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PMD March 2005: Announcing the PedREST

In 2004 Pediatric Medical received notice that we were going to be granted our first patent – YEAH!!! We were finally ready to share our “creation” with the world

Our first opportunity came in March 2005 with something called the LifeSavers Conference. For those of you not familiar with it, Lifesavers is the premier national highway safety meeting in the United States dedicated to reducing the tragic toll of deaths and injuries on our nation’s roadways… The conference addresses a wide range of safety topics, from child passenger safety and occupant protection to roadway and vehicle safety and technology. It offers the latest information on advances in highway safety, highlights successful programs and draws attention to emerging safety issues.” It was to be held that year in North Carolina and seemed like the perfect place to “showcase” our new device. They even had a workshop scheduled on “transporting children on ambulances” being run by Dr. Marilyn Bull of Riley’s Children’s Hospital – well known for her work on ambulance safety. And for the icing on the cake – I had family in Charlotte – so I could attend the conference without having to rent a hotel room.

I made arrangements to attend the conference and not too long after drove to North Carolina for breakfast with my mother’s cousin and his girlfriend who worked for Britax (one of the most well-respected manufactures of child seats in the world – seriously what a coup)! Later that afternoon I met her over at the conference and she introduced me to the Britax folks in charge of new business development – who took one look at what we had and introduced us to SnugSeat – the company they partnered with to manufacture “specialty child seats”. Oh, and before I forget, while we were still at the Britax booth, some local EMS guys stopped by, saw our demo, and asked where they could get one. Can you say happy as a pig xxx xxxx??? (I’ll let you fill in the blanks)

Later that afternoon I attended the workshop on safe ambulance transport for kids. Unfortunately Dr Bull had been taken ill and could not attend herself – however her colleagues (Dr Judith Talty and Shayne Merritt) gave the presentation on her behalf. Their conclusion – which was no surprise to anyone, especially me – was that there really were no safe ways to transport little kids and that they hoped manufacturers would change this for the future.

At this point – totally “jazzed” – I waited until after the session and spoke with Dr Talty and Shayne. Both were floored by the PedREST presentation and asked me to please keep in touch and forward whatever I could to Dr Bull. Flying high I made the rounds of the other child seat manufacturers attending the conference (Graco, Evenflo, etc.) and finally, exhausted, headed for home.

5 days later I headed to Philadelphia for the EMS Today conference and there met with the top “players” in the EMS industry – Stryker, Ferno, Laerdal, Microtek Medical, Allied Health, etc. The response was tremendous, and the offers of encouragement and support, overwhelming! The PedREST was a hit!

Two weeks later, the following email arrived from Shayne Merritt:

Stephanie,

We will be passing this information on to Dr. Bull. In the meantime, if you have any photos or schematics that you could send for Dr. Bull, that would be helpful.

Your product is very intriguing and exciting since it’s success would fill an important need.

Shayne

As I look back on all of this, I can’t help but smile when I think about how on top of the world we were. The people we met…the welcome we received. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to start the next phase of our journey! Little did I know how much more of a journey lay ahead. To me, at that moment, the PedREST had officially arrived…

Until next time…

PMD 2004: And After Every Rain…A Rainbow

As you can probably tell, 2004 was a bit of a rollercoaster. And trust me when I say that after that disaster of a weekend, I was seriously ready for the cart to start rolling uphill again.

Sure enough Monday afternoon found us on a conference call with the examiner from the US patent office. See our patent had been already gone through 3 office actions and things were getting a little frustrating (not to mention expensive) so we decided to speak directly to the examiner to see if we could understand the rationale behind what he would and wouldn’t approve. Now having gone through this process several times, I feel obliged to tell you that unfortunately, in all likelihood a call like this will probably not leave you with a better understanding of how your examiner thinks.  What it can do however is provide you with insight into the one or two words or phrases that your examiner has a conflict with….and that can make all the difference in the world. Case in point: 

Our call began with our examiner showing us the “prior art” (i.e. other existing patents filed before ours) that he believed we would infringe upon with our current claim language. We went back and forth over a couple of minor points, made some small changes and then sat down to discuss what he considered to be the one “obstacle” we hadn’t yet overcome: a portable surgery tray that attached to a stretcher and kept the medical instruments secure – OR – as far as we could see – a cafeteria lunch tray with a strap running across it. (note – those of you who’ve been through this process are no-doubt chuckling because you’ve “lived the dream” of bizarre prior art references – for those of you whose jaws just hit the table, know that ours did too and we hadn’t even gotten to the best part).

