Invention helps assuage his grief

Solar-powered grave light is a memorial to couple's two children

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  • Gravesite memorial light installed between the headstones of Nilsa and Alan Carpenter's sons in the North Hardyston Cemetery.

  • Light with engraved plaque

  • Alan Carpenter points to the dual fluorescent lamps in his early prototype gravesite memorial light.

By the numbers

7 years to patent

Patent number 7241023

4 years to market

First appeared for sale December 2011

$30,000 invested

Sold at:

Franklin — Alan Carpenter, an automotive technician, patented the idea of a solar powered memorial light to illuminate the gravesite of two of his children. Pvt. 1st Class Anthony Carpenter was killed in an automobile accident coming home on leave from Fort Campbell, Ky., in 1999.

“When our son died we would go to the cemetery all hours of the night,” Nilsa Carpenter, Alan’s wife, said. The couple found themselves visiting the gravesite often. “My wife and I had no fear going there two o’clock in the morning,” said Alan Carpenter. But, the couple found neither light to see by nor a memorial light on the grave. They set up a candle.

“The candle would only last three days. It was upsetting, plus you can’t see anything.”

Gravesite lighting became even more of a concern for them when the couple lost a second son, Luis Sein, one of Nilsa’s sons from a previous marriage, in a 2002 motor vehicle accident. As a way to cope with his emotions, and to honor his sons, Alan went into his basement workshop.

“You should have seen the mess downstairs when he was doing it,” said Nilsa. “He used to be there for hours and hours.”

Alan knew solar power stored in a battery was the key to making a gravesite light with staying power.

“I started looking around cemeteries and people were using low power sidewalk lights,” said Alan. “Some people had five or six of them to try to light the gravesite. It doesn’t work; you can’t see anything. I developed a light that would light the headstone and the gravesite area.”

The military places a footstone on graves and Alan wanted to illuminate that stone on Anthony’s gravesite too.

The first version of the light used a patio umbrella stand as a base, two fluorescent lamps, an eight- by-10-inch solar panel and was powered by a six-volt motorcycle battery Alan buried at the base of the headstones. One unique feature of thie version was its dual lighting options.

“My light had one white light and one black light because Nilsa got fluorescent plants,” said Alan. “I had a switch for white light or black light. At night you see the flowers glowing.”

Alan tweaked the design and powered the new version with a six-volt automobile battery enclosed in a plastic battery box, commonly found on camping and utility trailers. While burying the box, the couple caught the attention of the police.

“One day we were in the cemetery, and I don’t know what he was doing, with hammers and everything, and a police car came by,” said Nilsa. “I put the hammer down and sat on it so the policeman could not see it.”

A work in progress
The larger battery could store enough solar power to keep the light burning for several cloudy days, but the design was more than the average cemetery visitor could be expected to install. After being asked by other visitors to build lights for their loved ones’ gravesites, Alan wondered whether he should make it a business venture.

“I asked (Nilsa) ‘Do you want to try to take this light and get a patent on it, to try to sell it,’” said Alan. “I took the prototype to the InventHelp office in Parsippany. They suggested that I move forward.”

There are two types of patents; a design patent and a provisional patent. In a design patent an inventor has to specify every detail, down to the type of screws used in the construction. A provisional patent covers an idea or concept, leaving the execution of the idea to others. The Carpenters quickly found out that getting a patent is not cheap — or a sure thing.

“They did what they told me they were going to do, with no guarantee,” Alan said. InventHelp asked for $18,000 while stressing there was no guarantee. Alan respected the company’s honesty and invested the money.

“It’s a chance you take,” Nilsa said.

Making it happen
After hiring a patent lawyer, Alan started a long waiting period. Seven years later Alan was granted patent number 7241023.

“I got a provisional patent that says whoever makes this light has to have the four basic concepts of what this light has to do: solar powered, last at least six hours, illuminate enough of the headstone to see it without a light, and easily carried and transported.”

But, after being granted a patent, Alan still had to market his invention. “All of a sudden I got inundated with market firms,” said Alan. A marketing company in Kansas City worked to refine his idea and showed him a production prototype.

“We liked it,” said Alan. “It wasn’t gaudy.”

Alan likes his version better; it's the work of his hands. But he realizes the marketing company has more experience in production and sales. The production version includes a small plaque that can be custom engraved. The marketers looked for other uses and it is being sold on a Web site for pet memorial items. Alan has no problem with alternative uses for his light.

“You can take the two screws out of the plaque and use it for a sidewalk light,” said Alan.

Honoring their children
The Carpenters are getting closer to their plan of honoring their deceased children.

“My goal is try to get some money together so I can set some sort of a scholarship fund," said Alan. Anthony was a graduate of Sussex County Technical School. “It has gone further than I thought it would ever go.”

Currently sold on two Web sites, the light has been an emotional journey for Alan.

“I’m glad it is here,” he said. “I am very angry it is here. This light is here for the death of these two children. This is the only thing I can do for them. It is the only thing I can do for me to make me feel better.”

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