Safety Propeller Wins 2009 Australian Invention of the Year Award
Environmental Safety Propeller Invented by Colin Chamberlain
The Environmental Safety Propeller continues to attract attention as more marine companies become aware of it and the Safety Prop draws interest from manufacturers and safety organizations around the world.
If you have any comments about this review/discussion of the Australian Environmental Safety Propeller, invented by Colin Chamberlin, please contact us.
Major displays and presentations of the Safety Propeller since winning the Invention of the Year include:
- A February 11, 2010 presentation on the Safety Propeller at the U.S. Coast Guard Propeller Accident Mitigation Meeting.
- The closing presentation at Marine Safety Conference 2010 in Perth Australia on August 24, 2010 . Touted as the “pre-eminent gathering on marine safety in the Southern Hemisphere”, the theme this year was Safe Passage to a Marine Nation, sponsored by Australia’s National Marine Safety Committee.
- reduced top speeds
- poor performance of the boat in reverse
- boat handling issues (boat tries to plane on flat surfaces of the guard)
- increased drag
- increased draft/depth
- hitting stuff and driving the cage into the prop
- high cost of installation, lengthy time required to install, difficult for those unskilled to install
- high manufacturing and distribution costs
- potential for entrapment (get caught in the guard)
- retaining debris/weeds
The “How it Works” section of the ABC TV coverage does say, “The design is suitable across the full range of propeller design from 2 HP boats to a container ship.”
- Is the safety propeller limited to a range of pitches, propeller diameters, boat speeds, rotating speeds or other parameters? Do any of those variable impact its effectiveness, boat performance, manufacturability, durability, useful life?
- The panel discussion in the first show video hints the safety propeller’s effectiveness may be limited at higher rotational speeds. What speeds are those? Is rotational speed actually the limiter or are those limits also tied to prop diameter, number of blades, etc.?
- Does the Safety Propeller provide the same level of protection in forward and in reverse?
- If the industry clings to their total rejection of any device in this field OR sticks to the “Not Invented Here” syndrome, can the Safety Propeller still get some market share? What if the marine drive industry says they will not warranty drives using Safety Propellers (like some do with conventional propeller guards)?
- Has anybody tried to stick their hand/arm into a Safety Propeller rotating in water (more resistance to movement of your hand/arm) NOTE – DO NOT DO THIS, WE ARE NOT ADVISING ANYONE TO DO THIS. We are only asking if they have. Or has anything else been stuck into a submerged, rotating Safety Propeller?
- We have seen a wide range of objects ran over during propeller guard tests (life sized blow up dolls, dead wild pigs, dead goats, huge gourds/zucchini, cabbage heads, huge sausage links, gelatin, fake manatees (skin strapped over floating materials), etc.). Will the Safety Propeller pass tests of that nature?
- It “seems” like the Safety Propeller would have less fouling problems with seagrass, seaweeds, and other marine plant life than conventional propeller guards. The opposition will be trying to drive it though huge grassy fields. Performance in heavy weeds against conventional propellers was not addressed in the videos (we wonder if the thicker edges of the blades may not be able to cut their way thru the weeds OR weeds get caught in the holes thru the blades).
- Possible blades durability issues due to the hole thru them and due to the bend and possible extra weight near their rim.
- Do the thicker, rounded blade edges raise the rear of the boat, resulting in bow steering in some vessels? (the thicker blades may come down and hit the water with greater force than knife edged blades and push up the stern of small boats?)
- The opposition may raise possibilities for entrapment of fingers, toes or clothing in the holes through the blade faces.
- Propellers turn at high speeds for long periods of time creating the potential for fatigue failures of the blades. Will the holes through the blades create a location the blades can fail by fatigue?
- The video said manufacturers could just slightly change their molds to adjust them to make the safety propeller. We are less than optimistic about that. However, the safety propeller does appear to be very compatible with current manufacturing methods.
- Do the blunter, rounded edged blades change the load felt by the drivetrain? Just off hand, we suspect this would not be an issue as some drive companies already durability test their drives in tanks using propellers that have their blade tips cut off.
- Cavitation (propeller drawing air in from above the water) is an issue for certain types of boats/drives/drive heights, surface water conditions, etc. Will the safety propeller behave similarly to current propellers in those situations? Will it behave differently in any other situations? The video said it reduced these issues.
