Like many inventors, Fred Fink never considered himself an inventor prior to coming up with his idea for the Roadside Message Board. But he admits that as a youth he wanted to understand how things worked, and he took lots of things apart and put them back together again - bikes, clocks, TVs, washer/dryer machines, etc. It's a hobby that has continued to the present, only now he says he's able to put it to practical use because he can fix most things that break at home and save money.
He thinks it was this mindset that prompted him to develop a solution to a common problem that he had observed while at work. Fink, manager of a gas station in East Norwich , NY for the past 14 years, explained that his job involves towing a lot of vehicles. He said, "When police spot a car by the roadside, it's often hard to tell whether the car has been abandoned, if somebody is getting the help they need, or even whether the owner is coming back soon or not. I saw that there needed to be better communication between stranded motorists and local police/tow truck operators.
He added, "The main reason is that most people are unprepared for their car to break down, and usually don't have paper and pen on hand to leave a note. Many vehicles get ticketed and even towed because of this, especially when they break down in the middle of the road, causing traffic jams or being a hazard to other motorists. When vehicle owners do leave a note, I've seen messages scribbled on all sorts of bits of scrap paper and napkins which are usually illegible. When there's no pen around, women even use their lipstick. In fact, I've seen lipstick notes on underwear! Even people who have cell phones usually call for help and often leave the car unattended."
Fink said that one day the idea just popped into his head to create a low-cost, universal, ready-to-use emergency signage kit that could be quickly and easily set-up on a car window while the driver goes to find help.
But his inventing journey took an interesting twist, because the Roadside Message Board went on the back burner for a few years while he started pursuing his second idea first - the Universal Life Support Clamp. It's a device that keeps a car's hood open, which he created before they became standard. He discovered that his brother-in-law had the professional skills and a facility to help him build a prototype, which enabled him to present and license the idea to a company.
However Fred feels bitter about his first experience with inventing. He initially spent about $3,000 to file a patent, which was rejected because a similar product had been patented for use in hospitals. He feels that his patent attorney should have done an extensive patent search to determine whether his idea was patentable prior to his spending thousands on a fruitless patent application.
Even though Fred feels betrayed by the patent attorney, too much emphasis on the problems that one incurs along the path, can strip-mine the joy that would be gained from incremental successes. Many inventors get stuck on an initial problem, perceived, real or otherwise, and put all their energy into the problem. They either constantly complain about it and/or give up rather than learn from it and move on.
Though it was an important lesson, Fred succeeded in spite of his problem. He was very fortunate that the licensing company Lisle Corp. went ahead and honored its licensing agreement with him even though he didn't receive a patent. As a result, each year Fink receives a couple of thousand dollars in royalties. Not bad for his first invention licensing agreement. And since the royalties have covered his expenses and loss, now he generates a little extra income, mind you, with no additional work.
Thus armed with wisdom and experience, Fred decided to pursue his original brainstorm, the Roadside Message Board. The Roadside Message Board is a rectangular lightweight and plastic board, about the size of a car license plate, that attaches to any window with two suction cups which are reversible, allowing users to place it on the inside of the window [if they're leaving] or on the rear of the car [if they're inside]. The message board features a special slot where users insert one of 10 pre-printed message strips. It also has a whiteboard space and dry erase pen for adding handwritten notes.
The messages strips include the most frequently used phrases, including: car trouble; please do not ticket; be back in x minutes; please do not tow; overheated; battery dead; went for help; flat tire; out of gas. To help alert passing motorists, the message board also features a flashing red safety light with two replaceable long-life batteries which last approximately 96 hours. When not in use, the Roadside Message Board is easy to store and fits comfortably under most car seats or above the sun visor.
The board can also be used for other purposes, such as store front messages for overnight deliveries (i.e. leave package in bushes), or to post messages at the office or at home on the refrigerator or mirror.
Fink, who has a patent pending on the product, says that he has invested approximately $40,000 for the mold, production and patent/legal fees. So far he's been marketing and selling the message boards himself. He's having the boards made by several companies whose work force are physically-challenged individuals, and is currently selling the message boards through direct sales avenues as well as on retail web sites. He's already recouped about 25% of his investment through retail sales.
He hopes to have the Roadside Message Board, which retails for under $10, available in every car wash and auto parts store in the U.S. and Canada within the next few years. Since his recent product launch, he's excited that he has been getting many contacts from distributors and representatives that are interested in carrying the product.
Fred says, "The Roadside Message Board is a product that's needed by car owners throughout the country. There are approximately 132,308,044 cars and SUVs in the U.S., and AAA reported that last year, they serviced 25 million calls from motorists with car breakdowns for problems like dead batteries, flat tires, out of gas."
His ultimate goal with the Roadside Message Board is to find a company that can make, manufacture and distribute the product in mass under an exclusive licensing arrangement. Towards this end, most recently Fink was accepted and featured on inventionconnection.com, a web site portal that lists inventions available for licensing, and the Roadside Message Board has been nominated for an award in the automotive category.
The most surprising aspect of Fink's inventing path is that he's currently juggling being a full-time manager of a business, inventor, husband and dad. He's married with two young children, aged two and seven. Here's a guy that's determined enough to make it, even though he has a job, wife, kids, and all the obligations that come with that, including participating in the kid's sporting events, family functions, etc. Many people complain that they just don't have time to do anything, but somehow Fred is finding the time to do what he needs to do.
Perhaps part of Fred's secret is that he's driven by his dream of earning enough money from his invention to one day buy a big house for his family, but most importantly, to have a better qualify of life and put his kids through college.
He also loves inventing and says that his personal long term goal is to have the time and capital to pursue his many other ideas and inventions, and eventually maybe even help other people with their own ideas. Fred beams as he says, "Recently my oldest boy has started taking things apart and tried to put them back together. He's already given me an idea that I hope to work with him on in the future. Hopefully one day we'll be a father and son inventing team."
Click here for more information about the Roadside Message Board.
Destiny is not a matter of chance;
it is a matter of choice.
It is not something to be waited for;
but, rather, something to be achieved."