Valerie Carbone Eyes the Future
Read how her invention solves a small, annoying problem.
Women across America can see life more clearly now with Valerie Carbone's trademarked and patented dual-purpose EyeBandz® that uniquely pairs the best attributes of drugstore reading glasses with everyday headbands. The novel new product is guaranteed to STOP women everywhere from tearing their hair out!
Her inventing journey is a case study in prescience, perseverance and patience, three qualities that launched her full throttle into the crosshairs of a major television retailer itching at the bit to showcase her handy EyeBandz® on an upcoming Mother’s Day segment.
The retailer’s interest is not surprising: Watching women flip a customized headband down towards the nose to speedily read a phone text, grocery list or airplane ticket, is a joyous union of form and function.
Returning the band to its customary horseshoe starting position on the top of the head is just as effortless, a feat that will surely not be lost on roughly 29 million female baby boomers tired of losing, breaking or fiddling with reading glasses (often referred to as “readers”) while walking to the postbox or signing a delivery note.
It’s plain to see that Valerie, a trained occupational therapist, has invented a solution to a small, annoying problem that plagues women across the America.
"We've Had Enough!"
“Women are sick and tired of tearing their hair out when pulling reading glasses down from the top of their head,” Valerie told me during our first meeting years ago.
She brought with her several prototypes crudely (but effectively) made by hand that reflected her CAN-DO attitude and self-reliance in crafting a new reader experience for women just like her.
Valerie modelled the prototypes above on existing headbands in the marketplace, cleverly applying transparent film to two empty apertures on the latticed ornamental loop to approximate the lens molding.
These samples were by no means perfect, but she joined an illustrious list of international inventors - including Sara Blakely (Spanx®), Erno Rubik (Rubik’s Cube®), Arthur Fry (Post-it Note®), Marguerite Spagnuolo (Grandmas2Share®), Giselle Fermin (Grace By G®), Andy Castellanos (St. Rita’s Baseball Band®), and Troy Faletra (ThrowRaft®), just to name a few - who understood the importance of locking in patent protection prior to approaching large retailers with a perfect prototype.
“The idea came to me when the phone rang,” she said. “I dropped my glasses down to my nose to read an item related to the call. In a flash I thought to myself: ‘It’s crazy: These readers should double as a headband - and vice versa!’”
VALERIE CARBONE // EyeBandz® Inventor
She explained that for years glasses kept falling off her head and causing her mild anxiety.
One time the alarm went off in her home as she frantically scrambled to find the misplaced readers to deactivate the system. She also recalled the nerve-wracking experience of using the gym treadmill.
The readers were tucked ungainly into her socks so that she could read the displays when needed. “I kept praying they would not fall out,” she said.
“The first person I told about Eyebandz® was my sister Shelly whom I trust the most. She absolutely loved it. Both of us were past the age of 40 and constantly looking for our readers. We both felt the world needed this product.”
The Power of Ideas
I could tell that ideas came easily to Valerie, one of which she wished she had pursued commercially many years before.
“I remember seeing kids burdened by carrying heavy loads of books and frantic travelers lugging large amounts of luggage to reservation desks at airports. I instantly imagined rolling backpacks on wheels and similar inventions,” she said.
Alas, as I have described in similar stories elsewhere on The Patent Professor®, the naysayers were quick to pounce and stifle her creativity. “I got such negative feedback when I shared the idea with friends and co-workers that I just let it go.
Needless, to say you see them everywhere you go now for both kids and adults. I am deeply regretful for not pursuing a patent on that idea,” she said.
Her experience is by no means atypical.
Over and over inventors watch others make millions from ideas that they had thought of first, simply because well-intentioned people in their social circle threw cold water on their AHA moment.
In some instances, these same critics may actually steal your idea and attempt to acquire a patent first. Or, they may simply produce a cheap knock-off in an attempt to benefit commercially online or offline.