- Cavitation (formation of vapor bubbles in an area where the pressure falls below the vapor pressure of water) is a problem with some propellers AND has been said to be a problem with some propeller guards. Will their be any issues with this problem around the holes thru the propeller blades OR will their be any issues with this problem around the blunter, rounded edges of the propeller blades? This can usually be visibly seen in high speed underwater photography.
- Will the safety propeller be able to be repaired the same as conventional propellers or with the hole or edge limit its ability to be reformed? or limit the number of times it can be bent back into shape?
- The videos mentioned possible applications to very large propellers. Huge ships tend to operate in open seas and rarely with people in the water near them. We assume their will be some practical limits in size or applications (commercial vessels) in application of Safety Propellers to very large ships.
However a 2 December 2009 article in the Daily Mercury (Australia) “Propeller Doesn’t Injure Sea Life”, quotes Colin as saying, “Once it is going over about 1500 revs it creates its own shroud so you can’t actually even get in between the blades, so the faster it spins, the safer it is.”
Plus protection at slower speeds in a boat capable of going higher speeds would still be a tremendous improvement over the boats being operated today.A December 14, 2009 communication from the inventor’s liaison reports the Safety Propeller DOES provide protection in reverse.But in defense of the Safety Propeller, it would seem highly unlikely that fingers or toes would have time to go far enough into those slots to have any problems, even at slower rotational speeds.On the other hand, the holes though the blades may limit some of the higher negative pressures on the suction side and actually reduce cavitation?Or they might be employed on larger vessels in whale watching areas and other areas with large marine mammals.
- Houseboats – Many houseboat propeller accidents happen when the engines are started and the houseboat begins to slowly back away from shore or away from being rafted with other houseboats. Sometimes people are still in the water behind the houseboat OR they just went down a houseboat water slide OR they just jumped in as the engines are being started. These accidents happen at slow speeds and in reverse. The houseboat industry cites the following objections as their reasons for not using conventional cage type propeller guards:
- Additional draft required for cage type guards to clear the bottom
- Increased drag of cage type guards
- Reduction in top speeds
- Increased diameter of cage type guards creating an increased cross sectional area of that can strike people in the water resulting in blunt trauma
- Time and costs required for installation of cage type guards
- Degree of difficulty of installation of cage type propeller guards
- Potential for fouling of cage type guards by seaweed, seagrass and other marine plant life
- Potential for cage type guards to strike underwater obstacles and be crushed into the propeller resulting in damage to the propeller and possibly to the inner workings of the drive
- Increased fuel consumption due to increased drag
- Increased emissions due to increased drag
The Safety Propeller appear to remove every single objections cited by the houseboat industry. At this moment, houseboats look like a great place to apply Safety Propellers. In addition, they often cite the need to frequently repair or replace their existing propellers due to striking underwater obstacles. The thicker, rounded edges of the Safety Propeller might even reduce that problem.
Note – houseboat applications are very dependent upon the Safety Propeller offering the same level of protection in both forward and reverse. The fact the Safety Propeller also provides safety protection in reverse was confirmed by the inventor’s liaison 14 December 2009.
- Boats capable of top speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour (approximately 50 kilometers per hour) – Builders of these vessels object to the use of conventional guards due to:
- increased drag
- slower top speeds
- increased fuel consumption
- boat handling issues (the boat tries to plane of flat surfaces of the guard)
- increased cross sectional area at risk to blunt trauma strikes by the presence of the guard
Midrange speed and faster boats are often involved in propeller accidents at slower speeds (skiers in the water near the rear of the boat, someone falls overboard or jumps out as the boat takes off, someone falls overboard with the boat at rest, people stepping on the propeller, etc.). The Safety Propeller looks like it might be able to prevent those accidents while still allowing midrange and higher speeds AND avoiding their other objections as well.
- Roll overs resulting from cavitating propellers in tight turns – some boats have the potential to roll over when turning at higher speeds if the propeller begins to pull air in from the surface and looses its grip. Rollover risks are increased in choppy /surfy waters such as those near shores. The Safety Propeller was said to decrease these risks by not allowing the propeller to cavitate.
- Propellers fouled by ropes/lines – we see several boating accident reports involving ropes, cables, anchor lines, or other lines being caught in a propeller, reeled in, and fouling the propeller (killing the engine and stranding the vessel. Someone on board enters the water in an attempt to free the propeller and ends up injured or drowned. The Safety Propeller looks like it might significantly reduce entrapment of these lines and thus prevent those injuries.
