Fields Has Bright Ideas

May 14, 2007
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ZEELAND — Local inventor Jim Fields, president of PatentWorks Inc., cut his teeth selling seeds and greeting cards door to door as a kid. He also grew up with a knack for inventing things, a talent he attributes to his dad.

“My dad was a commercial contractor, and he could build anything — conveyor systems, lift systems and loading systems,” Fields recalled. “My dad taught me what I know. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t building and designing.”

While still in grade school, he and a boyhood friend, who is now a dispatcher at Northwest Airlines, designed airplanes with small Briggs and Stratton engines. At about age 13, he submitted his first idea for an invention to the new product department of General Motors Corp. He received a return letter that stated GM was not currently capable of putting his product suggestion into production.

“It was a combination of a photo electric cell with 12-volt wiring system for a car. It showed up in new Cadillacs two years later,” Fields said. “I learned from my own experience that patents were important. PatentWorks is a natural element of who I am.”

In addition, his years in sales, which included working for Rubbermaid corporate, taught him how to take niche products to market, he said. Today, Fields is in the process of either manufacturing or licensing six of his own inventions. But his company not only generates patents from its own ideas; it also partners with inventors to help patent and market their ideas.

“We are becoming sort of a boutique for patent development,” Fields remarked. “The issue is not patenting; the issue is selecting the right product to patent. Is there a need for the product? Will someone buy it? Will it hold a unique position in the market? Can it be manufactured? Ultimately, how can you devise a strategy to take it to market?”

One of Fields’ inventions is the device he has patented and trademarked as The PLD (Proximity Location Device), a “collision avoidance and situational awareness device” he designed for use on snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, personal watercraft and dirt bikes. The device allows off-road vehicle riders to track oncoming traffic, monitor riders in a group, talk to group members and transmit distress signals. It’s basically a radar system that can monitor other vehicles for up to three miles in any direction, and it alerts drivers using both visual and audible signals. The device also can quickly transmit the location and time of an accident to emergency responders. It does not require a monthly network service.

“This is going to save lives,” he said. “The off-road vehicle industry in the category of all-terrain vehicles alone — of which there are 15 million in the United States — will report 111,000 accidents a year.”

Fields’ PLD product is just now in the licensing phase. PatentWorks has approached all of the original equipment manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles with the idea and is looking at two licensees right now, one in Zeeland and one on the West Coast.

“Polaris and Articat are waiting on us to call them to implement the technology into their upcoming models. We have approval for use, but not official endorsement, by the 25 snowmobile associations in the United States. We hope to have PLD in production this fall.”

Fields will soon market BIM (Broadcast Information Module), a universally adaptable locking mechanism and tracking system that gives 100 percent coverage and control of a shipping container. With the BIM system, the condition and location of all inbound and outbound containers can be verified against security requirements. Security concerns, if any, can then be addressed for any container en route to anywhere in the world, according to PatentWorks. Fields said the BIM works seamlessly with existing communications systems.

“It has multiple applications for the Department of Defense and Homeland Security,” Fields pointed out. “Homeland Security with BIM has yet to be licensed, but we have a legal firm on retainer in Washington, D.C. We’re up to our ears in finalizing the product so it meets the needs of both industry and the government sector.”

Fields’ last trip to Washington included meetings with U.S. Customs Borders and Protection, the team that drafted the Safe Port Act, as well as with Maersk Line, the largest shipping company in the world, and with APL (American President Lines), which is No. 2, he said. 

Another product, ZIPROUTE, is a hand-held template that hastens the process of locating, positioning and cutting of electrical and water-line openings and aids professional electrical and plumbing contractors in making more precise electrical box and water-line cuts in walls and floors. It’s scheduled to launch in June, and Fields owns 100 percent of the stock. 

One of Fields’ patented inventions, Mail’s Here!, is licensed to YGM Inc. of Grand Rapids. YGM did the research and field tested the product using a post office in Fort Wayne, Ind., in February 2006, and the product reportedly had “great sales” during the limited promotion period. Mail’s Here! is a mailbox-mounted device that informs residents when their mail has been delivered. When postal carriers put mail in the box, the mail triggers a mechanism that raises a flag to indicate the mail has been delivered. It’s available online and will be available through major retailers, as well. Fields serves as YGM’s national sale representative for the device. He’s working to place the product with United States Postal Service. Marketing data, as well as consumers, he said, say it should be available at USPS.

PatentWorks also has a background in aviation. Fields has two patents that are licensed to Mission Source Online. One is for a rotorcraft call the MULE that is intended for use in Third World humanitarian relief and evangelical efforts. Unlike other aircraft, MULE doesn’t need a runway to land. Fields designed it to be a “truck that flies,” carrying stretchers and spray units for humanitarian relief from malaria and dysentery issues. Fields also designed the rotorcraft to carry mass units of another of his inventions — “reverse houses” called MASH Units. The housing units allow for the quick and clean set up of AIDS, medical, dental and orphanage facilities in Third World environments, Fields explained. One person can put up one of the 12-by-12-foot units in an hour, he said. The units are made of FDA-approved barrier board that can be cleaned by hosing it down with chlorine or a phenol disinfectant.

Fields said he has standing invitations to talk about his Third World efforts with organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the American Red Cross, Save Orphans Ministries and Into Africa. He has visited missions in Brazil and Haiti and said it was unlike anything he has ever experienced. He said his interest in aiding Third World countries comes from his “heart” and his sensitivity to the plight of orphans. He and his wife, in fact, are presently adopting twin girls from a country in Central Asia.

Both the rotorcraft and housing units are in final prototype stages. They will be manufactured in Zeeland beginning in late summer, he noted.

PatentWorks is adding to its staff and sales team to meet its growing workload, and the company is moving into a larger office in Zeeland. He would like to see the company get to a stage where it’s handling 80 to 100 patents at once. Fields said he also wants to build an incubator for new product innovations coming out of the United States.

“The more I do in a particular industry, the more patents that come to me. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t get one or two opportunities to do patent work,” he commented. “What you have seen in aviation and Homeland Security areas from PatentWorks is only about a third of what is in our pipeline right now.”     

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