Patently defensive Featured

12:09pm EDT March 11, 2004
If you've ever seen a wind gust tear a storm or screen door off its jamb, you know what kind of damage it can cause: Damaged doors, splintered jambs and a tough and perhaps costly repairs.

Carmen Grande had seen plenty of the above, including at his own home. A veteran building contractor and a machinist by trade, Grande set about coming up with a solution to both fix a door jamb when a door had been torn from its moorings, as well as a way to prevent it from breaking loose in the first place.

He settled on a steel plate attached by eight screws that reinforces the area where it attaches to the door jamb to prevent the wood from splitting or cracking should the door be caught by a wind gust.

Grande, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., talked up the device to his sister, Caroline LaRocco, executive vice president of American Made LLC. LaRocco decided to take a closer look at what her brother was so enthused over.

"Finally, I sat him down and said, 'Look, give me all the details on this thing," says LaRocco.

LaRocco thought the device had potential in the marketplace and decided to launch a new venture, Structural Protective Products Inc., to develop, manufacture and distribute the Ultra Jamb Reinforcer. By last fall, she had lined up a manufacturer and began to market the product through its own Web site, selling it for $6.99 plus shipping.

An article in a home repair magazine triggered 50 calls a day for the product soon after it appeared. The company sold out an initial production run of 5,000, and most of a second order of 7,500. By March 1, LaRocco, anticipating sales to hardware and other retailers, had placed an order for an additional 10,000.

Early purchasers were mostly homeowners, LaRocco says, but more recent orders have come from commercial buyers, including builders that want to use it in new homes and property managers that want to install it in rental properties.

Through her experience at American Made, LaRocco had learned the value of securing patent protection for inventions. She did some research and couldn't turn up any products on the market like the Ultra Jam Reinforcer.

Despite its simplicity, LaRocco investigated securing a patent for the product. Rick Byrne, patent attorney at The Webb Law Firm, urged LaRocco to seek patent protection for the product because, he says, it has "some unique structure and functionality."

LaRocco is making the right moves to protect the product, Byrne says. If she wants to secure a patent for the Ultra Jam Reinforcer, says Byrne, she must file before the product has been on the market for a year. Otherwise, the invention might be deemed not patentable.

A patent application won't prevent others from copying an invention during the application process, but it will protect the applicant's rights should the patent be granted.

The process isn't inexpensive, though, so inventors should seek a patent only if they have a solid business reason to do so, such as a real possibility of manufacturing and marketing the product or the likelihood of being able to license it to another party.

Encouraged by the initial success of the Ultra Jam Reinforcer, LaRocco says the company has three additional items in the pipeline for potential development, one a product for women and two others suggested by her brother, Carmen.

Says LaRocco: "I said, 'Hey Carmen. Do you have any more ideas?'" How to reach: Ultra Jamb Protective Products Inc., www.ultrajamb.com; The Webb Law Firm, www.webblaw.com