Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dance Chair Innovation - Patent Receives International Notice

USF Dance Professor Merry Lynn Morris invented a wheelchair  that allows people to express themselves through movements such as dancing.
{Jim Reed - Photographer Tampa Tribune Staff - Copyright 2011}

Recently, the Dance Chair with Merry Lynn Morris was featured by Channel 8 & also made the front page of the Tampa Tribune.  The above link is the News Article link with Photos & the Video link. The News Video from Tampa Tribune Video is embedded below.  We are very grateful for the notice & the continuing publicity on our project!  The following is a selected excerpt from the full article which can be found at: 

{Selected Excerpt from Tampa Tribune Article - Published / Copyright 7/30/2011}

Six years ago, University of South Florida dance professor Merry Lynn Morris approached a couple of engineering professors with an idea.
How can you make a wheelchair move more like a human?
Today, Morris and six former USF engineering students hold a patent on her idea. It's one of 83 last year that put the school at No. 9 among universities worldwide earning U.S. patents.
"It's a huge validation of the work you do, which can take years," Morris said.
The ranking comes from the Intellectual Property Owners Association's annual list of the Top 300 U.S. patent recipients in the world. IBM had the most for 2010, with 5,866.
USF was one of 14 universities on the list. The University of California Regents led that pack, with 349 patents.
"We've really worked to change the culture here," said USF's Paul Sanberg, holder of about 30 U.S. patents, including the first for using cord blood and bone marrow for stem cells used in brain repair.
Two years ago, Sanberg launched the National Academy of Inventors at USF, to recognize patent-holders and their work.
Patenting is a key step in turning a discovery into something people can use, Sanberg said. But the process hasn't traditionally been part of universities' academic mission.
That's changing.
"Universities are having to become more focused on real-world economics, so you're seeing more of them trying to take advantage of their intellectual property," he said.
With its 83, USF received more than twice as many patents last year as it did three years ago.
The 2010 patent list shows a breadth of inventions, from wheelchairs for disabled dancers to new ways to test the acidy of seawater to a self-guided roller coaster ride.
Morris had been rolling her idea over in her mind for years before she visited College of Engineering professors...
Her father was disabled in a car accident when she was 12, and Morris helped take care of him, so she was intimately familiar with the limits of life in a wheelchair. Some were societal, but many existed because of the chair's clunky design.
Always a dancer, Morris began to envision a chair that would allow someone to express themselves through movement, freeing hands and arms from having to push a wheel or joystick.
The USF engineers were intrigued. So in 2006, {her project} was assigned to several students to work with Morris. It took about a year to develop a working prototype. In June 2008, USF filed for the patent, which came through last summer.
The invention is a system that uses sensors on the seat that tell the chair to move forward, backward or sideways with small upper-body shifts.
Morris knew the discovery process would be a challenge, but she had no idea of how legalistic it would get, she said.
In the end, though, that process was useful.
"You have to put everything on paper and show what role this person played and what role that person played. You have to be really clear."
Those credits really matter when the invention gets to where the dance chair is now, with a potential manufacturer showing interest.
The patent belongs to USF, which filed the application, but as one of the listed inventors, Morris would share any income from product sales, as would the six others named in the application.
Right now, Morris is focused not so much on sales but getting the chairs to people who could use them.
She's been corresponding with a woman who has a disabled child and started a dance studio to help her. She's also working with injured war veterans.
As Morris and the engineers find further refinements, they're likely to get more patents.