By Juergen Kneifel
Rita Chew is a single mom, a student at Everett Community College as her schedule allows, an entrepreneur and an ultrasound technician. She’s also an inventor and the proud developer of Essoula Ultrasound Gel.
Her Everett-based company has just learned that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a Notice of Allowance for a Utility Patent for the product line she created that enhances ultrasound gel with aromatherapy agents.
With Chew’s experience caring for patients in the health-care field and performing the diagnostics, she noticed that patients were often anxious or nervous about this simple noninvasive procedure.
“Your basic ultrasound gel has not seen any meaningful changes or improvements since the original gel was introduced in the ’60s,” Chew said. “I realized that there could be a better therapeutic application, which is where the idea began.”
“The inspiration for Essoula was all about patient comfort,” Chew said.
She tested several oils that are used for aromatherapy to determine their feasibility. She also researched through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration whether special consideration needed to be given for a product used in the health care field. After resolving all questions of propriety, Chew launched into the testing phase and began producing small lots of private-label mixes while applying for the patent.
The patent process began in 2005. Her manufacturer is a supplier of ultrasound gel in Toronto. The legal team behind the patent application process is the Kunzler Law Group of Salt Lake City.
“Our practice specializes in intellectual property and we are well positioned to help entrepreneurs with their new ideas,” said Rick Nordgren, who has worked with Chew for several years. “It’s not unusual for the patent process to run several years.”
Essoula responded to six so-called office actions that involved filing clarifications and answers to questions raised by federal patent examiners.
Office actions cause obvious delay; they also require additional money for filing and the legal fees. Chew estimates the process to date has run in excess of $10,000.
“It does take patience and determination to see the process through to fruition,” Chew said. “Patience — and plenty of money.”
I learned of the Essoula product several years ago and immediately connected this concept with the numbing compound used by dentists prior to a Novocain injection. If you were around in the 1960s or early 1970s, you may recall the putrid taste on the end of that cotton swab, often causing a gag reflex. I’m sure someone closely connected with the dental industry came up with the bright idea to add flavor to the paste, thereby enhancing — as much as possible — the dental patient’s experience. The old numbing compound is no more.
Essoula will be a game-changer, but perhaps not fully at the expense of all manufacturers of ordinary ultrasound gel. When you consider the negligible cost variance of manufacture that enhances the product features and creates a benefit to the patient, the idea and the product are market-ready.
Chew considers herself an optimist. When asked about what kept her going through seven years of the patent process, she replied, “You hold on to your vision! You can’t be a quitter … and it helps to be a dreamer at times.”
Chew has some big decisions now. She’s not interested in buying a factory or setting up a manufacturing enterprise. She hopes an existing player in the health and medical products industry will see the opportunity and pursue exclusive manufacturing rights through licensing.
“A business that has established channels for distributing to the industry makes the most sense,” said Chew. There is little chance that Essoula could take this product to scale in a short timeframe. Enhancing the patient experience remains Chew’s ultimate goal; generating a windfall from her investment would be a bonus.
Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the Everett Community College business program. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.