- Entrapment of clothing by propellers- several propeller accidents begin by entrapment of clothing worn by those in the water. Their t-shirts, swimsuits, or other clothing gets wrapped up in the propeller. The propeller begins to wind up their clothing and pulls them in. The Safety Propeller looks like it might prevent or reduce entrapment of clothing and thus prevent these accidents from happening.
- Dive Boats and Boats Going Thru Divers – many divers have risen under their own or other boats and struck rotating or nonrotating propellers and been severely injured or killed. Several have also been struck by boats passing thru diving areas at moderate speeds. The Safety Propeller appears to hold promise in this area.
- Diving hoses and diving lines – many diving boats use guards to prevent entrapment/fouling of propellers by diving lines and hoses. The Safety Propeller looks like it might prevent this problem.
- Snorkelers – similar to divers, we have seen many propeller accidents involving snorkelers, especially in resort areas.
- Falling overboard from excursion boats or ferries – many excursion boats and small ferries run at slow speeds. The Safety Propeller may be especially useful in these applications.
- Injuries resulting from stepping on a nonrotation propeller or being washed into a nonrotating propeller – Some studies have shown more people being injured by nonrotating propellers than by rotating propellers. While these injuries tend to be less severe, they are often still significant injuries. The Safety Propeller appears to hold great promise in preventing these injuries.
- Injuries to people handling propellers – Moderate sized propellers are heavy. Sometimes people moving them around or preparing to install them drop them on their toes or fingers resulting in severe injuries. The thicker, rounded edged blades may reduce the amputations resulting from these accidents. Some people are cut by merely handling existing propellers with sharper edges, these injuries would be reduced as well.
- Injuries resulting from propellers on trailered boats – many people have been severely injured by propellers on trailered boats while the boat is resting on the trailer out of the water. Children are often running or biking by the back of the boat and are cut. Adults working on the engines are cut, and some have been crushed between the propeller of trailer boats and other obstacles. The Safety Propeller appears to solve this problem.
- Manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, dugongs, whales, and other marine life propeller strikes – these strikes often happen at relatively slow boat speeds. The Safety Propeller may eliminate or reduce the severity of these injuries.
- Minimize damage to seagrass – his patent mentions the propeller reduces damage to seagrass by not chopping it up so bad. Many areas are limiting speeds, limiting access, and taking other steps to reduce damage to seagrass fields as they take a long time to recover. The safety propeller may be another tool in their arsenal.
- Stiffer propellers – current propellers have very thin sharp edged blades. If they strike anything of substance, the blades may be bent, requiring repair. Thicker, rounder edged Safety Propellers MAY be strong enough at their edge to prevent the need for some of these repairs. If so, their might be some objection to their use raised by those repairing propellers or those manufacturing and selling conventional replacement propellers.
- Some boats using stainless steel propeller guards that keep the drives and props in the water a lot have had problems with cathodic corrosion between the propeller and the guard. Removing the guard removes that problem. In December 2009, the group in Australia reported they had been contacted by a somebody with a rescue boat that had been having cathodic corrosion issues caused by its stainless steel propeller guard. They saw the Safety Propeller as a possible solution to their problem.
- Manufacture it yourself – Mr. Chamberlain could build his own propeller factory. This costs a lot of money. Propellers are sold in a wide variety of sizes, pitches, left handed rotation, right handed rotation, etc. This requires a lot of tooling. In addition, propeller design and manufacturing is a bit of a black art. It takes a lot of experience and trial and error. It would be much easier, and faster to work with one or more existing propeller manufacturers. The marine industry also objects to regulations prescribing the use of safety devices only available from one source.
- License it to one company – Mr. Chamberlain could negotiate a license with a single propeller manufacturer. Most manufacturers sell propellers to a certain market (geographical, type of boats, certain boat uses, certain horsepower ranges, etc.). A single manufacturer would limit his distribution and raise the same regulatory issue of only being available from a single source. If that single manufacturer were also a drive manufacturer with near worldwide distribution, such as Brunswick, it might alienate the other drive companies from purchasing the product.
- License it to more than one company – by carefully selecting those companies, Mr. Chamberlain can increase the range and types of propellers available as well as the geographical availability of those propellers. This also eliminates the regulatory issue of only being available from one source.
- Buy a manufacturer – purchase an existing propeller manufacturer an make the Safety Propeller there. This could cost a lot of money.
- Trade rights to manufacture for equity in an existing propeller manufacturer – if a certain propeller manufacturer had great confidence in the ability of the Safety Propeller to vastly stimulate their sales (and profits), they might be willing to trade some portion of their company (“x” percent”) to Mr. Chamberlain for the rights to manufacture the Safety Propeller.