Note to all inventors: For the reasons above, I produced the three videos below to drive home the importance of keeping an idea to yourself until you have enough momentum from the initial patent and product development to leapfrog the uninformed and misguided comments. You will find other related educational videos in my growing film library for inventors.
John Rizvi, Esq
The Patent Professor®
Searching for Similar Patents
Valerie had already done some initial category searches for similar products on the United States Patent Office (USPTO) website, but she wanted my help to nail down a bulletproof utility patent & trademark.
“I took to John immediately: He understood intimately what I was aiming for with EyeBandz®. I had already seen one other patent attorney, but I was nervous and naturally suspicious as a first-time inventor pursuing a patent. Within minutes I felt I could trust him with my idea. He explained with great care, detail and precision, why we should proceed with a non-provisional patent. He really is a wonderful patent attorney and his passion for helping inventors shines through brightly. His patent advice is honest, informed, and completely free of legalize.”
Part of my brief as a national patent attorney is helping the inventor decide whether he or she should pursue an international patent.
This hinges on the inventor’s appetite and desire for sales growth outside the United States. Access to initial startup capital will also be a factor.
In Valerie’s case, we both concluded that her primary interests lay in protecting her IP within North America and decided to forgo an International patent filing for the time being.
While I formulated her patent strategy and refined the EyeBandz® prior art drawings for the USPTO, Valerie doggedly conducted an extensive census of the reading glass and headband sectors.
This all took place during the more primitive, formative years of the Internet and prior to the USPTO transitioning from a First to Invent to a First to File system.
She was in many respects a pioneer, similar in spirit and approach to other female inventors like Sara Blakely who operated on slimmer resources, opportunities and access to information when developing Spanx®.
If we can put a man on the moon, we can make pantyhose comfortable
~ Sara Blakely, Inventor of Spanx®.
Both of these inventors would have killed for more developed online platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to crowdsource initial startup funds. Yet despite this, Valerie and Sara hurdled challenge after challenge to build their brand and generate buzz.
Valerie mingled online searches and visits to local libraries to access research papers, articles and publications that would give her the necessary understanding to enter the retail sector with virtually a brand-new product line.
All of these findings she shared with me which I used to refine and tweak the final utility patent which would prevent others from importing, making, using, or selling her idea for 20 years. This would give her more than enough time to perfect her prototype and pursue licensing deals with major retailers across the U.S.
Prototype Development & Refinement
Valerie joined a local inventor society that one day arranged a visit to a nearby machine shop to spark product development ideas. “I met a wonderful engineer during the trip who offered to help me conceptualize the drawings into digital form,” Valerie said.
The Savvy engineer built a three-dimensional (3D) model of EyeBandz® in a software program called Solid Works.
However, to actually manufacturer a working prototype would require the development of a purpose-built custom pneumatic machine to craft the final product.
Bear in mind, this all took place prior to the surge in 3D printing which would have made this a much simpler venture. The machine would enable, in simple terms, molding the material flat, warming it up, and then shaping the molten substance into the familiar looped headband design with vacant apertures for the two plastic optical lens.
You may recall a similar engineering challenge posed to Arthur Fry, the legendary co-inventor of the Post-It Note® who I discussed in a recent TED Talk and Radio Podcast for Inventors.
Fry was forced to build a custom machine in his home basement to manufacturer the first molds after 3M told him his design was “impossible” to produce in their standardized assembly lines.
Several months later he proved his skeptics wrong and announced to 3M that his machine was complete. Unfortunately, the contraption was way too big to squeeze through the front door.
3M engineers helped him knock down a wall in his home to get the machine to the factory floor.
This should be a lesson to all inventors: If you believe in your idea you WILL find a way to bring it to life no matter what physical, manufacturing, distribution, marketing or IP obstacles stand in your path. Believe in your SMALL idea!
Made in America
Valerie was initially determined to proudly stamp her product with “Made in America” and approached a local Fort Lauderdale injection molder to manufacture EyeBandz®.
