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Hey, What a Great Invention! : Consumers: Someone has finally built a better mousetrap. It and many other products are on display this weekend at a convention in Pasadena.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Smotherman thinks he has invented a better mousetrap. Made of recycled plastic and simple in design, it traps the mouse inside without killing it.

A longtime inventor, the 50-year-old Smotherman says this is the first device he’s patented and the first he’s decided to display at this weekend’s fifth Invention Convention at the Pasadena Convention Center.

“Everyone who has seen it really loves it,” says Smotherman, who runs a real estate appraisal firm with his wife in Loomis, near Sacramento. “I’ve had no negatives at all.”

The aptly named Better Mouse Trap can be placed anywhere. It is made of clear plastic and has openings at both ends of the pyramid shape. The plastic at each end is cut into angles that form points going inward. Once the mouse enters the trap, it can’t get out because the points close. Users simply bait the trap with cheese, peanut butter or whatever, says the inventor, then put it down and wait for the mouse.

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When you catch the mouse, it can be taken outside and released by sliding a plastic sleeve into the trap.

Smotherman says he developed the trap several years ago when he was growing alfalfa sprouts commercially in Sacramento.

“Like most grain places, we had a lot of little rodents,” he recalls. “I was thinking about the problem, when all of a sudden the idea came to me. I made a trap and the first night we caught three mice in one trap. Once one mouse gets inside, the other mice become very curious. . . . The trap is just too simple. I can’t believe nobody thought of it.”

Smotherman says the trap is similar to plants he has seen in the Amazon: “There are plants with the spikes going the wrong way, so once the fly gets in, it can’t get out.”

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During a patent search on mousetraps, Smotherman discovered one made with steel spikes pointing inward. “There was no way the mouse could back up and get out, but I’m sure it was hard on dogs’ noses and kids putting a finger inside,” he says. “That’s the thing about mine. It’s so safe. And it has no levers or springs to be set.”

During the convention, Smotherman will be looking for someone to license and manufacture his trap. He estimates they will retail for about 50 cents each. “I’m a creator, not a continuer,” he says. “My true forte is problem-solving. I’m not into marketing. I think individuals should do what they’re good at.”

Smotherman also has designed larger traps made of heavier plastic to catch rats, and he says he has several other ecological products in the works. He will be one of about 800 inventors from across the country exhibiting at the convention. There also are several foreign exhibitors.

“I’ve looked at a lot of mousetraps, and I think this one is a winner,” says Invention Convention President Stephen Gnass of Los Angeles, a former small-business consultant who started the show in 1987. “The main thing is it will be inexpensive and you can catch the mouse and let it go.”

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Among other inventions to be shown: the Car Seat Protector, a three-way shade that protects a child sitting in a car seat from the sun, designed by Denise Roessel of Oceanside; the Stabilizer, a “shock absorber” device for boat mooring lines, by Frank Ciccone of Boston; Stove Mate, a safety cap for stove and oven knobs to prevent children from turning them on, by Sandy Thompson of Fresno; Joy Ride, a bike-like machine that enables a person to exercise arms and legs while operating a video game, invented by Michael Mansfield of Fort Myers, Fla., and Light Shaker, a portable photo-therapy device that stimulates healing, designed by David Olszewski of Seattle.

General admission tickets to the Invention Convention are $10; $5 for seniors and children under 12. The show, at 300 E. Green St. in Pasadena, is open to the public Saturday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


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