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Trio Ready for Beating of Paths to Their Doors

October 21, 1986|GREG LUCAS | Times Staff Writer

It's the driving force behind almost every inventor: Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. And, as three Orange County inventors recently have discovered, successful inventions don't have to be electronic or computer-related to be successful.

Money can be made with something as simple as a good idea for picking up pins and paper clips before they choke your vacuum cleaner or pierce your foot.

One local inventor hopes to make it big with a shaving mirror.

And Robert Spiller, 49, a computer software designer by trade, followed the unwritten credo of inventors and built what he believes is truly a better mousetrap--one that catches the rodents alive and encases them in a plastic box, saving the squeamish from the necessity of looking at or handling a dead mouse.

When Spiller and his wife moved to Laguna Hills in 1980, the inventor said, the "previous tenants" of the land his house was built on--field mice--were reluctant to give up the property. Spiller placed traditional spring-type mousetraps around his house but found they weren't too effective--the mice kept stealing the bait.

And, Spiller said, "the traps wouldn't always kill the animal. Sometimes I'd come into a room and find an injured mouse dragging a trap behind it." Glue boards, which combined with snap traps make up 98% of the sales in the mousetrap market, are even more gruesome. "A horrible lingering death" for the mouse, Spiller said. "All in all, it was pretty revolting."

Reasoning that the primary purpose of a mousetrap was to rid a building of a mouse, not necessarily to rid the world of a mouse, Spiller decided that what he wanted was a trap that captured the creature and provided easy transport off the premises.

He spent about 2 1/2 years perfecting his initial design, testing prototypes in the "laboratory" of his mouse-infested garage. With his traps, Spiller said, he caught three to four mice a night--a much better yield than from the snap traps he had been using.

Despite his wife's initial skepticism over the time he spent tinkering on his trap, Spiller ultimately created an approximately one-inch wide tapered rectangular plastic box with a hinged door. The floor of the trap, he said, is basically a see-saw.

Once an unwary mouse smells the bait and takes several steps into the trap, the mouse's weight tilts the floor, and the door slams down. The mouse is unharmed and can then be removed from the house for deposit elsewhere.

With the design perfected, Spiller applied for a patent in 1983. While the patent was pending, he mailed several prototype traps and a 15-page outline of his product's attributes to the Woodstream Corp. of Lititz, Pa. Woodstream manufactures the Victor brand snap-type traps and the Havahart line of live-capture traps for larger animals.

Spiller's trap was subjected to a battery of tests by the company to see if it was as foolproof as its inventor claimed and to see, Spiller said, "whether the issue of humaneness was really relevant in the marketplace."

Enough consumers surveyed by the company said they would indeed pay more money for a live-capture trap to convince Woodstream of its marketability--and Spiller was home free.

"Simplicity is beautiful," said Joseph Bumsted, Woodstream's vice president in charge of pest control. "(The trap) looked like it would work, and we proceeded in a positive manner from that point forward."

Nationally marketed under the Havahart brand name, Spiller's trap will be carried by Ace Hardware stores and several hardware distributors, Bumsted said. In addition, Woodstream is negotiating distribution terms with a major discount drugstore chain, he said.

West Coast buyers can expect to see Spiller's traps on store shelves by late 1986. Woodstream, Bumsted said, expects sales of the trap to be in the "hundreds of thousands."

But humaneness does have its cost--two Havahart traps retail for $2.98, contrasted with two Victor snap traps for 89 cents.

Spiller said that his royalty on the product--based on a percentage of net sales--would garner him approximately $15,000 for every million traps sold.

Spiller said he is not content to rest on his laurels, though. He has designed and is marketing a computer program which plays gin rummy.

Bck in 1982, Jon and Cheryl Good's four sons--there's a fifth now--were depressed because their parents' invention put them out of a job.

Good, 31, and his wife are professional janitors. One of the problems they continually encountered in vacuuming large office buildings was the vast number of paper clips and staples on the floors.

Their vacuum cleaners wouldn't suck up the pieces of metal, so the Goods pressed their sons into service. Armed with Styrofoam cups and fired up by the promise of a penny per paper clip (or staple), the boys foraged while mom and dad cleaned. But the kids couldn't always help out, and there was many a time that the Goods were forced to stoop and retrieve the irritating bits of metal themselves.

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