Because Barbara Russell Pitts and Mary Russell Sarao invented Ghostline, a poster board with faint grid lines that guide the user but seem to disappear at a distance, thousands of students and their parents have had an easier time crafting school projects. Meanwhile, Pitts and Sarao have made a comfortable living off the royalties.
Because the sisters from Plano also created AskTheInventors.com, thousands of aspiring inventors have had an easier time obtaining patents for their ideas and turning them into marketable products. But Pitts and Sarao have asked for nothing in return.
“We did it as a payback,” Sarao says of their website.
In 2001, about a year after Ghostline hit the market, the sisters attended an inventors conference in Washington, D.C. They estimate more than 500 people were in the room, and the theme of many of the speeches was that only two or three of those 500 would be successful. “Basically, what they were doing was boasting,” Pitts recalls. “‘I did this, but you can’t.’”
“Good ideas come to everybody; it’s the person who moves forward with it who reaps the benefits,” Barbara Russell Pitts says.
Joanne Hayes-Rines, then the publisher and editor of Inventors Digest magazine, asked Pitts and Sarao to share their story at the conference. One detail that got their audience’s attention was that $1 million worth of Ghostline products had already been sold in the first year. Shortly after they finished speaking, the sisters were surrounded. “They all wanted help,” Pitts says. “We felt sorry for them.”
Their pity for the plight of their fellow creators led to AskTheInventors.com, which went live within just a few months of that conference. The free website is filled with frequently asked questions, links to other resources, and plain-spoken advice on how to turn a brilliant idea into a reality. “Good ideas come to everybody; it’s the person who moves forward with it who reaps the benefits,” Pitts says.
One person who has moved forward with help from Pitts and Sarao is Dallas resident Ken Bradford, who has invented a bedding set that includes a flat sheet sewed to a fitted sheet. The sisters—whom Bradford jokingly refers to as “my soulmates”—introduced him to a patent agent, who helped him navigate the patent-filing process, and they also encouraged him to pitch his idea to potential manufacturers. In fact, Sarao went to New York to support Bradford during his meetings with the leading makers of children’s bedding. “She understands licensing, she understands contracts, and she sees the possibilities in what I’m trying to do,” Bradford says.
After 15 years of giving out advice—and authoring three books after a literary agent found her to way to the site—the sisters are getting back to their roots. They have a patent pending on a new creation, a makeup applicator that is a sponge on one side but has a film surface on the other, so the user’s hands and nails remain cleaner. The star-shaped product will be marketed as Film Star.
Just as Ghostline was a result of a personal experience (Sarao’s frustration with helping her daughter with a school project), Film Star came about after Pitts felt the need to wear rubber gloves to keep her hands free of makeup and thought, “There’s got to be a better way.”
“Like all inventions,” she says, “this one came about by accident.”
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