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Opportunity coughs: City woman’s idea trains kids to stop spread of infections

August 23, 2013

Denise Seale, of Woonsocket, demonstrates the ease of applying one of her "CoughSpot" temporary tattoos at her home on Friday.

By RUSS OLIVO

WOONSOCKET – During the height of flu season in 2011, Denneese Seale was a weary, sleep-deprived woman.

The mother of four from Dawn Boulevard was doing her best to tend to a wave of upper respiratory illness sweeping through her family. She was staying up late and repeatedly invoking the germ-control mantra: “Cough into your elbow! Cough into your elbow!”

There had to be a better way.

“The reality for me is, when one kid gets sick, the other gets sick and then the other,” says Seale. “It takes about a month for a flu to work its way through the house. That’s a lot of sleepless nights.”

And so the tribulations of motherhood amid an epidemic of influenza gave birth to CoughSpot, Seale’s one-of-a-kind invention for teaching kids how to cough as socially responsible citizens.

The featured product started out as an impermanent tattoo of a happy-face puppy for kids to plaster on the inside of their elbow when they get sick. It’s a fun little reminder that sticks around for a few days, a learning aid to help parents with the chore of educating their children about proper health etiquette.

Seale later added an array of colorful armbands to the product line to deal with times children get sick during long-sleeve weather, when their skin is hidden by clothing.

Not long ago, CoughSpot was little more than a glint in Seale’s eye. But now her shoestring health venture has a patent pending with the U.S. Office of Patents, a registered trademark, a website featuring a catchy jingle, and a few sales under its belt.

But Seale’s biggest coup so far is an invitation to the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas in October, one of the largest trade shows of the year in the world of juvenile products. CoughSpot will be showcased under the same roof with new products introduced by some of the household names in the industry, including Fisher Price, Graco and Summer Infant, another homegrown company.

CoughSpot is just one of 14 new products to be featured in the Inventors Pavilion. Entrants were screened on the basis of merit, says Seale, who calls the expo a huge opportunity to rub elbows with potential retailers and distributors.

“I am completely wowed by this,” she says.

CoughSpot will also get some big league exposure next month when Seale partners with the non-profit National Foundation for Infectious Diseases as a sponsor of “Flu Night” for the Washington Nationals – Sept. 27 at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C.

A package of 20 CoughSpot tattoos is priced at $5.99 and armbands are $7.99 each. So far, Seale has sold a few tattoos online and the armbands were a big hit during a craft fair at Leo Savoie Elementary School. The teachers, she says, “loved them.”

But Seale says e-commerce isn’t the best way to sell a product that people are looking for when their children are sick. It belongs on shelf of the corner drugstore, where parents can get it without waiting.

“It’s like cough syrup,” she says. “When your kid has a cough you want to be able to go to CVS and buy it. You don’t want to order it and wait.”

A native of California, Seale, 38, is a Rhode Island-certified lawyer who has never practiced law. She has lived in Woonsocket for four years with her husband, Soren Seale, a Cumberland native she met in law school. Soren, who has been in the military since he was in his teens, is a lawyer in the Massachusetts Army Reserve, or what is known as a JAG, for judge advocate general.

Though she’s never practiced law, Seale says her education has come in very handy in cobbling together the foundation of a startup company from scratch.

It’s nothing new for inventors to hire lawyers to trademark-register their new products or to apply for a patent. She did both herself after researching the laws and procedures involved.

Getting a patent on a new product was, perhaps, the most difficult part of the venture so far. It took months, she says, just to complete an application. There’s such a backlog of applications for new inventions that she thinks it will take five years before the government gets around to approving the application, which is now considered “patent pending.”

Seale currently has the tattoos made for her by an independent company, and she buys elastic print fabric for the armbands from a company in Canada. She finishes the armbands on a sewing machine at home.

She’s still hasn’t fine-tuned a plan for mass manufacturing CoughSpot products if they ever catch on, but she’s committed to keeping as much control over the company as possible, and staying local.

Mass production is problem she’d love to have.

And, just like the flu, she’s pretty sure there’s a season coming for CoughSpot.

“I’m completely confident the idea is going to catch on,” she says. “It’s just too simple and too effective not to.”

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