RANCHO SANTA FE — Canyon Crest Academy senior Avery Kay received her first United States patent from the Patent and Trademark Office on Oct. 8. Her invention is a cosmetic cover for Life Alert devices, featuring a hibiscus flower design.
The process of obtaining the patent took approximately four years between creating the initial design and redesigning the product at the patent office’s behest. The office was particularly picky about the location of the hibiscus flowers on the device cover, which caused a years-long back and forth with Kay.
Why a hibiscus? “I just wanted something that was pretty general and something most seniors would like,” Kay said.
The idea for the cover sprouted when Kay, then 13, went to visit her Parkinson’s-afflicted grandmother in Florida, who had fallen and broken her hip while visiting a graveyard.
Kay asked her grandmother why she didn’t have Life Alert, a device designed to easily inform emergency services that the user needs help — made (in)famous by the commercials featuring senior citizens exclaiming, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Kay’s grandmother said that she thought the device was too “ugly and plain” to wear.
When Kay noticed that there was no response to the demand for cosmetic add-ons to Life Alert — which has retained the same steel-gray color for its devices for 30 years — she decided to fulfill the demand.
Though she has a patent on the cover, Kay has not yet produced any copies of her invention, though she plans on that being her next step.
Kay’s business knowledge was partially fostered by her formal education; the Rancho Santa Fe student took a business management class in her freshman year of Canyon Crest Academy, where her class was instructed to create a company or product with a team.
“I thought that was really cool because it was first-and experience as a freshman that my school was offering. Which was really special and unique because I know a lot of high schools don’t offer business-related courses.” Kay will be taking an Advanced Business class next semester at Canyon Crest.
But after taking a summer course related to her current interests, Kay realized that there is a substantial gender gap in the world of entrepreneurship. She said that in this class, there was one girl for every 10 boys.
“I thought that was really interesting, and I’ve noticed also, in high school and just in general, that it’s a mainly male-dominated industry and the gender divide is really large,” she said.
The US Patent and Trademark Office released a report in February that only 4% of patents named women-only inventors over the past decade.
The disparity, Kay says, is due to girls her age not being given the opportunities to delve into business, and the endurance of the stereotype that it’s a strictly male profession. Kay said she believes the solution is to encourage girls to take business classes in school, like she does.
In addition to her patent, Kay also owns six federally registered trademarks, which include the products she has developed for a yoga and athletic apparel business that she started with her father and brother. “That’s where my interest in designing first started,” she said, adding that she paid special attention to the designs and materials in her products while producing them.
When it comes to her future, Kay is currently looking at large universities with football teams and that have curriculums that will allow her to continue her entrepreneurial efforts. Career-wise, she hopes to be able to get a job related to real estate, entertainment or sports.
Her ultimate goal, she said, is to end up as a ‘shark’ on the ABC series “Shark Tank,” her favorite show. The show involves business entrepreneurs making pitches to a panel of investors; Kay cites shark Lori Greiner as a personal influence. “I just really admire all her hard work and what she does,” she said.
If Kay were to give any advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, it would be, “It can be done. You just have to put in the effort and the time.”
Alex Wehrung covers Rancho Santa Fe and theatre-related news in North County. He previously reported for The Daily Nexus in Santa Barbara, CA and the Escondido Times-Advocate in Escondido, CA.