- Be totally bought out – A manufacture could give him a pile of money for him and all his work and then do whatever they wanted with it.
- Partner or Joint Venture with another firm.
- Sell Shares/Stock – get investors to give him money while he figures out what to do later.
- Combinations of the routes above.
- Auction off the rights to the highest bidder, while possibly retaining the right to enter the market yourself at a later date.
An article published 30 November 2009 by WIN (Australia), “A Blacks Beach Man Has Taken Out the Grand Final of the New Inventors Program” reported the product has received considerable overseas interest and he is looking for an investor “to take on the production rights”.
- Our Initial Thoughts
- Possible Issues Not Addressed in the Videos
- Applications in Which the Safety Propeller Might Excel
- Regulatory Issues
- Intellectual Property Issues
- Potential Paths to Market
- Manufacturing Methods
- Reasonable Expectations in Licensing the Safety Propeller
- How Big is the Recreational Boat Propeller Market?
- Media Coverage of the Safety Propeller
- June – August 2010 – Dozens of articles mentioned Colin’s upcoming 24 August 2010 presentation at the Marine Safety Conference 2010 in Perth Australia as part of their coverage of the conference.
- 14 April 2010 “Marine Safety Conference Program Now Online” Yachte.com.au reports Colin Chamberlin and his Environmental Safety Propeller and other innovators will be on the program at the upcoming sixth conference of the National Marine Safety Committee (NMSC). The conference theme will be, “Safe Passage to a Marine Nation” on August 22-24 2010 . Its preliminary program is now online at www.nmsc.gov.au.
- 9 March 2010 “Turning the Dream into Reality series” MyBusiness.com.au reported their previous installment in a pdf format.
- February 2010 “Turning the Dream Into Reality” MyBusiness.com.au (sort of an Australian version Inc magazine) reports on Colin Chambers winning the invention contest with the safety propeller, announces some of his future plans, and Colin mentions he contemplated about 600 design variations of his invention before arriving at his current design. MyBusiness announces their magazine will begin a series of articles covering him thru the coming year as he attempts to build a successful business around his propeller invention.
- 6 February 2010 “Torqueing Up Invention” Daily Mercury (Australia) reports Colin is leaving for Florida today (Feb 6 in Australia) headed to the U.S. Coast Guard Propeller Injury Mitigation Meeting at the Miami International Boat Show (to be held on Feb. 11) where he “will be addressing an audience of marine industry professionals including insurance company representatives, propeller and outboard manufacturers and safety experts.” He hopes they will soon pick up a manufacturer, be on the shelves, and start saving peoples lives.
- 1 February 2010 “Safety Propeller: A Safety Propeller That Can Do for Boats What Seatbelts Did for Cars” ABC Radio (Australia) reports a nice interview with Colin Chamberlain, his winning of the invention contest, and his progress since then.
- 29 January 2010 “Safety Propeller Makes the Cut” Trailer Boat (Australia) reports Colin is currently in talks with manufacturers with a view to beginning production. He is focusing on the U.S. market due to production costs, a web site is under development, they will be presenting the Safety Propeller to the U.S. Coast Guard at the Miami International Boat Show in February, and provides a link to this web page for providing “an extensive analysis on the potential challenges and benefits facing the invention in the US market”.
- December 2009 “A Safer Propeller” Boat Owners Association of NSW (New South Wales Australia) Newsletter reports on Page 7
of Colin Chamberlain winning “The New Inventors” award for his safety propeller and how BOA (Boat Owners Association) took delight in in that because last year Julian Todd spoke to their committee about his son’s propeller accident in an effort to promote awareness of propeller accidents and to begin a campaign to make propeller guards compulsory. BOA is glad to see inventors addressing the problem.
- 22 December 2009 Safety Propeller: This Prop Could Save Your Life. Editors Blog. Weighing In. by Charlie Levine. Marlin. The International Sportfishing Magazine reports a personal experience by the author in which he was working as a houseboat instructor on Lake Powell when a boater ran over a young man water skiing. The National Park Service brought his body in to store it in their marine office walk in freezer. That experience is still vivid in his memory. He was attracted to the some online materials on the new safety prop and started watching the video. Like us, he was shocked when the the inventor put his arm in the prop and jumped out of his chair. Also like many others he is still “a tad skeptical as to its true effectiveness” but thinks its a great step forward for the industry.
