In March of 2001, the family of a 102-year-old gentleman residing in a local Buffalo nursing home contacted the University at Buffalo. The cause for their inquiry rested in the fact that this gentleman repeatedly fell from his wheelchair while attempting to transfer to and from his chair. His family needed to find a solution to this problem before he was seriously injured. The fact that he was 102 years young augmented the need for finding a solution to this obvious problem, and finding it quickly. The situation had reached a state of urgency due to the fact that he was no longer strong enough to engage his wheelchair's locks completely or would sometimes forget to try.
Personnel of the University at Buffalo's Center for Assistive Technology fielded the initial inquiry by the family, but knowing of no product available in the marketplace to address their need, they forwarded the inquiry to Jim Leahy, Project Manager for the T2RERC's Supply Push Technology Transfer project. The Supply Push Project's mission is to facilitate the introduction of new products and technologies into the marketplace benefiting persons with disabilities.
In an initial competitive product search, Jim and his team were unable to identify any automatic wheelchair braking systems that would prevent a wheelchair from rolling both forwards or backwards during user transfers. However, he believed this issue was important so rather than cease his team's search, he took it to the next level and had his team perform an internet patent search through the US Patent and Trademark Office's web site for the type of device needed.
Through this search, the Supply Push team was able to identify a newly issued patent on an automatic braking system for manual wheelchairs that would address this gentleman's problem. The patent was issued to an Indiana resident who happened to be a regional operating officer for 10 nursing homes in the Indiana and Illinois area. He had observed firsthand the need for this type of device and had invented it to address the needs of the residents in his nursing homes. He had only a crude prototype but it worked and was a valid proof of concept model.
Knowing the need for this device, Jim forwarded a Device Intake Package to the inventor for submission of his device to the T2RERC for commercialization assistance. Once the inventor had completed the submission package and forwarded it along with his working prototype to the T2RERC, Jim's Supply Push team went to work. The Supply Push team conducted its standard marketing, technical, and consumer evaluations on the device. Consumers, evaluating the device, immediately embraced it while the technical review revealed a significant need for refining the prototype before it could be submitted to potential licensing companies.
In conjunction with the inventor, the T2RERC went about redesigning the braking system. Upon completion of the redesign, the inventor was so impressed by the work the T2RERC had done, he requested the T2RERC make 10 copies of the new system so he could purchase them for use at his facilities. He donated one of the 10 units to the gentleman whose need had started the whole process.
Now armed with a refined prototype, the T2RERC went about compiling a detailed commercialization package of consumer, marketing and technical information that it could present to prospective licensing companies. Jim Leahy then made contact with major wheelchair manufactures and began presenting the device concept to them. Sunrise Medical immediately showed an interest. However, they wished to be in a position of distributing the product but not actually manufacturing it. Sunrise also wanted additional refinements to the system prior to their purchase of it. Again, in conjunction with the inventor, the T2RERC undertook another redesign of the system. Upon completion of this redesign, Sunrise immediately ordered 25 units from the inventor.
Now armed with a potential distribution outlet, the T2RERC staff decided to show the product at the 2002 Medtrade Conference and Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to this show, Alimed, Inc had shown an interest in manufacturing the device and was very keen on having a close-up examination of the UpStop Wheelchair Braking System. Alimed was exhibiting at Medtrade and used that opportunity to examine the device and gauge interest from potential buyers of the device.
Based on the results of that show and the work performed by the Supply Push team of the T2RERC, Alimed, Inc licensed the UpStop Wheelchair Braking System from the inventor. It is scheduled for introduction in the Summer of 2003.
The UpStop is a newly patented braking system for manual wheelchairs. The UpStop automatically engages a set of brakes separate from the wheelchair's standard wheel locks when the occupant begins to exit, thus preventing the wheelchair from rolling forwards or backwards.
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