We were quiet for a second and then our patent attorney who had joined us in the call proceeded to ask very calmly how the examiner thought this could be used to secure a child for safe transport to a hospital.  His answer – no joke – “well you could tape a baby to that tray”.

The silence was deafening…I mean seriously, how do you counter that??? Finally, after what seemed like minutes (ok, really only seconds) of silence I made a decision. No amount of intelligent discussion / arguing was going to change his opinion. I just needed to know where in his opinion we had gone wrong so that we could fix it.  So I sucked it up and asked…and to my surprise, he told me.  Not long after that we filed our final response with the USPTO.

For weeks I checked PAIR (the Patent Application Information Retrieval system for the USPTO) daily hoping for some kind of sign that we were finally done.  Thanksgiving morning (…and yes it really was Thanksgiving) I got one – our official “Notice of Allowance” was posted.  🙂

I could follow this part of the story with a section on “what I learned” but I feel pretty confident that you all can figure that out on your own. I will say that after what felt like a torrential downpour I finally got my rainbow…

Until next time…with love from the “tape a baby corporation”

PMD: 2004 – That Which Does Not Kill Us…

You know how there are some things in life that are pivotal – something happens, and it changes the way you see yourself or others around you…and sometimes it even changes your life. Well in 2004 Pediatric Medical and I hit a bump in the road – and neither of us would ever be the same after.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had a family friend who had offered to help us make PMD a reality, someone who was both a friend and mentor to me. Well by March 2004 the two of us were off and running discussing strategies for bringing the “PedREST” (our child seat for safe ambulance transport) to market and making plans for Pediatric Medical’s path forward. I was literally on Cloud 9 and nothing could bring me down. 🙂

Within a month I started working producing an animated marketing demo (something she felt strongly would really help folks understand why the PedREST was so important). I hired some animators from California and after a couple of pretty intense working sessions the project was complete. Video in hand, I headed to her home for the weekend.

I know in hindsight that this may sound silly, but at the time I was feeling pretty darn good about what I’d accomplished in such a short time…I had this really cool 3D-animated demo to show her, we had a meeting setup for the following day with a potential investor whose support was going to make it possible to bring the PedREST to market by the end of the year…and more importantly, for the first time I felt like I had finally proven myself to her– why else would she suggest sitting down to discuss our future as partners together. I honestly couldn’t have been more psyched …or more wrong.

My first hint that our time together was not going to be anything at all like I expected occurred within moments after I arrived. After a hug and a hello, we sat down at a table with her friend – the lawyer. We spent the next two hours talking about why she should have more than 50% share in the company (…after all, she would be contributing a large sum of money – significantly more than my sister and I put together – shouldn’t she be in control of it?) AND why we should buy out (think – cut ties to) my sister (…didn’t I know the inventor of the idea doesn’t usually maintain a share).

For hours we went around and around on the same questions – why wasn’t I willing to drop Suzanne …why wasn’t I comfortable giving up control of the company and …how long would it take for me to think things through and make a decision so we could move forward? We could draw up the paperwork that weekend if I liked and include the money she had “loaned” me for the demo.

Loaned??? Wait a second – when had the money she promised me for the demo that she wanted me to create become a loan??? My head was swimming. I honestly had no idea what to do at that point. While I was incredibly psyched that she believed in our project enough to invest her own money (she was in fact the investor we were to meet with the following day), there was no way I was booting my sister. I had made a promise – a commitment to her – and I was going to see it through. Finally, I asked for time to think about it (at this point I felt brain-dead), and we wrapped up for the day.

It was at that point when I remembered (@*&#%) I wasn’t leaving…I was staying at her home for the night.

