“Necessity is the mother of invention” is my life lesson quote. I discovered during my residency in Plastic Surgery that I had a gift for invention. It didn’t realize it until one morning in my pre awake state, within moments of visualizing a problem, the solution popped into my head and I was off and running to actualize it. In this manner I invented the Taub Oral Panendoscope for direct observation of the speech mechanism in children with cleft palates. Until then the only means of visualizing soft palate closure was by means of lateral cineradiography which exposed children to excessive x-ray radiation and provided only shadowy sketchy movements of the soft palate. I Immediately got the idea to use an endoscope with a distal light source and a superior optical lens system that could be inserted orally while the patient made vowel sounds around it.
As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Stanley Taub.
A modern day “Renaissance Man”, Dr. Stanley Taub is an 89-year-old dynamo retired plastic surgeon, prolific inventor, musician, painter, sculptor, artist and then some. Beginning in 1963, in addition to his plastic surgery practice, Dr. Taub began his career as a sculptural artist. From busts, models, and full figural sculptures, Dr. Taub’s pieces have earned multiple prizes and accolades. Dr. Taub’s work remains on display, and he continues to give private viewings and occasional gallery showings.
In addition to being a sculptor and skilled artist, Dr. Taub is a prolific inventor. He learned that the tacky material he used to hold surgical instruments in place during surgery also did a great job of removing smudges from glass. And that is how the iRoller® was born! The iRoller® is a compact and portable liquid free, reusable touch screen cleaner for digital display devices such as smart phones, e-readers, Kindles, iPads, iPods and GPS/car dashboard screens.
Dr. Taub is the founder of SKT Productions, which develops the iRoller® and Mini iRoller®. SKT Productions offers a wide range of rolling products for the cleaning and maintenance of smartphones, digital display screens, analog vinyl records, eyeglasses and film negatives. These cleaners are sanitizing, reusable, liquid free, eco-friendly and economical.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in the Bronx NY. My father was a pathologist with many creative skills. Throughout his life and well into his medical profession he was fascinated by magic and wrote as well as illustrated several books on card sleights. In one called The Doc and His Deck, now a collector’s item, he recorded for posterity machinations and manipulations that made him one of the world’s leading authorities on the fine art of card work. He was also a talented play by ear pianist, a photographer with a dark room to develop his photos and a chess enthusiast and chess set collector. It was in that kind of creative environment that I grew up. When I was in my teens my father and I built a Model Railroad, HO gauge, in our basement. It was my favorite pastime as a kid and I was good at trouble shooting, if things went wrong. At age 10, I had a Crystal radio set which I tinkered with to the extent I could hear the 1941 broadcast of the Joe Louis and Billy Conn fight. I loved to solder and built a Hi Fi set from a Heath Kit. I studied Classical Piano and was accepted into the high school of Music and Art where in addition to taking regular classes I learned to play the violin well enough to play in the high school symphony orchestra. However, the piano was my main instrument and my hero was Vladimir Horowitz, the greatest pianist of the 20th century
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Necessity is the mother of invention” is my life lesson quote. I discovered during my residency in Plastic Surgery that I had a gift for invention. It didn’t realize it until one morning in my pre awake state, within moments of visualizing a problem, the solution popped into my head and I was off and running to actualize it. In this manner I invented the Taub Oral Panendoscope for direct observation of the speech mechanism in children with cleft palates. Until then the only means of visualizing soft palate closure was by means of lateral cineradiography which exposed children to excessive x-ray radiation and provided only shadowy sketchy movements of the soft palate. I Immediately got the idea to use an endoscope with a distal light source and a superior optical lens system that could be inserted orally while the patient made vowel sounds around it. The entire mechanism of velopharyngeal closure could be seen in color, in fine detail and recorded on film. Using this device Ralph Millard, a famous plastic surgeon who wrote the tome on Cleft Palate Repair said, “It was like looking at the other side of the moon”. In 1968 The Taub Oral Panendoscope became the instrument of choice in Cleft Palate diagnostics and a visual method of planning corrective surgeries. These early morning epiphanies I experienced were the source of many solutions to complex medical problems such as restoring immediate speech to laryngectomees by developing a prosthetic air bypass mechanism called Voice Back.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The movie “Back to the future”, kind of epitomized me as the zany inventor who did the impossible where others never dreamed to go.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
