COLUMBUS, OHIO (Sept. 27, 10:40 a.m. ET) — Christopher Hawker at Trident Design LLC in Columbus creates without boundaries, and others notice.
Earlier in 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office asked the prolific inventor for his opinions regarding proposed legislation and, in turn, surprised Hawker with an invitation to attend the Sept. 16 presidential signing ceremony for the Patent Reform Act of 2011, also known as the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.
Specific reforms included conversion to a first-inventor-to-file from a first-to-invent system.
“That's a big deal,” Hawker, 36, said excitedly. “As in any change, there will be winners and losers, but in the end everyone will benefit.”
Trident operates as a development firm for internal creations, traditional industrial design and independently originated ideas.
“We can afford to bring corporate-level capabilities” to the table even as a small business, said Hawker, the firm's president, who describes himself as “an artist with plastics” and a designer “with his feet on the ground.”
Trident employs 12 — including four product designers, a graphics designer and office staff in Columbus; a skiing-addicted product designer in Park City, Utah; and sales reps in Clayton, Mo., and Leawood, Kansas. A Trident service, StarNamers, crafts graphics and brand identities.
Hawker's company has about 30 consumer products in the commercial market with “almost everything in plastics,” he said. “If a product is cool once, it gets replicated,” usually through the injection molding process.
At any time, the Trident pipeline may have 60 ideas in stages of development. During 2010, Trident licensed seven consumer products.
Product design is “the funnest business around,” said Hawker, who created the word “fip,” or F-I-P, for his business-plan pillars of “fun, impact and profit.”
“For most projects, it is an extremely long runway” from idea to revenue stream, he said. The average is two years although the PowerSquid surge protector — Hawker's “breakout product in 2005” — took five years.
He worked with Fiskars Brands Inc., a division Power Sentry of Plymouth, Minn., in developing the plug-in power-surge protector with an on-off switch that looks like an eye. As a byproduct of working with Power Sentry, Hawker met Andy Welty, who is now Trident's vice president of sales.
In 2006, the playful cephalopod-inspired device won multiple honors: the Consumer Electronics Association show's best innovation, Scientific American people's choice for best new product at CES and the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Design and Architecture's good design in electronics award.
Philips Electronics NV of Eindhoven, Netherlands, acquired Power Sentry in 2006, and stopped promoting PowerSquid in 2009. “Philips was too large for our tiny organization,” Hawker noted.
Undeterred, Hawker has licensed the surge protector through NCC Inc. of Brooklyn, N.Y., for mass merchandising and hardware outlets; Bits Ltd. of Largo, Fla., for the consumer electronics market; and Accell Corp. of Fremont, Calif., for the custom cable installation market.
Also among Hawker's Trident inventions is the ScriptSafe prescription lockbox, licensed by Flambeau Inc. of Baraboo, Wis.
In collaboration with RSVP International Inc. of Seattle, Trident designed polycarbonate tear-free onion goggles — available in white, black, red, tortoise or pink — and a hand-operated ABS lemon-lime Wedgie slicer.
In the pipeline is a Mantis-brand two-wheel bike bar lock. Trident is negotiating to license a Taiwanese lockmaker that would sell the product through its customers. The current mix also includes a medical device and safety rescue equipment for first responders and, Hawker said, “we are branching into toys.” The firm is working with a group of 10 game designers in Moscow on robotic toy technology and seeking interested toy manufacturers.
Trident provides counsel and commission-based design services to potential independent inventors — “a housewife, a doctor, a factory worker,” he said — and helps that person bring an idea to market, hoping eventually to capture a portion of royalties.
On a fee basis, the firm created the ceramic-bladed Perfect Peeler for vegetables for the Costa Mesa, Calif., advanced ceramics unit of Kyocera Corp.
The road less traveled
While attending high school in Perrysburg, Ohio, Hawker designed and sold aquarium filtration equipment through a maintenance company he formed. That endeavor led later on, during his days at Ohio State University, to develop an algae scrapper with replaceable and interchangeable blades. “Many people were interested in a higher-quality device,” he said.
The ProScraper, for cleaning aquariums, features a soft-plastic blade to scrape out buildup without scratching the acrylic or glass walls. Injection molder Rex Plastics Inc. of Vancouver, Wash., manufactures the line for Trident, which also includes a model with a stainless-steel blade.
Hawker studied the designs of various products, like cooking gadgets. He explored guitar accessory design and building and, in 1999 after his OSU days, took a five-month course in Tempe, Ariz., at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, which specializes in that art.
Hawker said he looked at things from a development point of view, with an eye for “what it would take to make a living of that.”
In 2001, after trying different business models, he formed his limited liability company.