patent for speed: Man envisions boat that cuts through waves.
Published: July 29, 2003
By RICH SASKAL THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
What does a tuna fish have to do with a patented invention?
Everything, according to Mike Lee, a man recently awarded a patent for what could be a
revolutionary boat design. Lee conceived of a needle-shaped boat that would reach great
speed by slicing through the waves instead of over them. In June, the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office issued Lee, 46, a patent for his boat design, or as they say in
patent-speak, "Watercraft With Anticavitation Control."
The story behind the patent is one of tragedy, pain and recovery. The tragedy happened to
Lee's brother, Richard Lee. The pair had followed in their father's footsteps on the
off-road racing circuit, tackling races such as the Baja 1000. In 1987, Richard Lee
crashed during a motorcycle race in Perris, breaking his neck and losing the use of his
legs and 50 percent use of his arms.
The repercussions from Richard's crash ended Mike Lee's racing career as well.
"After that I didn't know how to cope," Mike Lee said. "I kind of went off
the deep end." Alcohol and drugs took over his life, he said. With the help of a
12-step program, Mike Lee took back his life in 1993. He has remained sober ever since.
Mike Lee harnessed his energy into the invention that he recently patented. The idea, Mike
Lee said, was inspired by his brother. Both brothers were raised on racing and lived for
the thrill of going fast. Mike Lee said he wanted to find a way his brother could enjoy
the sensation of speed in spite of his injury.
A high-speed boat was one idea. But the wave action posed a problem, Mike Lee said. In
choppy seas, waves tend to bounce fast-moving boats up and down. That wouldn't work
because it would create compression on his brother's broken neck. That's when Mike Lee
said he thought of a boat that goes through the waves -- inspired, in part, by a nature
show about tuna that he saw on cable TV. The fish can flash through the water in bursts of
more than 60 mph. "That's how I kind of based the thing," said Lee, who
developed the idea at home after work for the city of Redlands, where he is a senior water
service worker. "This thing just shoots right through the swells."
Actually, the boat exists only on paper, with some small-scale mock-up models. The design
calls for a boat that's long and narrow -- more than 50 feet long but just wide enough for
the pilot. "He's worked pretty hard on it and I'm pretty impressed with it,"
Richard Lee said by phone.
Mike Lee's design integrates the engine with the stability system that allows the boat to
slice through the waves. Years spent working on his off-road racing vehicles helped him,
Mike Lee said. "I'm a self-taught production engineer," he said. "I like to
take stuff apart and put it back together better." His boat design has obvious
possibilities in racing. But he also believes it would be a valuable tool for military,
police or rescue agencies, who could speed to emergencies quicker. "If I can get this
in the water, and this sounds clichéd, but if it saves one person's life all of this will
have been worth it," Mike Lee said.
Mike Lee said he doesn't know how the boat will come to market. "I've put all my
energy to getting the patent," he said. But he has a lot of energy to burn, and it
shined through during an interview in the garage where he worked on the design. Lee could
hardly stand still. "I'm hyper by nature and my boss always tells me to slow
down," he said. Mike Lee said a neighbor and fellow inventor, Pat Stevens, encouraged
him to get the patent. "I've watched him over the years coming up with little
different ideas and things like that, and helped him build molds," Stevens said. The
services of a patent attorney cost a few thousand dollars, but Mike Lee could afford it,
thanks to sobriety and the support of his wife, Linda. The patent, Mike Lee said, provides
an official imprint to his belief that the struggles in his life have been worthwhile.
"To be able to come back up and make something of it, there's a reason for it,"
he said. "Call it divine intervention or something."
* * *
* Lee received a patent for a new boat design.
* 46 years old
* His boat design was partly inspired by the Tuna.
Caption: FRANK BELLINO
SPECIAL TO THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
Mike Lee holds a prototype of his patented watercraft design in his garage where he has
spent many hours. His design for a boat that goes through waves was inspired, in part, by
a nature show about tuna fish that he saw on TV. (2) Mike Lee of Hemet points to the
watercraft design that is now patented. (3) Mike Lee holds a prototype watercraft design
in his garage where he has spent many hours. His design for a boat that goes through waves
was inspired, in part, by a nature show about tuna that he saw on cable TV.
Copyright The Press-Enterprise Co.