My product is the iRoller, a liquid free reusable touch screen cleaner that cleans digital touch screen devices by removing finger smudges, dust and loose debris, including particles as small as bacteria, as proven by the commercial laboratory Bureau Veritas. The catalyst that inspired me was the silicone breast implant. I noticed that the silicone shell was a dust attractor with a high static charge on its surface that attracted dust to it. I soon discovered that silicone sheets 1/16” in thickness had the same dust attraction qualities. I was into classical music and had a large collection of records and got the idea that I could use a small rectangular piece of silicone sheeting to pick up dust from my records. I patented a small device that would sit in front of a record pickup cartridge that would remove the dust before the needle got to it. I sold it to the disc washer company and they kept it off the market because it was too competitive with their disc washer brush and liquid cleaner. That didn’t stop me. I discovered that silicone sheeting could be vulcanized with a permanently tacky surface on one side that could hold surgical instruments in place and keep them from sliding off sloping surfaces on patients during surgery. I called he product Insta-hold. I invented it in 1982 and it still is in demand today. It is sterilizable and reusable. This then led to me improving my record cleaner by using an inexpensive thermoplastic tacky rubber on a roller mounted on a handle that could be easily rolled over a vinyl record surface and instantly remove dust and greasy fingerprints. This worked beautifully and I sold it to Music Direct where it was promoted as a revolutionary record cleaner and also sold on Amazon. Then one morning I awoke in an ah aha! moment thinking that such a device could be made smaller to clean touch screens on cell phones to clean off finger smudges which were always accumulating great sources of bacterial contamination. And thus the iRoller was born.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
As soon as I had the idea for a product, I made a prototype of it, I made drawings and sent it off to a patent attorney to protect the idea. To refine the prototype I sent it off to a model maker whose job was to take an idea and prototype and turn it into an attractive and sellable device, Once that was done I would look for a manufacturer to produce it. Once I had samples I was happy with, I would shop it around to different distributors and more often than not I found one. Eventually I got the idea to form my own company and sell it on Amazon or to a specialty retailer like the Grommet.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
My best advice is to seek out a patent attorney to do a patent search to see if it has been invented before.
Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?
My first invention was the Taub Oral Panendoscope. I consulted with another inventor, a Gynecologist who had developed an endoscope that could be inserted into the female abdomen through a tiny incision to visualize the uterus and ovaries. His name was Martin Clyman. He inspired me to contact the National Electric company, a division of Englehard Hanovia, to ask them to make my device. They were convinced of its potential value and they agreed at no cost to myself to manufacture it, but I would have to repay them with the profits of any sales until I sold 95 instruments, after which they would pay me a 5% royalty. In 1966 I presented my panendoscope to the national meeting of the American Cleft Palate Association and showed a film I made through the panendoscope using split screen photography with direct views of the actual palate in motion and in color on one side and on the other side simultaneously black and white cineradiography views of the palate with its shadowy nondescript movements. All hell broke loose. I was mobbed at the end of my presentation. Soon 95 Taub oral panendoscopes were sold after which I started collecting royalties.
For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
As soon as I had the idea for a product I made a prototype of it. I made drawings and sent it off to a patent attorney to protect the idea. To refine the prototype I sent it off to a model maker whose job was to take your idea and prototype and turn it into an attractive and sellable device. Once that was done, through online sources I would approach Chinese manufacturers that had perfected the development of tacky rollers in order to manufacture the iRoller and In The Groove, the record cleaner, and after product development and packaging was complete, I showed samples to retailers selling similar products and they often took then on.
Eventually I got the idea to form my own company, and sell my inventions on Amazon and to wholesalers and retailers. Amazon and the Grommet were my main source of sales since they sold to massive audiences. Once the inventions were sold on these platforms, I got more offers from different retail stores that wanted to sell the iRoller and from record stores like Music Direct that were interested in selling InThe Groove. After being in business for 5 years and as SKT Productions President, I realized the business needed expert advice to take advantage of different sales opportunities and platforms, from social and technical influencers to the ever mounting intricate workings of Amazon and their advanced advertising platforms, I ultimately hired a business manager who had expertise in these product promotion areas.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I wouldn’t call it a mistake but a funny serendipitous event led to a breakthrough in my invention for an Artificial larynx. I was looking for a sound source that could mimic the sound produced by human vocal cords. At home one evening, my 4 year old son had his toys scattered all over the living room floor. When I came in to greet him I stepped on one that emitted a sound, that was familiar and quite thrilling. It came from a rubber moo cow toy that when squeezed made a human like sound. I picked up my son and kissed him and thanked him for solving my sound source problem. Sure enough I took the Moo cow toy to the lab and saw the wave shape was similar to the one produced by the human voice saying ahh. From that point on I went to the company that made the toy and obtained several reeds that could be incorporated into the prosthesis to create a more natural human sounding voice. The lesson learned was to always be open. Solutions to problems can be found in the least likely places you can imagine. You just have to be open, your creative door has to be open to see it, grasp it and utilize it. It often happens when you least suspect it.
