Inventors’ association helps women turn ideas to profits
“She was taking care of her grandchildren one summer and noticed that their long-legged briefs were causing them discomfort. So she chopped off the leg section, tied long rubber bands to secure the openings and invented bikini-cut panties,” she continued.
Such simple ideas can transform an ordinary person into a successful entrepreneur. Just ask Lee Hee-ja, 50, who had a bright idea in 1997.
“For any housewife, it is a burdensome chore to separate food waste from other garbage and throw it out using a bucket or bag. To add to that, because Korean food has a lot of spicy, soup-based food, often times, there is stinky spillage,” said Ms. Lee, the founder and president of Loofenbif Inc., which has around 150 employees.
Apparently, many others thought the same thing. Last year, her food waste dryer, which dehydrates and helps with easy disposal of food waste, yielded a 6-billion won ($6.3-million) profit and is forecast to make 50 billion more this year, with exports to Canada, Switzerland and Japan.
“I feel blessed to be doing this, starting from my own idea and realizing it on my own. This is the happiest era of my life so far,” she said.
The members of the Korea Women Inventors Association, numbering 1,500, are starting to overcome everyday inconveniences and yield a profit from their “assets” ― their ideas. During last month’s 2006 Korea Women Inventions Expo held at COEX, in Samseong-dong, these women showcased a variety of products to domestic buyers and international businesses from countries like Japan and Thailand.
Most of the ideas sprang from the women’s own experiences of doing household chores and caring for their children. Items included everything from handmade soaps, hair-restoring creams and self massagers to mini-sized air purifiers and Ms. Lee’s food waste dryer.
According to statistics from the Korean Intellectual Property Office, around 16,000 women patented or were in the process of getting a patent for their products last year. Although that was only 4.5 percent of the total patent applicants, the number of females who are applying rose around 13 percent from 2004. And according to Ms. Han, half of those women are full-time housewives.
“If there is something that is uncomfortable to use and is unnecessarily complicated, make it better and get paid for your vision,” she continued.
Such was the case for Ko Gi-soon, 50, who invented thigh-high stockings that stay up on their own.
“Pantyhose were uncomfortable and hose that came up to the thigh always slid down after some time,” she explained. “Any woman who has worn hosiery will know. From sticking coins to gluing the elastic band to their skin, women have thought of just about every way to prevent hosiery sliding down their legs.”
To solve this problem, Ms. Ko made the elastic band for her thigh-high hosiery out of a silicone material. The mother of two children, Ms. Ko presented the idea to the Korean Intellectual Properties Office and got a patent in 2002.
“With no marketing background, it was difficult to launch a business with one bright idea. In that sense, the Korea Women Inventors Association was a big help. I went around for a year to almost all the hosiery companies and silicone companies in Korea, in order to bring this idea to light.”
The company is still fairly small, with 10 employees at the moment, but is expanding, and Ms. Ko said she is preparing to launch her product in GS convenience stores as well as exporting to Japanese companies this year.
“Inventions don’t always have to be IT-related, electronic equipment,” Ms. Han said, emphasizing that “whatever small idea a woman might have, it is important to get a patent for it and get help to market her product.” Ms. Han explains that this is where the Korea Women Inventors Association comes in. With even gochujang (hot pepper paste) and doenjang (soybean paste) getting patents, “it’s a patent war out there.”
“The great thing about inventing is that one does not need to give up taking care of the children or family. If they do not have the time for a full-time job, they can just submit their ideas to the Korea Women Inventors Association or the Korean Intellectual Properties Office and be compensated for selling their intellectual property,” explained Ms. Han.
by Cho Jae-eun
With the support of the Seoul city government, the Korea Women Inventors Association holds “inventing classes” for women year-round, to educate them about the inventing process and also basic marketing skills.
For more information, call (02) 538-2710 or visit www.inventor.or.kr.