Invention convention INPEX gathers in Pittsburgh

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Inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, is everything you never knew you always needed.

A beach blanket that won't blow away in the wind. Booties for bed frames to prevent stubbed toes. A baseball cap that allows sports fans to alternate team logos -- depending on the season -- to save money and storage space. Converted sunglasses that make it easier to apply eye drops. A device that allows women to urinate standing up.

"There's a lot of 'why didn't I think of that?' " type products, said Robert Susa, president of InventHelp, a company founded in 1984 and based Downtown.

Invention convention under way Downtown

Inventors convening at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center show off their innovations and inspirations, from doll safes to zip-tie tire chains. (Video by Kelly Tunney; 6/19/2013)

This is INPEX. The invention and new product exposition, now in its 28th year, started Wednesday and continues through Friday, with hundreds of inventors showing off their gadgets and devices, hoping their creations will catch the eye of a representative from companies such as Rubbermaid or Kraft and be licensed, manufactured and then sold.

That, for these modern-day Ben Franklins and Thomas Edisons, is the dream, but it can be an elusive one, with only a few inventors securing a significant licensing deal each year.

"I call it 'American Idol' for inventors," Mr. Susa said.

But American Idol has never produced anything like Venus.

That's what Vincent Valenti of Brooklyn calls his invention, a device that allows women to urinate standing up, maintaining the distance from dirty public toilets that men have enjoyed forever. It's a cardboard funnel, lined with wax, that women can place near their bodies when needed, then discard.

His wife, a nurse Mr. Valenti described as a germaphobe, gave him the idea, when she described to him the hygiene conditions she encountered in public restrooms.

"She was tired of it," he said.

Hence, his invention, a product he said is currently in a few stores near his New York home and soon, he hopes, in stores around the country.

"It's really absolutely a need, a necessity," he said.

Indeed, it only requires listening to a few pitches from inventors at the conference to realize that the oft-repeated saying is true: that necessity really is the mother of invention, and that most of the inventions came about because a person had a problem they needed to be solved.

Martha Johnson, a grandmother who lives in Meridian, Miss., had such a problem. Eleven years ago, she would look in her rearview mirror and see her granddaughter, Gracey, sleeping with her neck bent at a sharp angle over the side of her car seat.

"It drove me nuts. I said, there's got to be a way to keep their heads up after they go to sleep," she said Wednesday.

She mulled over it for more than a decade, eventually using the neck of a bending lamp and foam cushioning to create a prototype of a supportive device she calls "A Helping Hand." The device can be attached to a car seat or a chair and will comfortably support the head of a person who has fallen asleep.

If Ms. Johnson has focused on adding a helping hand, another inventor, Toby Hollander of Boston, has focused on making devices that are hands free, such as a keychain-type device that can attach to water bottles, so a person can clip the bottle onto a bag or purse or backpack.

Asked how she came up with her invention, Ms. Hollander, an engineer, has a quick answer.

"Four children, two hands."

The convention is open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. Friday, with an admission cost of $10 at the door.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: First Published June 19, 2013 8:15 PM


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