Rensselaer Students Naples and Zummo Reinvent Wobo

zummo  naples wobo bottle house

Popular Science

Rensselaer Polytechnic students Peter Zummo and Matthew Naples have developed a modern version of Heineken's Wobo (world bottle-here in TreeHugger and more detail in Inhabitat) of 45 years ago; a plastic bottle that can be filled with sand and locked together like Lego to build housing. Their struggle to patent and bring it to market is covered in The New York Times Education Life section.

students and bottles image

New York Times

Popular Science
covered the bottles back in April:
Lego-like though they are, the bottles can create structures far sturdier than a toy—and do so essentially for free. Filled with dirt, sand, or another widely available material, the bottles become heavy enough to act like regular bricks. Build a house from them, and the sand or other filler would serve as an insulator to keep rooms warm or cool. Meanwhile, the plastic would make the house waterproof and thus more permanent than the plain mud huts often found in the poor countries.

Samantha Stainburn writes in the Times:

The question of whether the two students or R.P.I. owned their invention was a tricky one. They had first designed plastic bottles that snapped together, Lego style, with two other students for a freshman design class project that challenged them to solve a social problem. Their idea was to keep the billions of water bottles that people in developing nations throw away each year out of landfills while providing the poor with free building materials. They presented a paper and a prototype in class, but "it was a crude concept, and we never really hit our goals with our first rendition," Mr. Naples says.

They then continued their work off campus. So who owns it, the University or the students? In this case, they decided to work together.

R.P.I. determined that the bottle design belonged to Mr. Zummo and Mr. Naples. The university offered to patent the bottles and get them into the market if they transferred ownership of the design to the university. The students chose to go it alone, deciding that the standard slice of royalties R.P.I. gives to inventors, 35 percent, was too low. An intellectual property lawyer who's a friend of Mr. Zummo's family waived his fees to help them file a provisional patent, and the students started looking for ways to raise $18,000 to mold several hundred actual bottles they can test and show to companies interested in licensing the technology from them.

Coming up with a good idea is hard enough; getting through the patent stages and bringing it to market is even tougher. Nice to see a University helping its students instead of just grabbing the whole thing. More in New York Times
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