About an hour later we sat down on her couch and she asked if we could talk (…of course in my mind, she hadn’t meant for the day to go as it did…I just had to give her a chance to explain and apologize). Wrong again. Instead I spent the next hour hearing how I was making all the wrong decisions in my life…why wasn’t I married yet (or even dating someone seriously)? Why wasn’t I in a different career? Didn’t I realize this venture was going to take several years to come to market??? (I should be in a much better financial position than the one I was in).

I’d like to say that I was stronger – that I picked myself up, grabbed my bags and walked out of there – but in truth I just sat there in disbelief…and went to sleep that night feeling utterly crushed.

Thinking back on it today, I recognize what a Pivotal Moment that day was… The reality was that I was upset with her for being the tough, focused business-woman I had always been impressed by. Except – she was being that way with me – something I never in a million years expected. To her this was purely business,and she was treating me like an acquisition target when I considered myself family. She had compartmentalized and I had not. And although that day I felt totally betrayed, I also learned a couple of things about myself:

First – I had always said my word was my bond, and I know I believed it when I said it…but my word, my character, had never really been tested until that day…and I am truly proud to say I passed.

One other thing I learned that day was that this woman I had always admired and idolized – I did not in fact want to “grow up to be like her”. I might never be anywhere near as powerful and successful as she was, but surprisingly enough that didn’t matter the way I thought it would… once I saw what it would take to get there, I was unwilling to pay the price.

Life is funny sometimes. The experiences we live…the choices we make…for better or for worse they define who we are… Did I make the right choice? Perhaps not if it turns out that the PedREST never makes it to market. Or maybe so, because the path I chose led me to Pediatric Safety. I guess for now the jury’s still out, although for those of you kind enough to join me on this journey, I’d love to know what you think…

Until next time…

PMD: 2004 – Repeat After Me…Must Have CIP

The PedREST storyBy the end of 2003, we had received our first office action from the US patent office (USPTO), and filed an international PCT. Our attorney notified us that we would probably receive 2 more office actions before we were through and we should have our patent confirmed within 12 months – 17 on the outside.

Now for those of you beginning the patent process, I feel obligated to tell you that the words “office action” will likely become the bane of your existence. For reasons too numerous to count, it is almost unheard of that a patent will be approved when it is first submitted. But on a positive note, you’ll have a chance to improve your patent claims making your own patent stronger and more difficult to infringe. The downside is cost, so be prepared for this and budget in advance.

By April 2004, we had filed our 2nd office action response as well as a “Provisional Application” – later to become our first “Continuation in Part”. It is here that I need to pause. A Continuation in Part or CIP is typically filed to add some new feature and/or better clarify some existing feature(s) previously disclosed – what it boils down to is that you have, for all intents and purposes, open claims on file with the patent office. It makes it very difficult for someone to take your patent – look for features you didn’t claim – and then design around it.

BTW – this is not a secret…big companies everywhere have been doing this for years to protect their intellectual property from other companies that might try to “borrow” their ideas. It’s us little guys – the individual inventors – that don’t know this…but we NEED to!  I have made a commitment and intend to honor it that if / when the PedREST makes it out to the market, I will take the next 6 months off to teach small inventors everywhere the mantra I repeat regularly: “Must Have CIP”.

In fact there were 2 key lessons that I’d like to share with any of you thinking about starting this process:

  • First…it requires a little extra paperwork (and funds), but if possible, when you file your patent application, file it in a way that DOES NOT allow it to be published until it is granted.
  • Second…at some point before your patent is finalized, search your specs for features you did not initially claim and any additional design modifications you’d like to make and FILE A CIP.

We didn’t do the first…fortunately for us, we did the second… And it saved us… Trust me when I say there will be more to come on this, but for now hopefully these 2 lessons will save you from some of the heartache my sister and I were soon to experience.

