It is common for universities to have semester or year-long projects for students nearing the end of their programs. These “capstone” projects are typically designed to have students practice real-world scenarios of product development. In 2014, three engineering students at Michigan State University examined a known medical therapy and looked for ways to improve how it was administered. Their specific challenge was to develop a new solution for infant jaundice in developing countries.
Normally, jaundice is treated with phototherapy while the infant is in isolation, such as lying in a “light box.” The specialized light helps infants break down excess bilirubin. Unfortunately though, since this treatment requires access to sophisticated equipment and trained staff, a hospital stay is required. The problem, therefore, centered on how to incorporate this high-intensity phototherapy into a treatment that is both portable and low cost.
After meeting with over eighty-five nurses and doctors, the trio came up with a wearable prototype. The design is a battery-powered blue-light swaddling blanket that enables medical staff to take the phototherapy treatment to a needed location at a reduced cost. This family-friendly design also enables holding the infant during treatment, thereby promoting bonding and breastfeeding. During the engineering evaluation process, doctors and nurses began to request a design for the U.S. as well.
Although all three students continued with their studies or obtained traditional positions post-graduation, they still found ways to advance their idea. They were initially assisted by a CEO in Residence program through Spartan Innovations. They were finalists at the SXSW Eco Conference, in the Social Impact category, and were invited to pitch their product in front of top venture capital firms from around the world. A local medical sector investment firm also provided funding to move forward with product development. The product is currently marketed under the name, “Snuglit”.
In addition to addressing parental care concerns, the current SnugLit design is easy to ship and is battery operated. Since the original design was intended for developing countries, low-income U.S. families and those living in rural areas without nearby care facilities are likely to benefit from the portable and more economical design as well. The technology provides the opportunity for families to potentially avoid the expenses affiliated with an extended hospital stay. Currently, the group is continuing their development efforts after filing a provisional patent application. They are also validating their design with over 200 nurses and preparing for the FDA approval process later this year.
Sometimes our technology in this computer dominated world takes us away from more intimate contact with our fellow man. Yet, there are those that remind us that technology and the proverbial “little guy” can vastly improve our daily lives and the way we connect with those closest to us.
Author: Phaedra Ramsdill, Patent Attorney
There is an inventor in all of us. It just takes the right circumstances and the right inspiration to bring it out. Everyone has ideas, and it is up to you to protect them (especially if it has to do with protecting our children!). If you believe that you have an invention worth patenting, or a mark worth trademarking, you should consult with a patent attorney today!