa long before you could spell dendrochronology, but did you ever think about what happened in each of those years? Wager's invention simultaneously sheds light on forest ecology and historic events. At the very least, the pens are snazzier than a Bic.

Patent No.: 7048091

Inventor: John Maguire

Product: Portable lifeguard chair. We're surprised this idea is relatively new, since backyard pools have been in vogue for at least half a century. Maguire's designed the same towering seat common at municipal swimming pools, only this version's got wheels. Beats the heck out of those flimsy aluminum lawn chairs.

Patent No.: 6971963

Inventor: Jeffrey Abel

Product: Wrist toy. In the interests of rendering fathers obsolete, Abel's invention would allow kids to play catch by themselves. It's essentially a baseball attached to the wrist by an elastic string. Perfect for those sunny months when parenting comes second to the Osprey game.

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