A very bright idea

VELVA Putting up Christmas lights could someday be a snap if Keith Herdt’s invention catches on as he hopes it will.

Tired of hearing friends complain about the work and time involved with untangling cords, moving ladders and stringing lights, Herdt developed a better way to decorate. He received a U.S. patent on his invention this fall.

Herdt, of Velva, said getting to this point has taken about four years, even though developing his lighting system was fairly simple. His invention consists of a track permanently attached to the eaves of a home. Lights hang from hooks on a removable section of track about 1-1/2 feet long. To hang the lights, a homeowner climbs a ladder to insert the section with the lights into the permanent track. Then from the ground, using a hooked stick, the homeowner extends the string of lights until strung all along the track.

Herdt said his icicle lights took about five minutes to hang on the porch of his home. Taking them down will be just as fast.

Herdt’s invention didn’t come about because he was an avid decorator, though.

“I was never the type that put up lights,” he said.

Instead, he was hoping to help other people after listening to his friends’ complaints and seeing his brother-in-law with a broken leg after falling from a ladder while installing lights.

A Minot native and resident of Velva since 1998, Herdt has experience in a variety of areas, including as a railroad engineer, fencing company employee, manager at a plant making helicopter seats and a house builder. He currently works for a company that loads oil onto rail cars. He’s now added inventor to his resume.

“I always enjoyed tinkering,” he said. His idea for a lighting system took form pretty quickly.

“Honestly, it just came to me in my head. I could see how it would work,” he said.

He experimented with his concept using the curtain track found in hospital rooms. The hooks holding the lights to the track are designed to be secure.

“It’s probably more secure than the little plastic tabs you stick on your gutter that you end up replacing every year,” he said.

It takes time to install the tracks, which are easily attached with screws, but installation is a one-time project. Once attached, the tracks become an unobtrusive, permanent part of the home.

Herdt worked with a company during the patent process, which was new to him as a first-time inventor.

“I had to go through a patent search. I thought it would be over then. I thought it was too basic of an idea,” he said, explaining that he assumed his invention had been patented already.

He found a couple of other lighting concepts, but none like his.

Now that he has a patent, Herdt is looking for a manufacturing company. He has had several companies contact him and is reviewing his options. His goal is to develop a process using materials that keep the product affordable. Hospital curtain tracks would be too expensive so he is considering similar alternatives.

The final step will be marketing his device. Herdt said his goal is to have the product available for sale by next summer.

In the meantime, he’s enjoying the features of the prototype installed on the eaves of his porch while he contemplates new track styles that would allow for lighting displays beyond a house’s eaves.

The lights are so easy to install and remove that people won’t have to restrict their decorating to Christmas, Herdt said.

“They could have a set of lights for every holiday,” he said. “It makes people happy having lights up. Maybe more and more people will have lights up if they have something like this.”