- 18 December 2009 Gumenjaci.com (Croatia) “Safety Propeller” (article is in Croatian) reports on the invention winning the contest. We machine translated the text and noted the author recommend use of the new safety propellers.
- 9 December 2009 ABC Tropical Queensland “Champion Mackay Inventor Set to Save Lives” reports on the win, plus provides some background information on the inventor, estimates royalties could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars (Australian dollars), and includes an audio interview with the inventor. Once the Safety Propeller is in production, he hopes to use some of the royalties to provide economical housing for some of those in need by building properties and selling them below cost.
- 8 December 2009 Marine Business (Australia) “Safety Propeller Wins the New Inventors” reports on the invention winning the contest. The writer calls it an “ingeniously designed safety propeller” and says to stay tuned for a full profile in an upcoming issue.
- 5 December 2009 Sydney Morning Herald “Making Waves” reports some Sydney Harbor news and announces the ABC New Inventors win. It say New South Wales (NSW) Maritime intends to test the propeller and if it stands up to the inventor’s claims, they will fit them to their outboard powered patrol boats.
- December 2009 NauCat (Nautical Catalog – Croatia) “Safety Propeller – Prop Which Saves the Life” reports on the invention from the ABC TV coverage and provides one of their videos.
- December 2009 fishpo (Australian Local Fishing Directory and Guide) “Safety Propeller: Invention of the Year 2009″ reports the propeller’s rounded edges flatten over time, making it even safer with use.
- 7 December 2009 Marine Business-World (Australia) “Aussie Safety Prop Takes Out New Inventors Top Prize” reports on Colin Chamberlain winning the prize with his Environmental Safety Propeller. It says he works in power line construction and patented his first invention 20 years ago. He spent 9 years from idea to ready to manufacture. Chamberlain reports “there has been much interest from overseas, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines. The informative article, by Jeni Bone, also cites this page.
- 2 December 2009 Daily Mercury (Australia) “Propeller Doesn’t Injure Sea Life” reports the was the first non ABC coverage we have seen of the invention. The article says once the propeller reaches about 1500 RPM “it creates its own shroud so you can’t actually even get in between the blades, so the faster it spins, the safer it is.” It also includes a nice photo of Colin Chamberlain, the inventor.
- 30 November 2009 WIN (Australia) “A Blacks Beach Man Has Taken Out the Grand Final of the New Inventors Program” reports on Colin winning the contest, and refers to the propeller at the “Environmental Safety Propeller”. It also reports he is looking for an investor “to take on the production rights”.
- 26 November 2009 Daily Telegraph (Australia) “Inventor Propelled to Win” reports Colin won the top prize in the contest and will receive thousands of dollars in money “towards lab testing, management training, marketing, and assistance in developing the product in Australia and abroad.” We came across this article later in an online database. It appears to be the first mention of his win.
I recall seeing the Australian Patent in 2008, WO/2008/040049, but did not pay much attention to it. We considered it somewhat related to the “snap on” blade covers used to prevent injuries when handling propellers.
We paid it little notice till we received an email from one of our Australian friends on November 12, 2009, the morning after the Safety Propeller won the “go around” on the Australian ABC TV Invention Show, “The New Inventors” (11 November 2009, Episode 41).
We viewed the safety propeller video and the full episode (Episode 41), and were startled by Colin’s demonstrations in which he thrust his arm into the rotating propeller.
We received a note from another of our Australian friends on Tuesday night November 24, 2009 alerting us the final round for the ABC Australian “The New Inventors” show would air that evening. Wednesday morning 25 November they sent us a note saying Colin’s invention had won.
We left town for a few days over the Thanksgiving Holiday to handle some family matters and on our return were happy to find “The New Inventors” had posted a additional video about each of the finalists, including the Safety Propeller.
They also featured it as the “Invention of the Year” on their home page AND posted the full Grand Final episode (episode 43). Safety Propeller was the first invention reviewed in the Grand Finale episode.
As part of the winning package, Colin Chamberlin will receive assistance in commercializing the Safety Propeller from CISRO (Australian Commonwealth, Scientific and Research Organization), IP Australia, and Austrade, and other organizations.
Environmental Safety Propeller Discussion
Our Initial Thoughts
Many people are struck by slow turning (partially in gear) or nonrotating props. Colin’s demo (putting arms or hands into the rotating propeller of a drive with water ear muffs on it) are very dramatic. It would be interesting to watch propeller strike victims or their surviving family members seeing these videos for the first time.
