Sunny Day News
It was a typical Tuesday night for retirees George and Maggie Dobson. They were seated at their favorite pizza place in DeLand, FL, enjoying dinner and drinks. Then, a call came through on the restaurant’s phone, with an urgent caller asking to speak with George, one of the pizzeria’s regulars.
He took the cordless phone, while Maggie looked on with concern and rising anxiety. This kind of call is almost never good news. Good news waits its turn, announced happily over cocktails or a Sunday brunch. Bad news rings your phone or doorbell at midnight. Or it interrupts your weekly pizza night.
But not this night. This time, the script was flipped like a cook tossing pizza dough. And this call served up news better than that moment when hot pizza and cold beer reaches your table.
George recognized his daughter Elaine’s voice on the other end of the restaurant’s phone: “Dad, congratulations! The patent for your invention has been granted by the U.S. patent office. It’s fantastic news. You need to celebrate!”
That part was easy – much easier than George’s invention, itself. Anyone who knows George, 79, and Maggie, 77, knows they already had drinks on their table. “We both had tears in our eyes,” Maggie said. But, then, their native British sensibilities kicked in, and they shook off their emotions and quickly ordered another round of beers.
“I could tell my dad was choking up a little when I gave him the news. He was a bit emotional,” said Elaine about George’s invention, which is, simply, a unique way to organize and store the electrical and digital cords that power and connect the devices that keep us all plugged in.
Like most great ideas, this one was born out of need. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but George Dobson is the father of this one.
A few years ago, he went looking for the power cord for one of his devices. Like many of us, his frustration grew as he tore through a jumbled drawer of tangled cords. “The circumstance was a drawer full of cables, and searching through the cables and everything else just trying to figure out which one is which, and which one do we use,” George said. “So, I just said, ‘Oh, heck, I’ll just find something to hang on the wall.’ ”
The idea of George’s cord board was born.
“I actually made the first one out of a piece of wood from an orange crate. … I still have that one, the original one I made,” said George of the rudimentary storage board he created to mount in a closet. His goal was simply to create a rack where he and Maggie could hang power cords in an organized manner to be easily identified and accessed.
The idea soon came out of the closet and evolved quickly.
The key facet of his creation is a precise plug-size opening to snugly hold the plug prongs on each different cord so they dangle toward the ground, instead of becoming an accordion in the tangle of a junk drawer. George designed each of his storage boards with mounting spacers that allow a user to literally plug into the board (in a non-electrical way) to ensure secure cord storage that may be easily labeled to identify the correct cord quickly.
From the wooden orange crate, George’s modest idea was starting to bear fruit.
George and Maggie involved the rest of their family in the creation. Over the next year, with their input, George refined the board’s design. Slots were added for USB cables and mini cables. The original wood board gave way to demos of other materials – aluminum, plastic and other woods. The deciding factor for each of the board’s new versions was its ability to retain a snug hold on the prongs of the power plugs, using his unique cruciform design that allows a plug to be inserted horizontally or vertically.
When testing was completed, a durable type of colored acrylic plastic proved to be the best material for the board. A new batch of the acrylic prototypes was ordered in sizes ranging from 9 inches wide, with capability to hold nine cords, to smaller boards of 3 inches wide (the USBuddy®), which store two cables, convenient for hanging near your laptop or printer so you never misplace a cable for your phone or digital camera.
George also created several mounting options for the boards, so they might be affixed to a wall by traditional screws or stuck to a smooth surface, like a mirror, by a suction cup – a mount that is smart for travelers prone to forgetting valuable USB cables in hotel rooms or cruise ships.
During the time George was refining his creation, his daughter Elaine Lerner, an attorney in Orlando, FL, was securing the trademark for USBuddy, the mini two-cord board, and working on the legal process that would officially make her 79-year-old father one of America’s oldest inventors.
Elaine had seen her father’s inventions and creativity through his years as a mechanical engineer, a business owner and a problem-solver who always had a gadget or fix to keep things running at home. Once, when Elaine lamented that she couldn’t keep her books dry while reading in the bathtub, George came back to her with his personal invention of the “Bathtub Reader,” a suction-cup Plexiglas holder that secured an open book above the tub’s water.
That idea never developed, but Elaine was determined that her dad’s cord board wouldn’t go down the drain.
She and Maggie worked with George on a detailed patent document for the board, ensuring that all of the unique technical aspects of his invention were articulated – and that no other product like it was on the market. Gaining a patent for an invention is not a slam dunk; every detail is scrutinized and every creation is thoroughly vetted to ensure there is no overlap with similar products.
That’s why Elaine turned over the completed document to attorney Terry Sanks, whose Orlando firm of Beusse Wolter Sanks & Maire, PLLC specializes in intellectual property and securing patents through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Sanks thought George’s invention was a winner, so his firm revised and formalized the patent document and used its expertise to make a formal application for George with the USPTO in July 2015.
George’s patent was pending for more than a year. Then, on Aug. 9 – while he and Maggie sat in that restaurant – the pizza finally came out of the oven. Elaine’s call served up the good news.
“I’m so proud of him, but I’m not surprised,” said Elaine, who recalls her father’s creative efforts in the start-up of Bison vacuum cleaners and in helping invent poison-gas detectors for Brunswick Corp. “He’s been a genius my whole life.”
George received his latest patent news with a good deal of satisfaction: “I thought, wow! That’s pretty nice.”
That’s the low-key response you would expect from George, whose past creations and patents were overshadowed by large companies he worked for, including Brunswick, Sparton Electronics and Lockheed Martin. But George’s passion is in the inventive end, not so much in production and marketing, so he’s open to the idea that his novel cord-storage device might be attractive to a business that could license or purchase the patent and manufacture the boards with its own resources.
No matter who ends up making the boards, Maggie exudes pride for her husband’s latest invention and his continuing ingenuity.
“He has a curious mind and wants to invent things to make them look better, to make them work better. He can’t resist having ideas and improving stuff,” said Maggie, who has been instrumental in helping keep the cord-board project on track. As George’s co-pilot, she has had the best vantage of his innovation during their 54 years of marriage, which included immigration to the United States in 1966, from England. “He’s a problem-solver,” she said. “If I were to sum it up, he has a creative mind.”
On the approval document from the U.S. patent office, George Dobson’s invention is officially titled “Panel with Receptacles to Receive Different Types of USB Connectors.” That’s a dry description for all the creativity and effort that went into the cord board and USBuddy.
Thankfully, George and Maggie made sure the celebration of this invention was not a dry occasion.