Successfully Yours: Stuart Saunders

by Dr. Iain Corness

February 2nd is Inventor’s Day in Thailand, honouring His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great who invented the Chai Pattana Waterwheel, which received its patent on February 2, 1993. The managing director of Esdesign, relocating to Pattaya, is an Australian, Stuart Saunders, and is a man who also has a most inventive turn of mind. In fact, he has won awards for his inventiveness and he is a great believer in practical solutions to complex problems.

Stuart is a country boy from northern New South Wales (NSW) on the east coast of Australia. His father worked the land and Stuart feels that much of his practical application skills came from that background. There was no repair shop down the road - you worked out what was wrong by yourself - and worked out how to fix it by yourself.

His enquiring mind made itself obvious very early on, when he put together the forerunner to AM stereo radio in a crystal set at home, when he was only 11 years old. By the time he was 13 years of age he was debating with his teachers and debunking the accepted “wisdom” of the day, for example, that Brownian movement cannot be detected with the naked eye. It can, and Stuart can show you how! “Curiosity is a stronger drive than sex,” said Stuart with a grin!

After his secondary schooling he went to the University of NSW and studied for a B.Sc Tech with a major in Industrial Design. Much of this was done at night while he worked during the day as a trainee engineer for the automaker, British Leyland.

His inventive mind continued, but he found problems in imparting his ideas at the auto plant in Sydney, which was going through some terminal problems, but at that stage it was not completely evident to the middle level engineers. “I had a few ideas I wanted to give the company, but there was no mechanism to do this. I was told that employees don’t have any good ideas!” As a sequel to this, some years later, Stuart visited Mazda in Japan and was impressed by some very simple, yet effective, production line techniques. These, it transpired, had come from employee suggestions and it was later stated that 65% of employee suggestions become taken up. Enlightened management has benefits for everyone.

The inventive nature was not only in Stuart, it was inherent in the family, “During this time my Dad and I designed a one differential four wheel drive in the early ’70s. We would stay up till all hours endlessly sketching and discussing different inventions on the breakfast room table, usually stuff for cars or for the farm.”

When British Leyland pulled out of Australia, Stuart found that the marketplace for industrial designers was not great, so he took a post teaching in central Queensland, Australia. From there he went to Brisbane, the capital of the state, and while teaching during the day, he spent his evenings inventing, sitting down and sketching, just as he and his father had often done.

As an inventor, Stuart was not obsessed with just one new innovation, but would work on more than one concurrently. “I invented another four wheel drive in 1982. At the same time I invented a wireless, cordless stereo, and I thought that I would get the stereo into production quickly, then use the profits to develop the four-wheel drive. Ha ha ha! I went around the world twice showing all consumer electronics manufacturers the stereo; all loved it, but not one (manufacturing) response. Which is why I ended up in Taiwan.”

Stuart has not lost his passion for inventing over the years, but has developed another passion as well. That is an extreme distaste for the patenting system as it is applied throughout the world. Many people (me included) have often thought how nice it would be to “invent” something and have manufacturers beat a pathway to your door waving endless fists of money. Unfortunately, it appears that is just a dream. The actual process is long, involved and exceptionally expensive, including patent attorneys and the like. You want your patent to cover Japan and the US as well? Then you go through the process again!

You are also in the hands of patent offices, or it appears, the whim of patent offices. Stuart explained one run-in with officialdom. “What really got my back up was the European Patent Office (EPO) ruling that an invention of mine was obvious. Without having to substantiate their opinion at all, no trial by peers. The same invention that Sony said was ‘Excellent’ and ‘Brilliant’; the invention for which I had received the Queensland Inventor of the Year Award. At the end of my resources, and with production problems still to solve, the EPO, using ‘obviousness’ as a ‘means of rejection of last resort’, were able to kill that invention.” However, Stuart is not the sort of chap to give up easily, “When I get that invention into production, I will call it a BEPOT (not at all an acronym of ‘Beware European Patent Office Theft’),” he said with only a slight tinge of irony!

His move to Thailand is partly through dissatisfaction with some changing developments in Taiwan, and partly because he can see that the move will be beneficial to his company in the long run. “I love the food, and that must rate highly,” he says. He also said that the infrastructure he needs is not available in many SE Asian countries, and the cost of labour in Thailand is lower than in comparable economies. The choice of Pattaya was through its proximity to the Laem Chabang port and the new Bangkok airport, which will be closer to Pattaya than the current Don Muang site.

Stuart is a fine example of the self-made man whose independent thinking has seen him expand his boundaries, and he is now here. Welcome to Thailand Stuart, and to Pattaya in particular.