The new season of Shark Tank led off with a product invented by Martin Hill called Beebo (orginally named Boobo, but Martin’s wife wouldn’t have any part of that name). Lori and Ashton put up a combined $200,000 to get the project off the ground. The Beebo is a tool parents can use to feed an infant. It’s basically a shoulder strap coupled to a round pad that sits over the breast. The round pad has a rotatable piece of foam that has a cylindrical insert for placing a bottle. When the bottle isn’t needed, it can simply be rotated upward so that it won’t leak.
Robert asked about Martin’s patent, to which he responded that he did have a granted utility patent. I decided to check it out. Sure enough, he does have a granted US patent (8,915408). But is it any good? Yes and no. It’s better than most, but claim 1 requires the shoulder strap to taper as it passes over the shoulder. So, the patent could be avoided by simply have a straight shoulder strap. Also, the bottle holder attachment has to be made entirely of a flexible foam. This one might be a little more difficult to design around, but it could certainly be done. Bottom line is that the claims do cover what is being commercially marketed (which isn’t always the case), but it does have a few chinks in the armor. If a big company wanted to make a competing product, they certain could find a way to do it.
Even more problematic is that Martin forgot to file a continuation application. This is a must for any start up. Using the continuation, he could have gone back into the patent office and fixed this part of his claims. That’s a lesson for any small inventor: always keep a continuation pending. It will greatly increase the value of your IP portfolio.