Summer's spark of genius article
An Interview with Teen Inventor R.J. Batts
Inventor, entrepreneur, and ninth grader R.J. Batts is a multi-tasking extraordinaire. In between school, soccer, violin lessons, and speaking to school groups and other inventors’ and entrepreneurs’ organizations, R.J. is the CEO of Picklehead LLC and inventor of the Tip Tough®.
R.J. and his mother, Lori Batts, graciously agreed to an interview to share R.J.’s story and inventive passion, as well as their combined experience developing his innovation and entrepreneurial journey, especially in filing his U.S. patent application. I hope you enjoy meeting them as much as I did!
Elizabeth Dougherty: Congratulations on becoming an inventor and entrepreneur! How did this become your path, particularly at such an early age?
R.J. Batts: My mom can tell you I have always been interested in tearing things apart and building things out of available parts. Being curious and inventive has been a part of my nature for as long as I can remember.
The idea for Tip Tough, which is a protective kitchen tool to guard one’s fingers when using a knife and to aid in stabilizing and cutting food, came to me three years ago. My father is a professional chef and often came home with knife cuts on his fingers. I thought to myself that there has to be a way to help him, to make his job easier and safer. Thinking of a cassette case, I quickly sketched the idea which came to my mind. However, at the time, I put the idea aside and did not try to pursue it until two years later when I joined a local program, The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, through the local Chamber of Commerce. I was one of 24 students participating in the academy, most of whom were in 7-10th grades. The academy helped me develop my business plan, and I went on to use CAD software to design and then ultimately 3D print a prototype of the first version of the Tip Tough.
ED: What types of intellectual property protection have you secured for your company and product?
RJ: We have a federally registered trademark on the Tip Tough and have also filed both a U.S. provisional patent application and a U.S. nonprovisional utility patent application on the device. We additionally have a copyright on a number of materials, including our website, www.tiptough.com.
ED: What was the experience of filing for a U.S. patent like and do you have any words of advice for other inventors who may be thinking about or preparing to file a U.S. patent application?
RJ: Yes! Hire the assistance of a good patent attorney. I first tried to prepare and file an application on my own and found the process too complicated. Wanting to be successful, through the help of a friend I was able to find a really great patent attorney. I provided her with my CAD drawings and she was able to write an application that covered all of the features of my invention. She was incredibly knowledgeable and understood the right language to use when drafting my claims. My nonprovisional application has been assigned to a U.S. patent examiner and is in line to undergo examination.
ED: What is the makeup of your company and how does the work of running it happen?
RJ: The company is Picklehead LLC, and I am its CEO. As the CEO, I conduct all demonstrations, product pitches, and am the face of the company. I am integral to all decision making in the company. Additionally, there are three other employees: my mom is COO and Picklehead’s bookkeeper. We also have an executive assistant and director of sales. The four of us are currently able to run the company, and we have received our first run of product. It is important to me and the company that Tip Tough is manufactured in America, specifically in Maryland, and employing people in our local area and producing our product locally. Made in America is a strong part of our recipe for success and something which I recommend other inventors and businesses consider.
ED: What have you learned as you have traveled the road of invention and entrepreneurship and can you share any tips or tools for success?
RJ: I have learned to look for and take advantage of opportunities, especially where money is involved. There are a lot of resources, like the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, where federal, state, or local organizations want to help small business by providing things like education, funding, and mentoring. Look for these organizations and what they have to offer. I have been able to get quite a bit of funding from organizations and competitions, and I was able to put that money towards getting my prototype made and other costs of bringing my invention forward. Starting a business isn’t inexpensive but it is incredibly rewarding.
I would also encourage inventors and entrepreneurs to become superheroes when it comes to networking. I am constantly networking wherever I am; networking is incredibly valuable and sometimes you can’t predict where a connection might lead you or the help a person can offer to you.
Last but not least, keep an invention notebook. I have always kept a journal of my ideas and inventive thoughts and am already working on new ideas for Picklehead. While I can’t tell you what they are right now, I know they are going to be awesome!
ED: You were recently featured at the International Home and Housewares Show (IHHS) in Chicago as the youngest inventor ever at the IHHS. How has the IHHS helped move your invention forward and what do inventors need to know about participating in a trade show?
RJ: The IHHS was an amazing but tiring experiencing! I definitely recommend that inventors trying to sell their product participate in a trade show, but be prepared. Be prepared to talk to everyone and anyone. Bring lots of business cards and ask everyone for their business card. Be sure to write critical follow-up information or points to remember on the back of their business card as it all becomes a blur with the large number of people you meet. Participate in as many pitch opportunities as possible; you never know who might be in the audience and interested in your product. Make sure you have a good team in place; it is impossible to participate in a trade show without good help and backup. The company hired a public relations company in advance of the show and they created a media kit for us in addition to securing local media attention and developing a social media buzz. It was a valuable investment!
ED: Do you have a favorite inventor, and if, so who?
RJ: I sure do: Aaron Krauss, inventor of the Scrub Daddy. Aaron is a cool guy and we have a lot in common. I am super impressed by how far he has taken his company and how he continues to pursue new things. I’d like to have his kind of success.
I wish R.J. the best of success in his innovation journey and would like to thank him and Lori for their time and information. Both R.J. and Lori are committed to helping other inventors and entrepreneurs, including students, through regular community outreach and engagement. Interested in meeting R.J. in person? Come to the USPTO’s Invention-Con 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia, August 11-12, where R.J. will be a featured speaker.