“We soon discovered they could not find the right plastic to use or attain the necessary design characteristics that I was after,” Valerie said. She was fast becoming an expert in the various aspects of headband assembly and lens construction.
After 12 months, the complex and arduous undertaking had produced two imperfect molds, forcing Valerie to make a painful decision: “It became apparent to me after this experience, allied with additional research in the marketplace, that 90% of headband molds were being successfully built outside the USA in countries like China.
Reluctantly, I adapted my approach and began looking overseas to find a successful manufacturing solution for EyeBandz®.”
I would advise inventors - if they are intent on making products in the United States - to first consider perfecting the manufacturing process overseas in countries like China. Then you can reverse engineer the process in the States at a later point. It’s a more cost-effective and pragmatic approach if you consider that most of the products you see advertised are made overseas so that is where the initial economies of scale lie.
The Networking Effect
As Valerie pivoted her manufacturing processes towards the Far East, she simultaneously began to access trade shows, inventor networks and local events to gauge interest in EyeBandz® and stimulate marketing buzz.
Ironically, it would be this approach that would also unlock the path to a successful manufacturing operation.
“The key to progress,” she said, “is to use your networks to find talented people to incrementally move your idea forward.”
Even though the two locally manufactured molds she had in her possession produced products which were not flawlessly designed, she knew reaching out to major retailers would give her invaluable feedback and open doors to new mentors and supporting platforms.
Earlier inventors like Erno Rubik, the legendary inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, forged similar conclusions to Valerie. Just like her, he crafted an imperfect, simple prototype using a local school workshop.
Erno Rubik visited toy show after toy show, demonstrating his primitive design to toy companies, who, more often than not, were perplexed by its small size and puzzling mechanics.
One chance meeting with an awestruck publisher several months later led to one of the most famous and lucrative manufacturing & licensing deals of all time with the Ideal Toy Company. Today, who hasn't heard of the Rubik's Cube?
Finding the Right Demographic
In Valerie’s case, she meticulously researched the entrepreneurial landscape of the U.S. to pinpoint the trade shows and forums that would benefit her inventing journey the most.
Presciently, she submitted her product to the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and their American Dreamers program which highlights breakthrough entrepreneurs and inventors.
“I was selected as a finalist. I flew up to Tampa to showcase my American made product which was an incredible experience,” Valerie said.
“While I did not win, I received extremely enthusiastic feedback from the judges who all urged me to re-submit my idea once I had better design in place from new molds.”
It was here that she met a sourcing agent specializing in pairing American inventors with Chinese manufacturers.
Through the Manufacturing Looking Glass
This chance meeting allowed her to outsource manufacturer selection to the agent. One challenge was identifying and selecting two different factories: One to craft the lens; the other to manufacturer the headband and elegantly integrate the plastic lenses. Her earlier attempts to use a California optical manufacturer failed which redirected her attention towards a Chinese solution.
This journey described above required an enormous amount of adaption, resilience, and research on Valerie’s part since her product (i.e. the plastic optical lens) technically fell under FDA regulations governing medical devices. Essentially, to move forward with the sourcing agent, factory selection and manufacturing processes, she had to become an FDA registered importer in order to ensure her products could be shipped into the U.S.
In addition, the actual manufacturer(s) in China also had to meet FDA approval before the products could enter the U.S. “I had one bad experience with a Chinese factory who claimed to be FDA -registered. This turned out to be false, setting me back several months,” said Valerie.
Finding the Time & Will to Innovate
At this point in her inventing timeline, it’s worthwhile pointing out that while Valerie had initially taken some time off as an occupational therapist to pursue her patent, she returned to work once she realized the manufacturing, distribution and marketing requirements were more complex than she initially bargained for.
Being a part-time inventor is challenging – just ask Giselle Fermin, another client of mine, who recently developed the trademarked Grace By G® natural haircare line. In Giselle’s case, she chiseled away at her idea nights and weekends, while balancing family life and her nine-to-five job as a dental hygienist.
