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'Sitting at the kitchen table with scissors' was the first step to a patent for one Pennsylvania couple

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11/6/2018 By Benjamin Mikek / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

a person sitting in a chair: Engineer and inventor Dan Timco © Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc. Engineer and inventor Dan Timco Top-of-the-line running shoes have a rough life. Mile after mile, the constant pounding from foot to pavement takes its toll, creating holes in the tops of many running shoes after just a few short months.

“I had this problem since I was young, that I would poke holes in the top of my shoes,” said Dan Timco, an avid runner from McDonald. “I would destroy expensive running shoes all the time.”

Instead of bemoaning the problem, he and his wife, Kelly, created a solution.

Following a 2½-year wait, the couple received a joint patent April 24 for a “hole-prevention device for shoes.”

Creating the device was challenging, but that was only the first hurdle. They found it equally arduous to secure their intellectual property.

But they felt it was necessary.

“A patent adds a lot of value to a product,” said Mr. Timco, who works as director of manufacturing for National Church Solutions, a printing and mailing company based in Hancock County, W.Va.

Patents, he and his wife discovered, are crucial when it comes to attracting investors or buyers.

And they’d long been interested in entrepreneurship. 

“My wife and I watched a lot of ‘Shark Tank,’” said Mr. Timco, referring to the ABC reality TV show focused on entrepreneurs. “We had a lot of grand ideas ... but the time and money to do them was too much.”

Scissors at the kitchen table

a close up of text on a white background: Dan and Kelly Timco received a joint patent for a hole-prevention device for shoes on April 24. Mr. Timco was tired of holes forming in the tops of his athletic shoes, so the couple designed a solution and applied for a patent. (United States Patent and Trademark Office) © Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc. Dan and Kelly Timco received a joint patent for a hole-prevention device for shoes on April 24. Mr. Timco was tired of holes forming in the tops of his athletic shoes, so the couple designed a solution and applied for a patent. (United States Patent and Trademark Office)

Mr. Timco decided to reinforce the parts of his shoes that, from his experience, were most vulnerable: above the toes and on the outer wall next to the smallest toe.

As for material, his ideas initially included everything from foam to Kevlar, the DuPont product famous for its use in bulletproof vests. 

Ms. Timco, a real estate agent by day, gave key input on the final design — a shoe insert made of ballistic nylon. They got to work on the prototype in 2014.

“It was a matter of me sitting at the kitchen table with scissors,” Mr. Timco said.

The hole-prevention device is coated with adhesive and attaches to the interior of the shoe. One portion adheres to the inside of the sole, and two flaps extend upward around the toes, protecting the less-sturdy top of the shoe. It serves as a protective lining for the interior of the shoe.

The product retails for $19.99 and is sold on Amazon and on Mr. Timco’s website, Shoe Armour. In comparison, the price of a new pair of running shoes might run from $80 to more than $200.

Toiling outside of big firms

 Shoe Armour is a hole-prevention insert for shoes invented by Tim and Kelly Timco of McDonald. Mr. Timco, pictured at his dining room table with his patent on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, at his home in McDonald. He and his wife would sit at the table cutting up pieces of material to figure out what might work for the product. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette) © Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc.  Shoe Armour is a hole-prevention insert for shoes invented by Tim and Kelly Timco of McDonald. Mr. Timco, pictured at his dining room table with his patent on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, at his home in McDonald. He and his wife would sit at the table cutting up pieces of material to figure out what might work for the product. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)

Patents are important in protecting all inventions, but for smaller manufacturers — who often cannot compete with the economies of scale enjoyed by larger companies — they are critical.

If the Timcos had begun producing their hole-prevention device without a claim on the underlying technology or design, a mega company with a built-in client base, massive warehouses and a sophisticated supply chain could swoop in and steal the market.

Still, as an individual inventor, getting that valuable protection is anything but a cake walk.

Even with significant technical and patenting experience from his past career designing gas detectors at Industrial Scientific, Mr. Timco — who has his name on at least two other patents — said the process was not simple.

“... There is some language [in the patent] I don’t even understand,” he said. “It was pretty complicated.”

The Timcos hired a patent attorney to review the paperwork and correspond directly with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And, like most applicants, some of their claims were initially rejected.

The U.S. patent office charges fees ranging from less than $100 to several thousand dollars, depending on the type of patent, the size of the organization and the number of claims. New fees must be paid each time a revision is filed. 

Mr. Timco said the total cost of the patent was about $25,000 in the end — double what he was expecting. 

“I don’t think the patent process is designed for the individual; I think it’s meant for big companies,” he said.

Inventors, get in line

a man standing in front of a fence: Engineer and inventor Dan Timco jumps while wearing sneakers fitted with his invention, Shoe Armour, a hole-prevention insert for shoes, at his home in McDonald. The insert is designed to help especially with sneakers covered in mesh fabric, which can be worn through by toes lifting. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette) © Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc. Engineer and inventor Dan Timco jumps while wearing sneakers fitted with his invention, Shoe Armour, a hole-prevention insert for shoes, at his home in McDonald. The insert is designed to help especially with sneakers covered in mesh fabric, which can be worn through by toes lifting. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)

In addition to the complex legal language, continuing revisions and costs, it also usually takes years to finally own a patent.

“The queues and waiting times are the biggest [problem],” Mr. Timco said. While waiting for the patent to be issued, he and his wife began selling their hole-prevention device in late 2014.

It took about two years and five months from the time the patent was filed to when it was issued. That is considered a short delay.

In 2015, researchers at George Mason University’s law school found the average pending time for U.S. patents was 3.5 years.

Internationally, the wait can be longer. In Thailand and Brazil, according to the research, inventors wait more than 10 years on average to receive patents.

Given the time and cash commitments — not to mention the trouble of actually inventing something — not all individual inventors can complete the process.

“I just think you have to be really passionate,” Mr. Timco said. 

Post-Gazette staff writer Courtney Linder contributed.

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