After inventing a unique navigation light for fishing boats, an Orangeburg business owner has finally received a United States patent for his creation.
Jay Linford Oberholtzer of T-Zer Designs LLC has created a stern light that provides nighttime fishermen a more efficient way to manage the needed gear for a night-fishing trip.
The patent was officially approved last week.
"To be honest we never expected to receive a patent," Oberholtzer said. "I am as surprised as anybody."
As an avid fisherman, Oberholtzer said he began to see a need for the stern light while he was out in his own bass boat about five years ago.
"I started playing with the idea," he said. "You know it is one of those things I started tinkering with one night and it kept going. We keep tweaking it, so there is no hard right line when it was started."
Oberholtzer said most of the new bass boats have a talon on the back end that serves as a shallow water anchor.
"When it starts getting dark, you’ve got this long light you have to pull it out our boxes," Oberholtzer said. "You have to put it in a socket in the back of your boat and it has a light on top of it."
But Oberholtzer says boat talons in many ways serve as ideal light poles.
"That thing lives on the back of the boat and it sticks up," he said. "It makes sense that that light you are normally fishing out of your boat and sticking in is permanently on top of one of these talons. You take the factory top of the talon off and the thing we make you just screw on top of that."
The dual LED light display provides both ambient light within a fishing boat's cabin as well as a U.S. Coast Guard-approved navigation light.
The navigation light is visible up to two nautical miles, which is equivalent to 2.3 miles and is pivotally attached to the talon, emitting light in a 360 degree horizontal plane.
The ambient light ranges from about 300 lumens to 2,500 lumens.
To ensure the product was Coast Guard-approved, it had to go to a lab for testing.
"You have to have certain lumens that it has to project and certain amounts of weather proofness," he said.
He said after a few attempts the product was given the thumbs up -- at least for a time.
"A lot of these boats have two of these (talons) on the back," he said. "If you just ... have one talon that is fine. Then they realized what if someone has two talons. They said then this talon over here will be blocking the light."
"We had to redevelop it so it would sit up tall enough," Oberholtzer said. "I started doing this and was wondering if this a niche, is there any money in it? I don't know."
His efforts to create a stern light ended up taking a big step forward when Oberholtzer attended a fishing trade show in Orlando, Florida, about two years ago.
As an outsider to the fishing industry, he had to convince trade show officials to allow him in.
But while there he met Hank Parker, a well-known circuit professional bass fisherman.
"He was excited about it," Oberholtzer said. "He was the one that said 'This is something you’ve gotta push. You have to develop this ... you have to spend whatever money it takes.'"
And so began the patent process.
For Oberholtzer, who is the owner of Orangeburg's BrandRite Sign Company, the fishing boat navigation invention fell nicely in line with what the company already does. The light is a product of BrandRite, but has a different marketing name and its own website.
"We are using the same manufacturing processes that we use for signs," he said. "We specialize in lighted signs. Lighted signs are just another version of lighting. This is metal and plastic. It is the same material and same equipment but a different product."
The lights are entirely manufactured and shipped from the company's John C. Calhoun Drive location. The product is entirely sold online.
"We make them as orders come in," Oberholtzer said. "As soon as we found out we were not in violation of anybody else's patent, we started marketing it."
The lights have now been sold for about two years.
"This spring has been good," Oberholtzer said. "For only being online and not advertising anywhere else, it has been remarkable. We really have not ramped up."
Oberholtzer says he doesn’t see a need to expand operations unless a large retailer comes to him and wants to buy the lighting and sell wholesale.
But Oberholtzer said he enjoys selling the product himself.
Now that he has received his patent, Oberholtzer says the experience was interesting.
"It was fun," he said, noting one of the challenges was the expense.
"It keeps people without resources that have really good ideas from the market with the cost of attorney and patents. How many people have good ideas but can't get it to market because of that?"
For more information about the product, visit www.tzerproducts.com.