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Inspired by boosted airport security checks, Naples resident turns inventor with time-saving device

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

By LAURA LAYDEN, lllayden@naplesnews.com

On a recent flight, Naples resident Kent Conwell had to get past security five times.

Each time, he had to show his driver license. But, unlike many of the other passengers he didn't have to fumble through his wallet to look for it. He knew exactly where to find it.

Conwell, a frequent flyer, has come up with a new invention that he uses whenever he flies. It's a see-through plastic pocket that attaches to the outside of an airline ticket jacket and holds a driver license. The local resident has filed for a patent, and is working on several other products he hopes will make flying the skies a little more friendly.

Seeing is believing: Kent Conwell displays his invention, a see-through plastic pocket that is attached to the outside of an airline ticket jacket and holds a driver license. Putting the driver license next to the boarding pass makes it quicker to go through security checkpoints at the airport.

Romain Blanquart/Staff

"If you have your driver's license right next to the boarding pass and you hold it in front of you a security guard can quickly scan your name glance at you and your picture and you're done," said 41-year-old Conwell, who has lived in Naples almost 20 years. "Now, you can just fold the ticket put it in your purse or pocket and walk through security boom, boom, boom. Suddenly, you have shortened the time it takes to get someone through security."

Passengers often stick their driver license in a pocket or purse after showing it at the check-in counter at the airport. When they go to find it again at the next security checkpoint they forget where they put it. Lines can start to form behind them as they dig to find it.

Conwell hopes to save people the embarrassment, which he's faced so many times himself.

"I've gotten frustrated enough to think I can just stick this thing to my forehead," he said.

Earlier this year, Conwell formed a corporation called Hanalex to market his security inventions, including the see-through badge. His company is named after his kids daughter Hannah, 7, and son Alex, 12.

The company's Web site can be found at www.hanalex.com.

Before he founded Hanalex, Conwell worked for Naples- based SpectraFAX, which sold a patented system that allowed companies to send a fax to hundreds of customers at a time and was publicly traded with more than 350 shareholders. His father Thomas helped found SpectraFAX and served as the company's CEO. Earlier this year, the company merged with Tricomp Inc., a software company headquartered in Rockford, Ill.

Kent left the company before the merger, and came up with his first invention this spring.

As a salesman for SpectraFAX, he flew often. So it's not much of a stretch for him to be developing products that make flying easier.

Also, he's long had a love for flying. He has a bachelor's degree in aviation technology from Purdue University and a pilot license.

After graduating from college, he hoped to work as a pilot for a major airline. But, his timing couldn't have been much worse.

"When I got out of school the unemployment rate in the coun try was about 15 percent, and the aviation industry was kind of in the dumper. Workers at United Airlines were on strike and they were laying off pilots."

Conwell has worked with the Alluna Group, a Naples-based consulting company, to get his security inventions launched.

The company encouraged him to file a broad patent application, which he hopes will protect him as security continues to evolve at the nation's airports following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Conwell sees airports one day using retinal and fingerprint scans to identify passengers, and he hopes to be involved in the development of those technologies. For now, he's focusing on his most simple invention, the plastic pockets that he has available in sheets of eight or rolls of 100. They can also be printed individually.

Conwell has given out 500 of the pockets to airlines at Southwest Florida International Airport.

"I have given them away to United Airlines up in Fort Myers, and I got extremely positive feedback from ticket agents up there," he said. "They are not giving them out to everybody. I couldn't give them enough to do that, but the people who have them love them and are trying to keep them.

They want to use them on other flights."

John Dahl, general manager for United Airlines in Fort Myers, said the airline's agents have given them out to frequent business travelers, and others who they noticed were tucking their license inside the ticket jacket where it could easily be lost.

"Most of the comments were favorable," he said. "People thought it was a neat idea."

While passengers like the invention, Dahl says he doesn't know whether United Airlines or its competitors will be willing to pay for them.

"It's hard to say," he said. "Obviously, there is an expense to them."

Conwell sees his invention as a way for airlines and even airports to compete for customers.

"West Palm Beach competes with Fort Lauderdale," he said.

"Fort Lauderdale competes with Miami. If you were giving these away at your airport, people may want to come there or travel agents might want to book people there."

While Conwell continues to try to bring his see-through pockets to the marketplace, he's in discussions with a major envelope manufacturer interested in obtaining rights from the local inventor to make ticket jackets with the pockets already in them.

Conwell is also working to create a digital imaging system that would take a photo of a passenger and turn it into a sticker that can be placed on the ticket jacket and used for identification at security checkpoints.

Bob Protheroe, chief technology officer for the Alluna Group, thinks Conwell is doing everything right to get his inventions off the ground.

"A lot of people have an idea and it would be a great idea," he said. "But they never act on it.

Kent had this great idea, saw what it could be and then as a first step sought to protect it with a patent. Then, as I understand it, he's out promoting the product and is receiving great interest."

Protheroe believes Conwell's first invention could significantly help the airline industry.

"I have noticed that it takes an extra 10 to 15 seconds at the security gates to fumble around and find a license," he said. "If you multiply that by the number of people traveling that's a significant delay, which can easily be solved by this."

With the back-up in patent applications it could be several years before Conwell gets his patent, Protheroe says.

The local inventor is considering filing a petition with the patent office that could get his application special treatment because his inventions concern national security. That could speed up the approval process significantly.

"It's taking over three years to get a patent because of a flood of applications," Protheroe said.

"This would certainly shave a year or two or more off the process because it's going to receive more immediate attention from the patent office."

© 2002 Hanalex Corporation
Patent Pending
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