I am always a bit slow to jump on the new invention bandwagon before we learn more about their potential problems, but the videos mention the safety propeller eliminating many of the major problems cited against conventional propeller guards:
One video said top speeds were only reduced by .3 kilometers per hour in one test ran in fresh water (less than .2 miles per hour).
In addition, the Safety Propeller also appears to escape the other problems sometimes cited by those opposing the use of guards:
We started visiting with the guys in Australia in December 2009 and our confidence in the invention continues to grow. Information is slow to come by due to distance and them being involved in many fronts there, but everything we hear from there and others continues to sound very promising. Additionally, interest is growing on many fronts (recreational boating, military, protecting marine life, government organizations, legal, etc.) as others become aware of the Safety Propeller.
Possible Issues Not Addressed in the Videos
The videos are great, but they are brief and do not specifically say the Safety Propeller avoids each and every problem ever cited against propeller guards. We suspect some problems/issues will surface as no designs are totally perfect for all applications. The Safety Propeller may actually solve all the current issues, but create a few of its own. Once it limitations are identified, time will tell if they will push the invention into some segments/niches or allow broad application of this technology.
Among issues that MIGHT be raised or were not adressed in the brief videos are:
We are certainly not saying the safety propeller has ANY of the issues above. But just as conventional propellers have their limits (maximum rotational speeds, minimum blade thickness, durability, etc.), we suspect the safety propeller will have some limits of its own.
Applications in Which the Safety Propeller Might Excel
The Safety Propeller will probably have specific niches in which its benefits and any associated drawbacks are more applicable to than in others. Some potential applications that look especially interesting to us include:
Colin Chamberlain came across great in the videos. We look forward to visiting with him about his invention in the future.
It was interesting that all three judges in the original episode (episode 41) had some personal experiences and concerns for propeller safety. With many larger Australian cities bordering the ocean AND the country being more “into” outdoor experiences than the U.S., the average Australian has probably spent a lot more time on the water than the average U.S. citizen.
We wish Colin Chamberlain and his Safety Propeller well. We are currently trying to widen the exposure of his invention by calling it to the attention of others in the propeller safety segment and to the boating industry worldwide.
If the Safety Propeller turns out to be very successful in preventing injuries, safety advocates may promote regulations requiring its use in certain area, applications, etc.
In the U.S., the boating industry has strongly rejected propeller safety regulations requiring the use of a device only available from one source.
We have shown there are ways around this objection. If the single source for a safety device is jacking the prices up to hold the market at ransom, the U.S. government can actually step in and require the single source to make the safety products available at a reasonable cost, or to license it to other manufacturers.
If Mr. Chamberlain is hoping regulations will be requiring the use of his device, he might want to keep that in mind while he picks his path to the market.
Intellectual Property Issues
The invention is protected by a patent, WO/2008/040049, that has been filed in a large number of countries. The costs associated with filing in many countries leads us to believe those behind the invention felt it held great promise. The patent has 18 claims (4 of them being independent claims). One of the independent claims primarily cites drawings in the patent. We only see one patent at this time. Significant advances are often protected by an array of patents, there may be more patents still in the system.
We also checked the Australian patent database and noticed the Safety Propeller patent (same as the WO patent), 2006233263, and an earlier provisional patent application 2006905421 that seems to have lapsed and been rolled into the more recent patent. The more recent patent cites it as a provisional.
We notice his patent’s first independent claim requires the safety member (rounded edge) to be over at least 50 percent of the leading edge of each blade. We have seen some other propeller patents with percentages in them where competitors tried to edge right up to them (like MerCruiser Bravo Three edged up the Volvo Penta Duo Prop patent). Volvo Penta originally claimed a span of certain ratios and percentages of specific characteristics between the rear and front propeller. MerCruiser Bravo 3 launched right up to that barrier, but staying on their side. Volvo Penta claimed an error was made in the patent application and the patent was reissued with broader ratios and additional claims. The reissue covered the area in which the MerCruiser Bravo Three operated resulting in a costly Intervening Rights patent fight. I did some research for that case as it unfolded and later published a brief summary of the legal issues. We mention that case here as an example of how percentages can sometimes create issues in propeller patents.
We quickly viewed some of the patents the examiner cited as reference materials, and interestingly found U.S. 4,251,189 for a somewhat similar application to fan blades issued back in 1981.