Each inventor has to approach time-management differently along the way with the challenges imbued into the entrepreneurial journey. However, I can confirm that nearly all the inventors that I come across - during and after the patent process - show remarkable grit and determination to see their product commercialized even while facing curve balls and seemingly insurmountable barriers.
They always seem to find a way to achieve their goals!
“As far as energy and focus, I really believe that inventors generally always have energy for their product. It’s the other tasks of work and life that are hard to manage since we usually want to concentrate all our energy on development and sales,” said Valerie.
An Inventor With Vision
“I will say that stepping away for a bit from the inventing process was helpful, especially when life issues got in the way. At times it was overwhelming. When I returned, I had a much clearer vision of where I wanted to go with EyeBandz®.”
Overcoming these obstacles and self-doubt is mandatory for any inventor. Sometimes the life issues Valerie mentioned above can sap the soul and destroy one’s confidence.
Another pioneering female inventor, Marguerite Spagnuolo, experienced a terrible setback when her father suddenly died while she was out of town fulfilling an urgent inventory request from a major retailer.
Several months of introspection and guilt plagued her before she found the resolve and will to return to making her Grandmas2Share® dream a reality.
All Systems Are Go!
In Valerie’s case, the fog cleared when the efforts of her sourcing agent identified another potential high-quality optical manufacturer that could do the job.
Just like Marguerite, a part-time professional poker player, Valerie was “ALL IN”. She booked a flight to China with her sister to evaluate the factories and ensure no red flags would jeopardize the process.
“In addition to the above, this whole process involved hundreds of emails, phone calls, and reviewing mailed samples from manufacturers to nail down a viable template for EyeBandz®production,” said Valerie.
Again, many of these frameworks and undertakings are easier to navigate and implement today than they were a few years ago, showing the remarkable tenacity of Valerie to inch her brand forward.
Her vision and true grit paid off when the first almost-store-ready samples began to arrive in the U.S. This too was a nerve-wracking experience since the first batch still contained defects that made her question whether the Chinese manufacturers could ultimately decipher her design vision. Then, the FDA held up the second shipment during their inspection process throwing another curveball her way.
“It did take a while, but the FDA finally cleared the batch and I am ecstatic to say they were PERFECT! A few thousand units literally arrived at my front door several weeks ago,” said Valerie.
“I never ever gave up and I am so immensely proud that I conquered the manufacturing aspects of building EyeBandz®. These units will be used for various soft-launch marketing channels I have planned over the next few months.”
Approaching Retail Brands at Trade Shows
It’s important to emphasize the value of having a patent when approaching major retailers at trade shows and local events.
Media buyers inside these giant brands inspect thousands of items each year and are unlikely to sign non-disclosure agreements due to the sheer volume of activity involved. This exposes your idea, either directly or indirectly, to the risk of theft.
This is less likely to occur if you’ve nailed down protection for your intellectual property, including patents and trademarks.
In 1973, a Floridian inventor claimed he showed his own version of the Post-It Note to 3M executives at a New York City trade show. He attended the show without first acquiring patent protection. Three years later the multinational conglomerate began releasing the early versions of the fabled yellow sticky notes which would earn the company stellar profits over the next several decades.
One of my other clients, Peter Roccisano, was smart enough not to make the same mistake. “I came to John on first notice because I wanted a patent for my law enforcement concealed carry pouch in place before visiting an upcoming firearm trade show. He made it happen!” said Peter.
Likewise, Valerie could securely begin her tour of U.S. shows comfortable in the knowledge that she had bulletproof IP protection.
Her first step, however, was to join local inventor societies and forums to gain access to experts and other inventors. [As an aside, I urge inventors to check out one of my local SCORE workshops for inventors in your area.]
Conversely, a later pitch to the Shark Tank producers did not go as planned. “The reviewer was a young millennial who did not look up from her phone as I approached her desk. I asked her to look up and she replied: ‘I can multitask’.”
