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His friends say he is crazy while a UK newspaper called him unbelievably intelligent. He could be both or neither after turning down $1.2million (Sh98million) for an invention cobbled together in his bedroom.
Curious why someone could refuse such a big sum, I set out to meet Erik kariuki, a 31-year-old Kenyan inventor based in Bedfordshire, UK. Erik Kariuki came up with the idea of an underwater housing pets on a visit to an extraordinary restaurant in Dubai.In the comfort of his bedroom, Kariuki combined a hamster cage with a fish tank to make an underwater housing for pets. The affable Kariuki says he came up with the idea after visiting Dubai three years ago and experienced an aquatic life in one of the hotels where a restaurant is built under water.
At the restaurant, diners munched fish fingers as real fish swam on with little care. There was also a beautiful giant aquarium with a tunnel running through it. Visitors walked through to view the many species of fish. The peaceful co-existence between human and nature as well as the tranquility in that tunnel made him start thinking about what he could do for his hamster pet back home.
“I immediately remembered how bored my small rodent pet was just having a wheel and other traditional toys to play with. I imagined how enriched its life would be if it experienced the same euphoric feeling I was having when walking through that underwater tunnel.”
Kariuki’s dwarf hamster, a species from arid habitats, would be fascinated to interact with species from wet habitats such as fish.
Back to his flat in the UK, Kariuki started putting his Dubai experience into action; by finding ways to make something viable for pet lovers. He came up with a cage/tank contraption designed so that a pet could enjoy a wet-free aquatic view of fish, just like the diners he saw in Dubai.
He made sketches over and over again until he came up with a near perfect design that he presented to a professional product design and developing company in America. The American company made Kariuki’s dream a reality after fine-tuning the idea into an irresistible magnificent prototype.
It is through this American product developer and hundreds of mailshots of the invention for hamsters which Kariuki sent out that potential investors approached him.
One morning, as he prepared to go to work, he received a call and the man on the other end of the line wanted to clinch a quick deal with Kariuki over his invention.
The problem was that the man, who said he presented a big pet accessories company in America, wanted to buy off the invention from Kariuki for Sh98 million but the inventor’s role in the invention would be over as soon as the deal was sealed. Confused and surprised by the huge offer as well as the requirement that he sells off his idea, Kariuki hesitantly but firmly said no to the caller.
As it normally happens, he regretted his quick decision. Perhaps he should have thought over it and consulted experts for advice before giving an answer. But the more he thought about it, the more he felt his decision was prudent. The American company would have paid for the investment over a period of four years at $300,000 (Sh24 million) per year, and this was not a bad idea for a young man struggling to meet ends in a foreign country.
One of Kariuki’s associates, a director with a social media company, with fast experience in intellectual property dealings informed him that that kind of deal was typical; where the buyer of a patent or concept does not pay everything at a go, but does so yearly depending on the performance of the product in the marketplace.
Kariuki was vindicated when the local newspaper, Bedfordshire on Sunday, published the story and the product design company that helped him with the design called to tell him that he made the right decision to reject the offer. They were concerned that Kariuki was being led down the garden path like so many other inventors before him.
To protect his invention, the company advised Kariuki to patent the product and in June last year, he launched an application for the UK patent under the Rodents Arkwatic, or RodArk. He is also focusing on getting a US patent as well since pet products have a large market in America.
Since news of the invention broke, Kariuki’s Twitter page has gathered many followers who are predominantly in the pet industry from vets to pet insurance firms and even web marketers as well as pet product suppliers. “It is a unique product and I believe, in a short time, we will be entering the market,” says a confident Kariuki.
With the patent in hand, Kariuki has already, opened negotiations with two Italian manufacturers of pet accessories but he says royalty payment figures are yet to be discussed. “I am not too keen on being bought off. I am insisting on a royalty payment agreement that would be ideal for both parties. That way, on successful performance of the product, we shall both benefit with me taking a smaller percentage of the profits.”
He says he wants a partner who can work with him to develop and market his first invention as a finished product so that he could reap full benefits from his idea, instead of selling it off lump sum. With or without any partners, Kariuki says, he hopes to see his invention hit the shelves in the UK later this year. And that this is the first of the many inventions he is set to create.
– This article first appeared on Standard Media