A quick read of the Safety Propeller patent does not make it clear if the Environmental Safety Propeller performs its safety function when the propeller is in reverse, of if some version of it that does is covered by the patent. Protection in reverse is very important to houseboat applications, and also to water skiing, tubing, and wake boarding where the boat is sometimes being backed up with people in the water or people entering the water. We were informed by the inventor’s liaison the invention DOES provide safety protection in reverse. The fact that it does, may or may not be covered in the patent.
If the patent’s claims describe the device in a configuration that also provides safety protection in reverse, the claims would prevent others from providing protection in reverse using that same method whether the patent mentioned reverse of not.
A few news items, mentioned Mr. Chamberlain having another invention several years earlier. We found two other Australian provisional patent applications in his name, one has lapsed (Extension leg for ladders or trestles), and one was withdrawn (improvements in insulated coolers) so he appears to have some experience working with inventions in the past.
In summary, the Safety Propeller patent,is being registered in many countries around the world. Patents are only as good as their claims, but with the invention working (not just a sketch), and the amount of money being put behind intellectual property protection, we suspect they feel good about their level of protection. It will take more time for a broad array of applications for the propeller to develop and to see if they all fall within those claims. Plus we would not be surprised to find they have additional patent applications in the system to cover additional improvements as they develop. Inventions of this nature and scope, are often protected by a portfolio of patents covering various improvements and to paint their protection as broad as possible.
Potential Paths to Market
There are some basic alternatives when selecting a path to market for the Safety Propeller. Among them are:
Several years ago we created a Commercialization Path Chart for new marine drives developed by independent inventors. That chart is very applicable to the Safety Propeller as well.
We do have a few suggestions on how NOT to go to market. RingProp failed in our opinion because they focused more on trying to raise money (bring in investors) than on developing and deploying their technology. Those efforts need to be balanced. New technologies need money to grow, but they also need to be further developing themselves at the same time, not just hiring more fundraisers and putting out more press releases. Sometime ago we posted a page covering RingProps history of trying to develop a product for similar applications. Much can be learned from their struggles. Be careful not to let
history repeat itself, again.
Pages 15-22 of our Drive Development paper talk about the importance of staying balanced in six areas while developing new inventions and how to achieve that balance. This project might benefit from reviewing them.
The patent talks about how the safety strips might be attached to the blades or formed integrally with the propeller.
They mention their example was formed by attaching strips of wire to a groove in the leading edge of the blades. They say the strips could be made of composites (Kevlar was mentioned) or other materials.
That brings to mind VEEM Propeller’s Interceptor technology. They attach strips to grooves cut in the trailing blade edges to slightly alter propeller pitch of larger propellers. Divers can slide out one strip and slide in another to alter pitch in a short period of time without having to change propellers. VEEM attaches their color coded strips to grooves cut in the trailing edge of their props (vs. leading edge for Safety Prop). With VEEM Propellers being a Western Australia company they might be a good place for the inventor to learn some more about these methods (attaching composites to prop grooves) and a possible partner later on.
Reasonable Expectations in Licensing the Safety Propeller
If Colin Chamberlain elects to license the Safety Propeller, and we suspect he will, the question becomes, what is a reasonable license?
The first question from the other side of the table is, “Is the invention solidly protected by intellectual property (patents) belonging to the inventor?” Intellectual Property issues are briefly discussed in the Intellectual Property section
Hopefully Mr. Chamberlain’s current any any other patents in progress will provide sound intellectual property protection for his invention. That may well be helped by IP Australia being on his team as a result of him winning the invention contest.
If companies learn about the safety propeller and want to manufacture it, they will first determine if they have direct access to the technology (if they can just copy it). If his intellectual property holds up, they will begin to negotiate a license. Companies always want an exclusive license (they want to be the only ones that can make it) and inventors always want to sign non-exclusive licenses (so they can license it to other companies as well). That is always part of the deal. Sometimes licenses are written for certain markets (like geographical regions or certain applications or certain sizes of propellers, or propellers fitting drives manufactured by certain drive manufacturers).
Many mechanical devices are often licensed at something between 4 and 7 percent of sales. Others sometimes suggest targeting something near 25 percent of the profits derived from sales of the device. Propeller manufacturers will argue that basic propellers have long been in the public domain and this is just a slight improvement. They will say his features only add a few percent of value to the propeller so the 4 to 7 percent license should only apply to that few percent of the sales price of the propeller.
Mr. Chamberlain’s legal crew will argue the Safety Propeller replaces a propeller AND a propeller guard so it should be licensed at 4 to 7 percent of the full cost of the propeller PLUS 4 to 7 percent of the price of a guard. That is 4 to 7 percent of a lot of money.
