Inventor won't quit just yet

February 11, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch

A great moment in American ingenuity: Kenneth B. Simms sits in the bathroom fumbling with a newspaper, finding reading to be quite a chore. The solution to the problem comes to him in a burst of creativity.

He heads to the workshop at his family's home in Hanover. He tinkers, devising a combination book stand and toilet paper dispenser. He calls it the "toilet table."

Not since Archimedes jumped from his tub and shouted "eureka" has the bathroom been the venue for such a leap of invention. Since Mr. Simms' sudden inspiration in the summer of 1977, he has been granted a U.S. patent, appeared on television and been the subject of newspaper stories. Yet the toilet table has stirred barely a ripple in the American marketplace.

Mr. Simms, a 35-year-old cabinetmaker, is not discouraged. His recent cover letter, heralding a fresh marketing effort, describes the 2-foot-tall wooden stand with storage rack and pencil holder as "one of the most creative ideas of the 20th century."

He's sold 10 of them.

"I think it's a hot idea that everyone can relate to," Mr. Simms said. He sat across the living room from a recliner, where a giant stuffed Yogi Bear sat wearing a pair of men's briefs with a television remote control tucked into the elastic waistband. Handy idea.

After the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted to Mr. Simms patent number 4,825,779 in May 1989, he set about trying to sell the toilet table to a company that would mass produce it.

Rubbermaid Inc. bounced it back with a firm "not interested." Tucker Housewares said "thanks, but no thanks." Mr. Simms said he contacted about eight companies.

"Not nearly enough," said Mr. Simms, who works full-time at Smoot Lumber Co. in Alexandria, Va. "My attempt at marketing has gotten off to a slow start, I'd say."

So far, Bay and Country Crafts of Fells Point is the only store carrying the toilet table. Owner Terri Paris said she has sold six of them since June 1990 at $49.95 a piece.

"But I'm not in a high-traffic area," said Ms. Paris, whose shop is on Lancaster Street.

Mr. Simms said his next tack is to try making the tables himself out of pine and selling them from his home, through mail and telephone orders. He also says he may get back in touch with the companies that turned him down.

He's already spent about $1,500 on the patent, plus the materials for making the tables.

"It seems like a lot," said Mr. Simms, "but when you're talking about something that represents the dream of a lifetime, it's not much at all."

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