Appeal-Democrat Archive Writing

Yuba inventor’s dream dashed

June 8, 2007

An Olivehurst man says he lost his will to invent after seeing his Christmas tree smoke detector invention on an ABC reality show.

“You dream of something, and this just crushes it,” Chris Long, a third-generation painter and first-generation inventor, said Friday.

Long watched “American Inventor” with his wife Wednesday night to see if they knew anyone who made it on the show.

Long had pitched Christmas Alert, a Christmas Tree angel with a smoke detector under its skirt, at an audition for the show in San Francisco on March 25.

The last contestant was Greg Chavez, a Ventura County firefighter in full uniform, who started his pitch with a video of a Christmas tree burning down a living room. Long didn’t recognize Chavez from the auditions, but he did recognize his Guardian Angel.

“How do two people with that idea appear on the same show?” Long said. “The odds are like one in a katrillion.”

Chavez’s Guardian Angel was similar to Long’s Christmas Alert, except his featured a hose leading up to the angel to put out the fire.

Long said he told a judge he was waiting to find an environmentally friendly way to smother the flames.

But Long feels the real reason why he wasn’t picked to move on in the show was because he was just a painter and didn’t have a compelling image for a fire safety invention.

“I don’t think I was marketable,” Long said. “(Chavez) is in full firefighter gear. He’s even got an ax.”

ABC spokesman Manfred Westphal declined to comment on the situation, other than to say it was a “phenomenal coincidence” to have two inventions so similar at the same audition.

The next step for Long will be to hire a patent lawyer to help protect his idea. He didn’t patent his idea originally because the cost can run up to thousands of dollars.

“Most people put things together with rubber bands and straws just to get the money to make their dreams,” he said.

Since this setback, Long said his ideas have been few and far between. Inventing had been a hobby that’s now on hold after seeing his invention presented by someone else.

“I wasn’t looking to become a multimillionaire,” Long said. “I was just trying to support my family.”