The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
The early stages of any invention involve a process of trial and error. You start off with an idea and build a working prototype and in doing so, to get the correct result the prototype has to be modified and in some cases completely abandoned when you find out it wasn’t necessary to begin with. For example in developing a vocal prosthesis, I spent a lot of time incorporating reeds into the device only to find that 90% of laryngectomees didn’t need reeds. They had the soft tissues of the esophageal area that could vibrate like a reed, when a steam of air passed over it producing a gruff guttural sound that could be articulated into continuous speech. The invention required a surgically created fistula or skin tube from the side of the lower neck Into the esophagus through which air from the tracheostome of laryngectomees was directed by means of a valved air by pass mechanism, that would allow a patient to breathe naturally and speak at will. Speech requires more breath pressure than breathing. The elevated air pressure of speech would automatically close the breathing port flap valve and shunt the air through the fistula into the esophagus where it would cause the esophageal sound produced to be easily articulated into speech by the lips, tongue and teeth of the oral chamber. To my amazement one day, I was fitting the first patient in my office who had recovered from the fistula surgery, with the air by pass device with a reed incorporated in it. It was attached by a tube between his air breathing tracheostome into the air by pass mechanism and from the device into the fistula tube in his neck and esophagus. I asked him to speak and he couldn’t make a sound. I was flabbergasted and shocked to think after all his surgery that my invention was useless. My creative door was open. I suddenly realized the reed was the problem. It was obstructing the flow of air into the esophagus. I took the patient’s device off and inserted a hollow tube into his neck fistula. I told the patient to call his wife in St Louis, and told him in a minute he would speak. Using my own breath, I blew air into his esophagus through the fistula tube while his wife was on the phone and the patient, Cy Grina started speaking in sentences as long as my breath held out, telling is wife, “I can speak honey, I’ll be a sonofabitch, I’m talking. Holy shit, I’m talking and on the Doctor’s breath!!”
I took the air bypass home with me and modified it without the reed so that air could flow into the fistula tube with ease. The next day I refitted Mr. Grina and he spoke easily with air from his lungs. He was completely understandable and talked incessantly. The next day we were off to a laryngectomy convention in Montreal Canada. I was on the program to present Cy as the first patient to ever speak with the air by pass mechanism to 600 laryngectomees. I was introduced by the moderator and started to make my presentation, when all of a sudden Cy Grina grabbed the microphone out of my hands and started to do a song and dance. When he finished the entire audience jumped up and applauded in a standing ovation. We made history. It was like the academy awards. I have been to countless plastic surgery conventions and never experienced anything like this. No presenting surgeon ever received a standing ovation. As I continued giving voice to the voiceless, one of the wives wrote me saying, “You put back what God took away.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I don’t think along those lines because if I did I wouldn’t have developed anything.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
As soon as I had the idea for a product I made a prototype. I made drawings and sent it off to a patent attorney to protect the idea. To refine the prototype I sent it off to a model maker whose job was to take the prototype and turn it into an attractive and sellable device. Once that was done, and through google online I approached manufacturers in China that had the means to manufacture my invention. They had thermoplastic technology to produce tacky rollers inexpensively. I was lucky, I found a Manufacturer in Xiamen China that I have worked with exclusively for the past ten years, and with whom I have had an excellent relationship. They have always been accessible to me by email or phone. There were no such manufacturing opportunities for tacky rollers in the United States.
Giving products a name is important. I googled “free trademark search” to immediately check if the name was available.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I would not hire a consultant because they will require a large fee up front and diminish your self-confidence and ultimately suck the wind out of you. Do it yourself, you only have one person to depend on, that’s you. If you feel the absolute need to hire a consultant be sure they are recommended by a trusted friend or relative who has reliable business ties
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Venture capital is hard to come by. You have to have a smashing product that is already realized and patented.
Shark tank is a source of financing, An easier way is to use Kickstarter on the internet or other money start up sites. These sites require a good presentation of your idea and you have to show how investors can benefit from their donation. If you don’t achieve your financial goal within a limited time, the money will be automatically returned to the investors.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I think I have by inventing a prosthetic larynx for the voiceless, a diagnostic visual tool to benefit cleft palate children, a non-magnetic surgical instrument holding as an aid in the operating room and an iRoller that is environmentally respectful since it is reusable, and liquid free and picks up bacteria thereby sanitizing a touch screen. It is not a disinfectant. It traps bacteria on its tacky surface where bacteria can be washed off and down a drain.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would absolutely inspire a movement to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control by advising all Americans to listen to the advice of scientists, epidemiologists, doctors, and front line workers, to wear masks and socially distance. If all Americans did that for 3 weeks and self-quarantine, this covid virus would be history. Do not listen to weak politicians, and a mindless president unless they follow the science.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Elon Musk and Neuroscientist Eric Kandel
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.