RICHLAND -- A 64-year-old Richland woman whose idea for a foot-and-toes dryer has received a U.S. patent with hopes the device will help diabetics.
Guadalupe Olvera announced this week that a yearslong effort to obtain the patent was possible because of help and encouragement from teachers at Pasco's Columbia Basin College, close friends and her faith in God.
Olvera said the idea came to her in 2003.
"I got out of the shower and saw the floor vent. I thought I could put my toes right there. It felt so nice, and warm," Olvera said.
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That is when it occurred to her: "Oh, my God. The Lord Jesus just gave me an idea."
That idea would take shape as a square box, about 5 inches tall and slightly larger than a floor scale. Inside it would be a heater with a blower motor to circulate warm air through dozens of small holes to foot pads. The pads are perforated and molded to fit the user's foot size and shape of the toes.
The simple, yet effective design has toe separators that spread the toes slightly for air circulation.
Olvera believed she had a winner of an idea and wanted to apply for a patent, but she was reluctant to tell anyone. She kept the inspired idea secret for five years.
"I couldn't trust nobody," said Olvera, a grandmother with seven children.
In 2008, Olvera cautiously mentioned her foot dryer idea to a friend who advised her to speak with Gene Holand, associate professor at Columbia Basin College's Center for Innovation and Design.
"When she came to us, my father-in-law was diabetic and drying his feet was a real challenge," said Holand, who put his marketing innovations class on the project.
It wasn't long before Olvera was working with Bruce Davis, a small business developer, and Troy Butler, a designer.
Olvera had already confided with another small business innovator and inventor, Richard Bogert of Bogert Companies in Pasco, who counseled and encouraged her.
"It was like it was meant to be. I couldn't believe it," she said.
Before the year was out, Olvera, with her daughter Juanita Grimal-do, hired patent attorney Bob Shaver of Boise to pursue a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office in Washington, D.C.
The idea for a foot dryer was not an easy sell to the patent examiner, Shaver said.
"We had several rejections, but we finally convinced him," he said.
Throughout the 30-month process, which cost Olvera several thousand dollars in legal expenses, she insisted her idea was worth the effort.
"She is more inspired by the need she sees than anything else," Shaver said. "It is inspirational to watch her and I wish her the best of luck."
Bogert, who spent decades building his own home-based business into a successful manufacturing enterprise with two dozen employees, said Olvera's commitment to the project is admirable.
"She's a hardworking gal. In fact, the whole family is," he said.
Olvera said that seeing her father-in-law suffer with diabetes and having been around other diabetics convinced her the need for a toes dryer was real.
"They have trouble keeping their feet dry and they get sores between their toes, and can lose them. I know this would be beneficial for them. A lot of people around the world are going to need this," she said.
Olvera has lived in the Tri-Cities for 60 years. Born in Texas, she moved as a child with her parents to Eastern Washington to seek work in agricultural fields.
Bogert said that for Olvera, winning a U.S. patent means her idea is licensable now, but if she intends to produce the foot dryers, the real work still is ahead.
"Many people dream their whole lives of (getting their idea patented), and never do it. This is no little achievement," Bogert said.
Getting the patent certificate Nov. 29 was a dream come true for Olvera and her daughter, Grimaldo. Together, they spent many nights on their home computer researching U.S. patents to see how Olvera's idea would qualify for a patent.
"I wanted to give up," Grimaldo said.
Olvera also wearied. "But after a few days, she'd be back at it," Grimaldo noted.
Throughout the 2 1/2 years, Olvera managed to keep the secret from people she hadn't purposely involved, even family members and her siblings who were outside the home.
"A lot of people will be surprised when they hear this. I have tried so hard to come so far," Olvera said, especially her brothers.
Olvera now wants to see her idea built and sold.
Holand said the next step is to develop a series of prototypes.
"We have to jump into the implementation," he said.
That may mean contacting potential manufacturers of the components needed to build the device, which will mean more investment of time and money.
Olvera, fresh from winning a patent, has renewed enthusiasm.
"When people with diabetes are using it as a health benefit device, then I will know I have been successful," she said.