#186 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 11
I Have Been Successful if I Were an Expert?
Mr. Butland is
chairman, DNA Technologies, Los Angeles, California (phone
recently received an innovator’s award from R&D
Magazine for his invention of DNA-based anti-counterfeiting
According to the
laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee can’t fly, but he doesn’t
know it, so he flies anyway.
This sums up my experiences as an inventor.
I did not have the technical background in any of the
fields I contributed inventions to.
I didn’t know what wouldn’t “fly.”
When I was
approximately five years old, I was sent to a small rural store to
buy some cereal. The
storekeeper used a long, hooked pole to pull the cereal off the
top shelf. I remember envisioning a machine then that could display the
product through a window, and would drop the product through a
slot when the handle was pulled.
I had unwittingly thought of a vending machine that only
became a reality several years later.
Perhaps that was the origin of my attitude turning a
“what if?” into a “why not?”
Vietnam war I learned from a friend, whose family owned a
shipyard, that the U.S. Navy was looking for a method to protect
the minesweeper’s wooden decks from leakage due to cracks in the
caulking. The vessels
had to be wooden in order not to unintentionally detonate a mine.
The Navy needed a fireproof, non-slippery material that
could expand and contract under environmental extremes, and that
could be repaired at sea.
At that time I
was into another business, and thought that this goal was a
potentially interesting business opportunity.
I researched all areas of chemical coatings, and discovered
that the only coating designed for decks was colored paint.
I experimented by blending various plastic- and
rubber-based compounds together.
The mix that worked the best was one experts told me
wouldn’t blend (remember the bumblebee?).
This was all done in a garage with a local painting
contractor who helped acquire the materials. My formula provided a tough, abrasive-resistant coating that
could expand and contract with the ship’s movements.
I brought samples
of the coating to the Minesweepers Command at Long Beach Naval
Shipyard. They were
sufficiently impressed to give me a contract to test the coating
on a single minesweeper. Fortunately,
they were satisfied with this first trial and it led to a priority
contract for the entire pacific fleet.
I called the
product DURA-DECK and continued producing it in the painting
contractor’s garage, using a cement mixer.
After two years, as the demand increased, we finally moved
to a small building and added sophisticated blenders and mixers.
Here I was--a 23 year-old inventor whose coating was used
on all the minesweepers of the entire Pacific Naval fleet!
I accomplished this without owning a chemical plant or
having any formal education in chemistry.
The Navy began
using it on carrier decks (most older carriers had wooden decks),
and major companies began to enter the market.
Although I had a demonstrated service and a proven system,
I lacked the prestige and connections to compete.
I finally ended my career in this business after securing a
multi-million dollar deck-coating contract with Leisure World.
When I was 29 years old, I sold the company.
In the early
1980’s I came across an article about how the Japanese
accidentally discovered the main ingredient of superglue,
cyanoacrylate, was chemically attracted to fingerprints.
I researched Federal Bureau of Investigation technical
journals on fingerprints and discovered that the technology
hadn’t advanced beyond brush and powder in more than sixty
realized I could offer a new technology that could revolutionize
fingerprint detection. My
process could obtain prints on surfaces which were usually not
amenable to show fingerprints on materials such as styrofoam cups,
wood surfaces, and sticky tape.
It could also show prints on wet or dusty surfaces.
With help from a
cyanoacrylate chemist, I developed a mobile superglue fuming
DURA-PRINT, for law enforcement.
The system consists of a covered plastic tank that contains
a heat lamp, spray unit, and purging unit with charcoal filters
(to eliminate odors). Later,
I engineered the glue to be applied from a spray can.
The investigator places crime-scene objects inside the
tank, closes the cover, and sprays a mist over the evidence.
The prints develop within a couple of minutes.
In 1983, I
appeared on a major television show (Barbara Walter’s 20/20)
where my invention was shown solving a homicide.
A big boost for the technology came when it was key to
apprehending the infamous “Night Stalker,” who terrorized and
killed an estimated 25 people in Los Angeles before he was
captured in 1985.
is now standard technology, used by most law enforcement agencies
around the world. Yet
I had no law enforcement, fingerprint, or chemical background.
invention, which won the 1995 R&D 100 Award, can prove that
someone’s signature is authentic, preventing alteration or
forgery of that signature. The
invention is a genetic ink containing DNA segments from an
individual’s genes. These
segments are unique for each person and can be readily analyzed by
a special electronic reader we developed.
My interest in
DNA was a natural evolution from my previous fingerprint work;
fingerprints being unique to each individual.
I was intrigued by the idea of producing a chemical
fingerprint that cannot be re-engineered.
So I contacted DNA scientists at the University of
California, Los Angeles and the president of National Ink
we produced a unique anti-counterfeiting method utilizing DNA into
a coded ink.
incorporates an individual’s unique DNA segments in an ink.
These segments can easily be amplified from a few cells
scraped off the inside of a cheek by a plastic brush.
The ink may be applied to any surface by signature pen,
hand stamp, or commercial printing. By taking only a very small sample of the dried ink (e.g. on
a document), it’s possible to rapidly prove the signature
authentic by demonstrating the presence of the signer’s DNA
as cartoon artist, Joe Barbera, football player Joe Namath, and
former heavyweight boxer, Muhammed Ali, now sign in an ink
containing their own DNA. Thus,
they get protection not only through their unique signature, but
also from the DNA in the signature.
has potential use in stopping use of such items as counterfeit
currency, passports, licenses, or credit cards. Once again, my idea was brought to fruition despite no formal
training in molecular biology or electronics.
I am now
developing a DNA molecular tagging process, by an
electronic reader, that may be coded to reveal distributor
networks so that we will be able to determine if a product is
genuine and learn of its origin.
This could be a major breakthrough as it relates to
counterfeit and diversion. I
wonder if this project will be hindered by my lack of expertise in