With the propeller manufacturer saying the 4 to 7 percent only applies to a small percentage of the sales price of the propeller, and Mr. Chamberlain’s crew claiming it applies to not only the full price of the propeller but also to the full cost of the guard that would have been required to protect that propeller, the two sides are quite a ways apart.
It will take some time for the two sides to come together at a reasonable rate somewhere between those two extremes. Sometimes this is accomplished by inserting bonuses if sales reach certain targets by specific dates, along with a signing bonus.
One problem for the manufacturer will be creating an awareness of this radically new product. The Safety Propeller may get a little buzz off winning the Invention Contest, but we have seen little mention of it in the U.S. beyond our coverage. The little buzz that does exist will wear off before it hits the market. It will take a considerable advertising and marketing blitz to raise awareness and need for this new product. That blitz will cost money in addition to money spent in tooling for the product in hundreds of sizes and variations. The manufacturer might be able to get some media exposure from marine safety organizations (Coast Guards and Boating Safety Groups around the world).
Another problem prevalent in the boating industry (and other industries) is intellectual piracy. Some companies (often in China) produce look alike parts and packaging that are very difficult to tell from the licensed product. This cuts into sales by the manufacturer (and into license fees paid to Mr. Chamberlain) AND results in legal fees from trying to shut down the pirates. This issue has been covered several times over the last few years in Boating Industry magazine.
Manufacturing and sales will in part be determined by how friendly the industry is to the invention. If drive manufacturers say its use will void their warranty (as they have with some guards in the past), sales will be a problem, which will drive down reasonable licensing expectations. One would hope they would not oppose it, or if they do, government agencies would force them to withdraw their ban.
Lastly, its always nice when you can keep your product near home. It would be nice if this product were able to be developed and primarily manufactured in Australia. That provides jobs and recognition for the Australian efforts behind it. Those behind some of the services being offered (ABC TV Australia, IP Australia, Austrade and CISRO) will probably be trying to encourage local production as well. There are certainly several propeller manufacturers there, but not many with the worldwide distribution of some of the larger recreational boat propeller manufacturers.
The Safety Propeller might begin its life there and then spread around the world as the problems that always popup in manufacture, distribution, service, and marketing of a new product begin to be solved. Worldwide launches are just not practical.
How Big is the Recreational Boat Propeller Market?
We have addressed this question a few times in the past. The answer is nobody is quite sure. Major manufacturers produce OEM propellers for use on their new marine drives and for resale. Hundreds of companies produce “will fit” propellers around the world.
Many boaters carry one or more spare propellers on board, have one of more they have purchased that was the wrong size back home, and a few more tossed here and there, maybe a couple dinged up ones they hope to have repaired some day, plus some boats have more than one drive AND some drives have more than one propeller. That all adds up to an awful lot of propellers in use.
RingProp (a ringed propeller that originated from Australia many years ago and went bankrupt a few years back) once claimed 5 million propellers were being sold worldwide each year. However they provided no documentation as to how they arrived at that number, and did not state if that included commercial or military vessels or not. As for us, we suspect the RingProp estimate was considerably high.
We put together a webpage titled the Outboard Propeller Information Center a few years back that provides data from some of our propeller market studies.
As part of those studies we conducted an online poll of the anticipated useful life of aluminum and stainless steel propellers by horsepower AND created a large chart showing the Life Cycle of a Boat Propeller. The poll results and chart are in our Average Propeller Life section.
We have made some annual propeller sales guesses in the past based on boat populations, drive sizes, percentage of twins and triples, prop replacement rates, use of aluminum or stainless steel propellers (ties to failure/repair rates), some limited production and market share data from the major players, and other variables. But thats just it, they were guesses. Whatever that number is, its big. We hope the Safety Propeller is able to capture at least some share of that big number. Time will tell…
Media Coverage of the Safety Propeller
We announced his win of the initial go around in the ABC Australia TV New Inventors show in an online group operated by Boating Writers International (I am a member) and encouraged other boating writers to do a follow up story. We similarly announced the invention winning the overal Invention of the Year there and again encouraged boating writers to do a follow up story. Many of their publications take a few months to get to press, so it could be quite a while before we know of our success in encouraging them to cover the invention (plus some of their advertisers might not want to advertise in publications calling attention to propeller injuries). Some larger boating publications maintain web sites, and issue online news updates. We may see some quicker action there as one of them has expressed an interest in the invention. Meanwhile, we are logging media coverage of the invention below.