The power of one idea

Do you have what it takes to be the next great Canadian inventor?

Canadians file about 5,000 patent applications a year in this country — more than 5,300 were filed in 2006 — ranging from the scientific to the bizarre. Take patent number 2606918, a urinal designed for your home. The application states the urinal is an “aesthetically acceptable plumbing fixture suitable for installation in rooms frequented also by females. Such rooms may include bedrooms.” Better yet, the inventor claims the product solves an “age-old problem for housewives: toilet seat up, and urine splash around the toilet.”

Got a better idea, but lack the cash to get it off the ground? Now’s your chance to turn your dream into reality. Canadian Business is teaming up with engineering services firm Nytric Ltd. for the second annual Great Canadian Invention Competition. Submit your idea, and you could win a free feasibility study valued at $10,000, and up to $50,000 in development services from Nytric, based in Mississauga, Ont., toward developing a prototype. But that’s not all. This year, leading intellectual-property law firm Bereskin & Parr of Toronto is contributing $10,000 in cash, which could be used to help make sure your company won’t be sued for patent infringement when your product hits the market. And you and your idea will be profiled in a future issue of this magazine.

As an inventor, you’ll be following a long line of Canadians who have contributed to innovation around the world. Canucks are responsible for many of today’s groundbreaking products, including the alkaline and lithium battery, the personal computer and, of course, the BlackBerry.

A great invention doesn’t have to change the world — it just has to be disruptive. Take last year’s winning entry, a trailer-hitch alignment system designed by Chilliwack, B.C., resident Ortwin Groh. The Nytric team of judges decided that there was a huge market for Groh’s invention (there are roughly four million trailers in Canada), and his alignment system could also be cheaper and easier to use than existing products. “An invention can be disruptive in the sense that it’s actually making someone rethink one particular process, or making a process more efficient,” says Nytric founder and chief technology officer Avanindra Utukuri. The same can be said for last year’s semifinalists, a mascara remover for which there was little or no competition, and a drywall fastener that reduced the chances of splitting panels.

But Nytric is looking for more than an original, realistic idea with market potential. The judges want inventors who are committed to seeing their ideas through to the end. At least two inventions submitted last year could have made it to the finals until Nytric found out neither submitter had any intention of putting in the necessary work to make a finished product. “What drove the final decision was speaking to the inventors themselves and finding out what their energy level was,” says Anthony Gussin, Nytric’s director of business development.

Groh, for one, is definitely committed. He began work on his alignment system 14 years ago after whacking his new van while attempting to connect a trailer. The product he designed consists of two sets of horizontal arms that attach to the vehicle and trailer to act as visual markers. LEDs located on the arms light up when contact is made, notifying the driver to stop. Other methods either lack that feature, put undue stress on the vehicle and trailer, or involve expensive video equipment that is complicated to set up.

Today, Groh is much closer to having a finished product. Nytric helped build a pre-production prototype and selected materials to make it economical. Nytric also helped him redesign the alignment system to avoid potential patent infringement, a major consideration for any product in this day and age. Groh’s now in discussions with a Canadian company interested in purchasing the exclusive licence to his product and distributing it across North America, and potentially abroad in the future. A U.S. trailer manufacturer is also interested in selling the product when it’s ready.

“Winning the competition creates a lot of interested parties,” Groh says. Sometimes there are too many interested parties. “I’ve found it’s very easy to get caught up in a whirlwind.” He spends up to six hours a day developing his business — and that’s after coming home from his full-time job as a maintenance plumber at a prison — and he’s still on the hunt for potential investors. “It’s nerve-wracking at times, but it’s a lot of fun,” he says.

To enter this year’s Great Canadian Invention Competition, go to and submit a two-page outline of your invention, including a description of what it does, the target market, how it differs from the competition (if there is any), and how much work you’ve done so far. The competition’s rules and regulations are also available at the same site. Nytric will judge the submissions, with the semifinalists being announced in Canadian Business this summer. The contest is open to all residents of Canada (except Quebec) of legal age, and runs until 4:59 p.m. on May 2, 2008. Best of luck to all who enter.