- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

Jerry Porter has invented a turkey baster that separates the bastings from the grease, a wrench with jaws that adapt to fit bolts, and a fire starter for grills and fireplaces.

The Kensington inventor has sold thousands of his turkey basters, wrenches and fire starters. But his greatest success has come from a little plastic cup with a small hole in the side.

“Only the cup has paid the bills,” said Mr. Porter, 58, who has 14 patents to his name.

Unlike most cups, Mr. Porter’s invention is designed for people with dysphagia, an esophagus problem that prevents them from swallowing normally.

Without a way to control the fluids that run down their throats, sufferers can gag or swallow excessive amounts of fluid without realizing how much they are ingesting.

Mr. Porter’s Provale cup contains an internal chamber that dispenses fluids in exact amounts of one or two teaspoons, reducing the risk of gagging or gulping too much.

“The nurses characterize it as great for gulpers,” said the inventor, who builds models of his ideas in his basement.

A manufacturer started producing the cup in August 2004. A nursing home test in Tennessee completed last month showed that the cup eliminated the need for 16 of 34 dysphagia sufferers to mix their fluids with a corn-starch paste.

“There’s literally a million bucks tied up in this,” said Mr. Porter, one of the fortunate few inventors who actually have profited from the ideas they patent.

“It takes huge passion to get a new idea out into the world,” Mr. Porter said.

On a typical day, he awakens around 6 a.m. to drive his wife, Barbara, to work at the National Cancer Institute, where she is a program director who reviews grant applications.

Afterward, he drives to a coffee shop in Kensington, where he meets with friends. The creative part of his day begins at the nearby commuter rail station in Kensington.

“I just sit and think,” Mr. Porter said.

Watching the trains and passengers coming and going somehow frees his thoughts to come up with new ideas, he said. Playing the grand piano in his living room also helps.

He returns home around 9 a.m. and begins calling business partners or sales leads in an effort to profit from his patents.

“The inventor is always looking for the needle in the haystack,” Mr. Porter said. “The needle is the right person to pass the invention to.”

After doing his round of calls, Mr. Porter often drives to hardware stores, plumbing supply outlets or department stores to find parts for products he is trying to develop.

With a few alterations and a little innovation, Mr. Porter said, he often can develop something new out of them.

The rest of his day usually is spent in his basement workshop, where he assembles wooden, plastic and metal models of his creations.

One of them, which he said never worked out, looks like an aircraft engine with propellers on both sides. It was supposed to be an electrical generator powered by ocean currents.

Before he turned to inventions 15 years ago, Mr. Porter ran a business pulling soapstone from Virginia quarries and selling it to sculptors.

Before he got into the soapstone business, he checked railroad tracks for defects, ran a gift and craft business and delivered planes for an aircraft manufacturer. The former pilot graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1969 with a degree in airport management.

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