Watching children on her school‘s playground a decade ago piqued Patricia Derrick‘s curiosity and with it she learned the power of the fingertips.
Now Patricia Derrick said she hopes to make a difference in helping those with memory loss, those with learning difficulties, those who‘ve suffered strokes or post-traumatic stress syndrome with a breakthrough device in which finger tracing stimulates the brain.
Nine years after filing for a patent for the neurological device, Derrick still awaits word from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on the specific patent she seeks. While that‘s pending, Derrick has forged ahead with her business called Brainpaths and is striking deals to sell her products nationally.
Derrick, the founder of the SpringStone Montessori School, showcased the plastic hand-held device with raised lines and grooves earlier this month at an international licensing tradeshow in Las Vegas. She has just started selling the products, which can also be bought on Amazon without a prescription for less than $40, through a national retail outlet that specializes in products for those with Alzheimer‘s.
It‘s an exciting time for 68-year-old Derrick who conceived the idea in 2005 while watching children run their fingertips through the grooves of the playground equipment at her school. Derrick wanted to know why, and that led her to follow the research at Johns Hopkins University of how fingertips are superhighways to the brain with 3,000 mechanoreceptors.
The blind trace Braille using their fingers, but Derrick said she doesn‘t understand why someone hadn‘t thought to design textures in a device which users trace the surface to stimulate the somatosensory cortex of the brain. Not only can it stimulate the brain but serves as an exercise in fine motor skills for the hands and fingers, she says.
"I could tell there was a reason why those children wanted to constantly trace those textures," Derrick said. "Unless you were blind, there was no way to incorporate that in your life and improve your brain and stimulate your brain."
Norman Thomas, a neurosurgeon and medical researcher of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said finger tracing appears to be a technique for growth and development of the brain. That’s true for older patients who are losing their sensibilities and motor skills, and it could help them remain in contact with reality. The technique not only helps with short-term memory but long-term memory as well, he said.
The technique can also benefit children with learning disabilities and those going through post-traumatic stress disorder, said Thomas who has endorsed the concept.
Derrick‘s device debuted this month with Best Alzheimer‘s Products, a retailer that says nonmedical therapy items to memory care centers, hospitals, and other facilities.
People who have dementia and play games and use other devices that improve cognition and memory slow down the process of the disease, said Best Alzheimer‘s Products owner John Schmid. Dementia and Alzheimer‘s aren’t curable, but that doesn’t mean someone‘s quality of life can‘t be improved, he said.
’I’m giving a talk later this year in Michigan to the Alzheimer‘s Association about the benefits of sensory stimulation and dementia, and what Patricia is doing fits right in there because it’s such a unique product and based on some interesting research," Schmid said. "I do think there’s potential for this."
The one remaining obstacle for Derrick to push forward and mass produce her product is obtaining a patent she desires from the federal government.
Derrick said the patent office has offered patents three times, but she’s turned them down because they had flaws in them.
One patent offered tried to describe her device as closed-loop maze, but Derrick said she wants it viewed as a fingertip device that stimulates and rewires the brain.
"I don‘t want to end up in court because I was stupid with the patent," Derrick said. "I want to get it all right before I get out there. If anybody think it‘s easy to get a patent, they‘re wrong. It‘s been a frustrating and difficult experience. There‘s nothing like it out there, but they are comparing it to a little puzzle. They would prefer that I didn’t own it. They want to let anybody use it who wants to do it."
While Derrick remains optimistic she will get the patent she wants, the patent office said it doesn‘t comment on such cases.
Dariush Adli, president and founder of the Adli Law Group, an international law firm based in the U.S., London, Tokyo and deals with intellectual property and patent litigation, said it’s not difficult as a general rule to get a patent if people know the rules in many cases, but it can take years.
The standard is the invention has to be useful, new and what’s done has to be meaningful, Adli said. The third rule is the most difficult one because patent examiners won‘t approve an idea that’s too abstract or not fully developed or practical. Examiners look for meaningful differences, and if there’s not enough evidence, they want more proof, Adli said.