Until next time…

PMD 1999–2003: Learning to Walk

The PedREST storyAs I mentioned in my last PedREST post …by 1999 we had the first set of engineered “concept drawings” of our Pediatric Emergency Transport System – a.k.a. PETS. Our company was in what could probably best be described as a “toddler phase” – we were learning to walk before we could run – and walking meant refining our drawings and “officially” beginning the patent process.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the process we went through to create our patent (although for any of you starting this process, I’m happy to answer questions). Suffice it to say that we did a “prior art” search to make sure we wouldn’t overlap anyone else’s concepts and then worked with our attorneys to draft a patent that described in detail why the EMS community needed the PETS to save kids’ lives. There were multiple changes – both to the document and to the attorneys we were working with – but in the end, by September of 2002, Pediatric Medical had filed for its first U.S. patent.  🙂

By the end of the year things had started to pick up speed. A talented graphic artist / friend of mine by the name of Pete McKay created some logo options for us:

PETS logo 1PETS logo 3PETS logo 2

I met with a close family friend who was interested in helping us launch the product. With her on our side there was no way this couldn’t succeed. In business, she was a force to be reckoned with… to me, she was a mentor and a friend. …AND she wanted to help!

I emailed her our logo options and she responded – she HATED the name. Unbelievably frustrating (we loved it)…but unfortunately she had a point. People would either pronounce our name as “pets” or “peets” and neither really worked to our advantage or conveyed anything at all to do with child health or safety. I honestly couldn’t believe I had missed that, but really it’s very easy to get tunnel vision when you focus so intensely on something like this. Sometimes you need an objective opinion to see the forest through the trees.

So, point taken – lesson learned – and off we went to find a new name. By January of 2003 we had it: PedREST, a Pediatric Rapid Emergency Transport System AND a place for Peds patients to REST).  It said it all and we were off and running…

Until next time…

PMD 1998-1999: Pinocchio becomes a “Real Boy”

I mentioned in my last post that fairly early on we realized we would need better drawings than Suzanne’s concept sketches – we needed to find The PedREST storysomeone who could take her ideas and turn them into something that could be built. In my mind this meant engineering drawings…trouble was, I didn’t know any engineers. So…where to start???

It is here that I’m proud to say I made one of the best decisions I’ve made in the 15+ years since this whole thing started. I say this because I’ve also made a lot of dumb ones…and I’ll share those with you too…but for now I’m going to share what turned out to be a terrific path for us to follow.

It’s July of 1998 and we need engineers…I’m thinking we should probably be looking for someone with a bio-engineering background (given the nature of our device)…oh, and did I mention we have very limited (think non-existent) funds? So I’m racking my brains (and questioning everyone I know) and it occurs to me that we have a great engineering school right here in Atlanta: Georgia Tech. I checked online and found the contact information for their engineering program and sent them a note:

Dear Sir or Madam:

 

I am a young entrepreneur who is working with a friend /colleague on a medical device that we believe will significantly impact the emergency medical care environment. As such, I am writing to request your assistance.

 

Having begun our patent process, we would like to secure engineering drawings of our concept and materials recommendations. As we are just starting out and operating on a “shoestring” budget, we were interested in obtaining the services of a talented graduate student. We are of course prepared to compensate him /her for time spent preparing the drafts, evaluating materials, etc. We were hoping this might be a project that could be of some interest to one of your students, and would gratefully appreciate if you could recommend one of your “best and brightest;” someone who might be willing to accept modest fees in exchange for “interesting resume material” (after the patent is secure).

 

Thank you in advance for any advice and/or assistance you can lend in this endeavor. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail or phone at your convenience.

Not long after I was contacted by Dr. Wepfer from the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering with suggestions of professors to contact who might have students with similar interests. After speaking with several of them I had received enough student recommendations to begin interviewing and not long after that we hired two of them.

I know that to some of you this may not have been the most exciting part of Pediatric Medical’s story…but for anyone undergoing the “invention” process, finding folks to work with that are both skilled and affordable can end a project before it even begins. Working with smart, creative grad students can be a win for both of you – not only can you access the talent you need to bring your ideas to life but in turn you can provide them with the one thing students usually lack when they enter the workforce…“real world experience”.

By the summer of 1999 we had our first set of drawings completed, PMD had incorporated and we had a new set of attorneys ready to help us get our patent out. Our chief engineer soon graduated and went on to work at JPL – a NASA research and design centers specializing in the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft (thank you Wikipedia). We continued to work with him for a number of years, continuously innovating and improving on our original concepts. Looking back though, it was the events of that summer and the help of our “rocket scientist”…that finally brought Pediatric Medical to life.

Until next time…thanks for listening…