Patently clever: Oklahoma inventors take claim for advances
BY CASEY SMITH World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2013
1/31/13 at 7:39 AM
Learn more: Learn about the patent process and search granted and pending patents.
When Greg Strope was growing up, he spent most Saturdays at his father's manufacturing business.
As a boy Strope would watch his father work in the shop he was paid $5 to sweep. When Strope was older, his father let him do some of the work. Spending time there got him thinking, Strope said.
Strope, 48, is now in charge of purchasing at Strope Manufacturing. The native Tulsan has been inventing for about 15 years and owns two patents. The Saturdays he spent at the shop learning helped trigger his interest in inventing, Strope said.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted more than 570 patents to Tulsa area residents between 2006 and 2010, data show. The office granted more than 2,300 patents to inventors statewide and more than 875,000 worldwide during the time period.
Those holding rights to U.S. patents include American and foreign organizations and governments as well as independent inventors. The patents involve new or useful improvements of processes, machines, manufactured items or compositions of matter.
Companies develop and own the majority of patents, data show. Between 2006 and 2010, Houston-based Baker Hughes was granted the rights to 86 patents originating from the Tulsa area, more than any other organization over the time period, data show. The residence of the inventor listed first on the patent document determines its geographic origin.
Baker Hughes - a supplier of oilfield services and products, technologies and systems for the oil and gas industry - employs about 2,000 people in its five northeastern Oklahoma facilities.
The 1987 merger of Baker International and Hughes Tool Company formed Baker Hughes. Both were established in the early 1900s with groundbreaking petroleum industry inventions.
Continuing that tradition is important, said Daniel Moos, one of Baker Hughes' four technology fellows. "Technology fellows" contribute to the company's innovation by encouraging dialog among various technical communities, providing support for others' projects and inventing in their own areas of expertise.
"No company can long survive if it loses its capability to innovate," Moos said. "Baker Hughes encourages innovation by rewarding ideas and recognizing inventors at each stage of evolution from concept to product. This is because what's important is not the number of patents but rather the value of the products and services developed based on those patents."
Independent inventors produce relatively fewer patent documents but have an active presence in the field, data show.
Strope's motivation to invent as an adult came from a desire to solve problems he encountered at work and during his downtime, he said.
"Basically you lay awake at night and it [the problem] runs through your mind," Strope said. "I'm sure it's the same with everybody else, (you think) 'There's got to be a way, there's got to be a way to solve this.' "
In July the patent office granted Strope exclusive rights to the device he invented to make securing cargo to a vehicle easier and its transport safer. The family business uses tie-down straps to secure items that trucks transport to customers.
Tying items down can be clumsy, and when the vehicle starts moving it can be dangerous if excess strap comes loose and gets caught in a rotating tire, Strope said. His invention secures excess tie-down and makes securing items faster. Strope and his family, who helped him develop the device, will launch the marketing phase at a trucking show this spring, he said.
Andy Strope, Greg's brother and company foreman, said they were nervous about using the device to deliver items before the patent process was complete, which takes an average of almost three years. But the company's driver didn't want to make transports without the tool.
Strope received his first patent in 2005 for a fishing line spool for jug fishing, a method for catching catfish. The spool prevents line tangling and allows fishermen to more easily adjust depth, Strope said.
Strope hired a lawyer to help him with what he describes as the grueling but interesting patent process.
Paul Rossler, an intellectual property attorney at GableGotwals, does not recommend inventors complete the patent application process on their own, he said.
"A lot of care has to be taken up front when drafting the application to make sure you have everything in there," Rossler said.
In patent law, "what you think might be common sense doesn't apply," he said.
Patents give their owners the right to exclude others from making the protected material, and if inventor claims are too broad, the office denies the application, Rossler said. However, if the patent makes too many claims, its scope becomes overly narrow and the rights it gives are meaningless.
Leo Byford turned to the Oklahoma Inventors Congress when he was trying to figure out the patent process around 2000, he said. Byford is now chairman of the nonprofit's Tulsa chapter. The organization was established in 1966 to provide a pathway for inventors to develop patents and trademarks.
Members meet once a month and discuss issues they are having with the patent office, as well as idea development and marketing, Byford said.
"One of the things that you learn through the process is there are so many variations, so many things you need to be looking at," Byford said.
In 2003, the patent office granted him ownership of an organic compost that eliminates the problem of chicken litter used as fertilizer migrating into and polluting bodies of water, Byford said. The chicken litter is treated to remove pathogens before it goes into the mixture, and compost is applied in a manner that stops outside forces from pushing it into bodies of water.
Byford has another patent pending and is involved in the development of about 15 others.
"I think everybody has a creativity part of them," Byford said. "I don't think it's so much what they see or use, but something trips in their head and they come up with an idea. There's something that makes a person want to make something."
Some famous Oklahoma inventions
Shopping Cart: Sylvan Goldman
developed the first shopping
cart, which he introduced to
customers at the Humpty
Dumpty supermarket in Oklahoma
City on June 4, 1937.
The cart was constructed
from a folding chair, wheels
and two wire baskets.
Parking Meter: Carl Magee of
Oklahoma City received the
patent for the first parking
meter as the devices made
their first appearances in
Oklahoma City in 1935 and
were first installed in Tulsa
Yield Sign: Tulsa Police
Administrative Chief Clinton
Riggs invented the yield sign.
The sign was introduced
in 1950 at First Street and
Sources: Oklahoma Inventors Congress,
Tulsa World archives, Tulsa Police
Original Print Headline: Patently clever
Casey Smith 918-732-8106
Dustin Strope demonstrates the Strap Wrap at his family's manufacturing business in Tulsa recently. His brother Greg Strope invented and owns the patent for the device meant to keep straps manageable when hauling cargo with tie-downs. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
The Strap Wrap, a device invented by Greg Strope, sits at family business Strope Manufacturing on Wednesday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Greg Strope discusses the evolution of the Strap Wrap, a device he invented, at Strope Manufacturing, the family business in Tulsa. The device is meant to keep strapping manageable when hauling cargo with tie-downs. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World