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Inventing new medical devices takes many minds

For some inventors, breakthroughs are inspired by loved ones’ struggles

A new device that’s under development helps kids who find standing to be a challenge explore their world on wheels—and upright.

Called a “motorized pediatric stander kit,” the device is the brainchild of Dr. Steven Day, who heads the Biomedical Engineering Department at RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. Day came up with the idea in order to help his young son, Will, enjoy parts of his world while standing up.

Will Day was unable to stand or walk due to a condition that doctors could not diagnose, but that his father says was much like cerebral palsy (CP). That neurological disorder is marked by the loss or impairment of motor functions.

The inability to stand up and walk presents multiple challenges for children. Their sedentary lifestyles can limit bone development and cause circulatory and digestive issues. At the same time, their reduced opportunities for eye-level contact with peers can limit their social development.

“Children who are unable to stand and walk on their own need to be provided with opportunities for the physiological benefits of standing, the socialization aspects of standing and the independence of moving by themselves,” says Linda Brown, a physical therapist at CP Rochester’s Augustin Children’s Center who worked with Will. At the preschool, children ages 3-5 who have developmental challenges learn alongside those who are developing as they typically would.

On the advice of Will’s physicians, Day began strapping his son into a pediatric stander—a wheeled assistive device for children that allowed him to stand upright. While this was in some ways valuable for the boy’s development, it was a bit limiting—Will couldn’t easily use the stander to get around.

“We, even at home, became a bit bored of the therapy session of ‘let’s stand in the stander,’” Day explains. “Not much that you can do for fun other than watch television.”

When Will was three, Day decided to put his skills and knowledge to work for his son. Mounting electric motors, a battery, a microcontroller and other components on the stander, Day created a version of it that Will could use to move around. He still remembers how his son looked when steering the machine through the house.

“He was just thrilled—you could see a huge smile,” Day says.

Illness took Will in 2009, at age 4. Day put the idea of a motorized stander on the shelf.

In 2012, Day decided to put the task of developing a marketable version of his device before a team of students in the engineering college’s Multidisciplinary Senior Design (MSD) program. Seniors taking the year-long course undertake design and development projects for corporate or individual “customers” for free.

Under Day’s guidance, and that of the course’s instructor, the RIT students began designing a kit that, when attached to an existing stander, would give children and adults the mobility they desired. Different iterations of the motorized stander were given to the Augustin Children’s Center free of charge. Day, his teams of students and Brown observed the center’s kids as they used the machines, noting how well they worked for the kids and what needed to be done to improve them.

The most recent version of the kit is a kind of I-shaped assembly that includes a bar with motorized wheels, a battery, microcontrollers and a joystick. Bolted onto an existing stander, it’s powerful enough to move both children and adults around. RIT recently advanced closer to patenting this version of Day’s brainchild.

An invention must satisfy three criteria in order to be patentable with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). To begin with, it must have a concrete purpose.

“It has to be something useful, that’s not just an application of science or mathematics,” says Tracy Jong, the founder and lead partner of the Tracy Jong Law Firm.

At the same time, the invention must be novel, in that it must be more than a combination of items or processes that are found within the relevant technology that exists at the time it’s created.

“Just because you put together a different combination, doesn’t make it an invention,” Jong explains.

Finally, the device must be “non-obvious,” in that the body of science or the technology involved would not have produced the invention anyway.

“The concept of patent is we want to reward something unique,” Jong says. “If it’s something that science and technology would have come to anyways, we don’t want to give a two-decade patent, because that’s not fair.”

Bill Bond, Director of RIT’s Intellectual Property & Technology Office, oversees the patent application process for the university. On Sept. 21, Bond, Day, two former RIT students who had worked on the motorized stander and an attorney for the law firm who handles patent applications for the university came together. They met to determine whether to tender a provisional application to USPTO for a patent for the motorized pediatric stander kit. A provisional application is fast and inexpensive, and allows an inventor to establish a filing date for the invention involved.

The upshot of that meeting was that more information was needed about the kit before a successful attempt to obtain a patent on it could be made.

“We likely will go for provisional coverage when we get a succinct and specific description from the inventors as to the new and non-obvious aspects of the standard device that they have created,” Bond explains.

Day plans to have the additional information for Bond’s office by the end of October. While that should spur the patent application process forward, provisional applications last only one year. Before that period ends, he and the other people involved in developing the stander kit will have to successfully undertake the much more complicated process of submitting a non-provisional application for a patent.

Day says he plans to continue to improve the stander kit while the patenting process continues. Though he intends to hire a company to manufacture the kits in the future, he doesn’t seem all that concerned about whether they turn a profit.

“I want the kits to reach as many people as possible,” he says.

Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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