Lighting the Way

Partners license their innovations for use in illuminated tackle boxes

In the past six years, Todd Baker and Penny Brooks estimate that they have spent more than $400,000 of their own money trying to get their inventions to market.

Baker and Brooks, local business partners, own Brooks & Baker LLC, formerly Baker Innovations LLC, a company in Pfafftown that develops and patents products.

"It's not cheap," said Baker, who has been inventing things since 1989. "I'll be the first to say to anybody if they wanted to do this: Make sure you have your finances together."

When Baker and Brooks were last profiled in the Winston-Salem Journal in 1998, Baker had had a U.S. design patent on products called the Night-Ranger lighted fishing-tackle and tool boxes since 1992, and had just applied for a utility patent - a patent on function - which he received in 2001.

The company now has 15 additional utility patents to cover every lighted box in the growing Night-Ranger product line, including a lighted first-aid chest, a lighted utility box and a lighted ammo box.

The company's original fishing-tackle box and lighted tool box design used four C-cell batteries, which powered a 15-inch fluorescent tube housed in the box lid, but Baker and Brooks have since changed to a high-powered, long-lasting lighting unit manufactured by Nexlights, based in Corona, Calif.

"They were very expensive, plus they were very fragile," Baker said of the fluorescent lights.

In April, Brooks & Baker signed an exclusive international-licensing agreement with Flambeau Inc., a manufacturer based in Middlefield, Ohio. Flambeau's brands include ArtBin arts and craft storage, Duncan Yo-Yo, Flambeau Outdoors waterfowl and hunting accessories and Flambeau Hardware toolboxes and mailboxes.

Jeff Bush, the senior vice president of Flambeau's retail-markets group, said that Flambeau is licensing Brooks & Baker's lighting system in the tackle category. The product, which will be called Night-Ranger by Flambeau, is a new product line for Flambeau. It will use a Flambeau tackle box that was modified to accept the Night-Ranger lighting system.

"We're one of the biggest brands in tackle, so we're licensing their lighted technology to bring the lighted tackle box to the market," Bush said.

In addition, Flambeau's box, which is made of molded translucent plastic , is designed to be used as a lantern for night, ice and pier fishing and for camping.

Flambeau plans to introduce the product at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, a trade expo, in Las Vegas in July and hopes to have the product in stores in October.

Full details of the transaction were not disclosed, but Baker said that Brooks & Baker will receive a royalty on each box sold.

Penny Brooks said she and her partner decided in 2001 to stop trying to do everything themselves, including manufacturing their products, and looked for a company that already made boxes because it was going to be extremely expensive to make their own.

She said that Bob Hammill, the coordinator of new-product development for Flambeau, was instrumental in getting them the deal with Flambeau.

"When he sees a new product, he is the one who says, 'Yes, we're going to go with it', or 'No, we're not going to go with it.'"

Baker said that they contacted Hammill in the spring of 2002, but it took two years to negotiate the deal.

Baker said they originally hoped that Flambeau would be interested in their Night-Ranger lighted fishing-tackle box, but the company wanted a different light and didn't want to spend the money required for the tools to make the boxes.

"So we both came up with an idea that why don't we just modify their existing boxes," Baker said.

Last November, Baker and Brooks designed an LED-lighting system to replace the fluorescent light.

Baker said that their design is waterproof, has an adjustable-angle beam, a long-life bulb (10 years) and runs on three AAA batteries.

The business partners don't plan to sit around waiting on their royalty checks. They are developing an electronic-commerce Web site where they plan to sell the Night-Ranger by Flambeau product as well as their own Night-Ranger clothing line and other Night-Ranger products.

They have also lined up a distributor to sell the Flambeau product and are looking for other distributors.

Flambeau will do its own advertising, but Brooks and Baker plan their own national campaign to tie in with the introduction of the product at the Las Vegas trade expo next month.

Baker said they are now in discussions with Flambeau about a lighting system for a first-aid chest and have given the company the opportunity to work with them on other products.

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