Updated: Dec 4, 2020
February 10, 2004. It’s a Tuesday. And because I live in Southern California, a February Tuesday is a day I can push my son — Eli, now two months old — around the neighborhood for his nap.
February 10, 2004 is a slow news day. Bush and Kerry are trading barbs on the campaign trail. The Da Vinci Code is still at the top of the bestseller list. The international situation is dire, as it always seems like it is. Maybe not as dire as it has been in the recent past, which must be good. The stock markets creep higher, nothing dramatic. I’m vaguely aware that the Dow Jones is over 10,500 points — which is six hundred points higher than when Eli was born. A sign of good things ahead, I guess. All the news of the world feels very distant to me, as I’m cursing the streaks of dirt on Eli’s fallen blanket.
And today I come up with the idea for blankyclip. Not the name, just the product. The concept. After pushing Eli around in his stroller for two months, trying to keep the blanket draped over it so he can sleep, I’ve boiled to a point of frustration. If necessity is the mother of invention, then frustration — with all of its agony, chaos and tears — gives birth to the mom inventor. When Eli’s blanket falls off (again)… and ends up under one of the stroller wheels (again!)… and gets filthy (AGAIN!)… I think… a baby-safe clip intended to secure a blanket to a stroller is definitely something I need. And I haven’t been able to find one. So I decide I should create one.
So I meet with a patent attorney and she tells me that in order to file a patent I will need a “prototype.” To bring my blanket clip concept to life, first my idea has to actually be made by someone who takes ideas and turns them into real things you can actually hold. I.e., brings them to life. Once I have this prototype, we can begin the process of applying for a patent. We need the prototype because we’ll need to have drawings made of the actual “thing” and we’ll have to show what the “thing” is made of, how its parts work and why it deserves a patent. To get a patent, I’ll need to explain my “thing” in great detail. I nod from across the patent attorney’s polished desk.
“But I’m not sure this clip DOES actually deserve a patent, since your idea is a CLIP, and there are plenty of clips in the world already,” she informs me.
Excuse me? My clip is unique and serves an important function and it deserves a patent. (I say to myself.) And how do I know this? Because I am a new mom and I have searched and scoured the baby stores and the Internet. There is NO clip that is safe for babies. There is NO clip that has loose tension… and is padded… and can clip onto a food tray… and is easy to use… anywhere out there. Well, at least in the U.S. (I did not search the entire planet, I must confess.)
And yes, to be sure, there are clips you can buy to close your chip bag, and lift your bangs out of your eyes and hold your papers together when you’re not ready for the full-blown commitment of a staple. But there’s not a single clip that will go over the sunshade of my stroller and ALSO clip onto the food tray (which I love for keeping Eli’s snacks). I want to be able to clip my blanket on BOTH these stroller parts and there is no clip that opens wide enough to do that, that can go over tubing and that is both mom and baby friendly. A black binder clip or an orange pony clamp are not going anywhere near my stroller or my baby.
This patent attorney also does not know that I have written and performed a ONE WOMAN SHOW. In New York City. In front of critics. (Oh, the sting.)
I continue to spend a lot of effort on RESEARCH. You’ll notice the ALL CAPS when I write RESEARCH. If something similar exists, my idea won’t find a home in the marketplace. If someone has patented something similar, I won’t get that all-important intellectual property protection. So I go to stores — big, small and in-between — and look at every clip on the market. And not just baby stores — but hardware stores and office supply stores and department stores (by the way, it’s a great excuse to go to lots of different kinds of stores. Nope, no clips at Anthropologie!). But I do go mainly to baby stores and search for a product that might do what my invention does. I study any baby item that clips onto a stroller. I go to libraries and search their databases for anything else I can find about patents and clips. I go through books in the research department of the library to learn whatever I can learn about starting a business or getting a patent or BEING A CRAZED MOM WITH A MISSION. (There, apparently, are a lot of us.)
I get myself educated about what is already out there — and it’s overwhelming! I read the back of every package (baby products and office products and anything in any store — it doesn’t matter) to see if they list a patent or not, to see where the product is made, to see who makes it, and to see if they are TM or if they have their R in a circle (is their name trademarked or not). And I keep lots and lots of notes. I start collecting the WRONG kind of clips, in order to show how necessary the RIGHT one that I’ve invented is. It becomes a fun little project, to see how dangerous and non-child-safe a clip I can find.
When I see parents push a stroller and they’re using a wooden clothespin or a black binder clip or even an electrical pony clamp to secure their blankets to their stroller, it gives me a secret thrill. They think I’m just a mom pushing a baby in a stroller with all of her groceries hanging off of the handlebars and shoved in the storage area underneath. They have no idea that I am also up to something very big.
And very soon I will be the reason they don’t use that black binder clip any more.
Or so I think…