Valerie sensed the overwhelming amount of entries they receive each year and instead handed out samples to other presenters as part of her long-term networking strategy. One of them would later purchase a pair after she had perfected the manufacturing process.
The constructive criticism Valerie garnered at these events allowed her to pragmatically test the viability of her idea and narrow down her target audience. She actively sought out unbiased groups of people who would give her an honest appraisal.
“Even though my product was in a rudimentary state I really wanted feedback. Like any other inventor I had to overcome moments of self-doubt. One event I had on my radar was the Southern Women’s Trade Show which I believed reflected my particular buyer demographic,” said Valerie.
The show had a long history of showcasing women’s product lines. It attracts the attention of local communities with its eclectic mix of fashion, jewelry, gourmet treats and health items.
To her relief and surprise, women attending the show literally jumped up and down when they saw her demo it. “My mom sat behind the scenes monitoring all the accolades and responses; it reassured me I wasn’t crazy and there was a market for my idea.”
She followed this up with appearances at the Maker Faire, an event she highly recommends to all inventors since it opens up doors to meet local influencers and garner additional product feedback. It’s a potpourri of creativity, invention and entrepreneurial activity.
“Visitors filled out questionnaires regarding my product. One comment by a mother really struck me: She remarked that her kids at school were always losing or breaking their reading glasses.
The mother stated that EyeBandz® would be so useful during class or their high-energy lunch breaks on the playground! It was an application of my idea that I had never thought of,” said Valerie. To top it off Eyebandz also won the Most Popular Invention award.
The Final Package
Americans flock to drugstores each year spending over $400 million on ready-to-wear readers, representing a target-rich environment in which to sell EyeBandz®.
Currently Eyebandz are being offered in 2 colors, Onyx/Black and Tortoise Shell . Valerie is putting the finishing touches on her packaging as she continues negotiations with major retailers on TV and elsewhere.
Valerie’s current EyeBandz designs on Amazon and Facebook feature optical lens strengths of 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5. They are packaged in a lovely black Organza travel pouch and include a high quality microfiber cleaning cloth
Packaging is such a key area for inventors: Sara Blakely famously chose a red, bold look on her Spanx package designs in stark contrast to traditional undergarment brands which tended to be gray, dull and conservative.
A Family Affair
“As most inventors know or will learn, this inventing process quickly becomes a family affair,” said Valerie. They helped her with the packaging, bookkeeping, and marketing.
At times, they also provided financial and emotional support, often so essential to self-funded, independent inventors.
Our family members are often the gas in our engine when we get stuck. They can inspire us to succeed as few others can. If you have this support, you’re blessed. I am blessed.
The Prime Time Beckons
Valerie is hopeful that her latest generation of EyeBandz® will earn her a second audience with HSN, a powerful platform that resonates directly with female buyers.
The odds are stacked in Valerie’s favor because EyeBandz® fulfills several key requirements that media buyers covet:
Why Big Retailers Love Small Inventors
It’s also important to dispel the myth that big retailers do not want to work with small independent inventors.
In fact, the opposite is true: Due to intense rivalry and competition between big stores over the “next big thing” they crave small, simple inventions that can move the sales needle, quickly.
They also favor inventors who are 100% committed and ALL IN to helping create additional buzz for the product even after it finds its way onto store shelves.
It’s for this reason that Valerie is uniquely poised to showcase EyeBandz® on a major television retailer over Mother’s Day if the inventing Gods smile down on her.
When this happens, there is strong likelihood a trickle of sales will turn into a flood, finally rewarding this tenacious inventor’s grit, determination and vision for a novel and unique product that appeals to any practical woman in the U.S.
Good Luck Valerie!
I, and all inventors across America, will be rooting for you as you pursue your entrepreneurial dream “FULL THROTTLE”.
PROF. JOHN RIZVI, ESQ. // National Board Certified Patent Attorney. AV Rated in Top 3% of Lawyers by Martindale-Hubbell.
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