If the takeout beverage industry embraces Drexel University sophomore Patrick Bowlin's half-inch invention, his father, Thomas, stands to be a very happy man.
"I was going to buy my dad a Porsche 911 for his 60th birthday," Bowlin said. "I've got two years."
Young Bowlin is off to a promising start - with an idea that started with a sip of hot chocolate in April and now seems to have a strong shot at a patent.
"I couldn't find anything . . . so, keep our fingers crossed, hopefully Patrick's got something here," said Joseph E. Maenner, of Maenner & Associates L.L.C. in Downingtown, an intellectual-property attorney handling Bowlin's patent application. His research turned up nothing similar to Bowlin's idea.
Bowlin's invention is a plastic clip aimed at solving the universal problem at coffee bars: Where to put the lid when you're adding the milk, sweetener and sprinkle of cinnamon?
Usually, the answer is a) on a counter goopy with spilled sugar and half & half, or b) between your teeth.
Bowlin is offering a more sanitary and dignified option with his Clip N' Go Lids, which he hopes to license to lid manufacturers and distributors.
His patent application is for a plastic attachment that would be an appendage to a lid. It would enable a lid, when removed from a drink, to be clipped to the lip of the cup and dangle there until its user is ready to once again cover the drink.
"It was just so simple," Damian Salas, who teaches the Launch It! class at Drexel's new Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, said of his reaction when Bowlin debuted his clip there. Bowlin, who came to Philadelphia from his native San Diego to attend Drexel, is majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in entrepreneurship.
As part of the Launch It! class, he was given mentoring and $2,000 in seed money to help shepherd his clip to market. The prototype was made on a 3-D printer that Bowlin borrowed from a dorm neighbor. When manufactured, it would be made out of the same plastic as the lid, he said.
Any business selling carry-out coffee or tea - and even hot chocolate, considering the need to remove the lid to get to the whipped cream - should consider Bowlin's innovation "a value-add to their customers," said Salas, a serial entrepreneur. "It's going to keep the customers safe."
Safety is, indeed, Bowlin's marketing focus. In a recent presentation to his Launch It! class, he delivered some stomach-turning findings from New York University Langone Medical Center, the University of Arizona, and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
His point was to underscore why you don't want to place - no matter how briefly - on public countertops and tables any lids that you intend to put your mouth on. Swabs of them revealed the presence of E. coli, fecal matter, vaginal yeast, salmonella, hepatitis A and Noroviruses.
With heightened attention on public health, in part because of the recent spread of the deadly Ebola virus to the United States, "I think it's absolutely the right time" for Clip N' Go Lids, Salas said.
This entrepreneurial journey began when Bowlin was sitting in chemistry class typing a lab report. He took a sip of hot chocolate - Bowlin is not a coffee drinker - and found it too hot. He removed the lid for faster cooling but didn't know where to put it. He couldn't hold it because he had to type, and he didn't want to put it on the desk.
"Who knows what the kid before me was doing at that desk," Bowlin said. "I ended up just placing my lid upside down on the cup even though I knew it wouldn't dispel any more heat than having it on regular.
"That's when the idea hit me: Why isn't there something that clips on the side?"
As if the entrepreneurial forces were aligned, Bowlin finished his report and was walking by a Starbucks when he noticed a woman holding a lid in her mouth while she added cream and sugar to her coffee.
"That's what validated the idea for me," he said.
One evening last week, at the Starbucks inside Drexel's Bennett S. LeBow College of Business, Naomi Zbello, 19, of Ethiopia, was adding honey to a cup of green tea at a counter in serious need of a sponge when Bowlin approached with one of his lids. Zbello, a pre-junior majoring in economics and finance and also working at a Starbucks, was impressed.
"I think that's a great idea. There's a lot of gross stuff," Zbello said with a nod to the sugar and other spills she was trying to avoid as she sweetened her tea. Her lid was upside down on the counter's top shelf.
"I think people will be really interested," she told a beaming Bowlin. "Can I actually have one?"
He handed her a cup with a Clip N' Go lid and a protective sleeve imprinted with his website, www.clipngolids.com. Then he walked away ecstatic.
"It's that moment you hope for," he said. "Somebody validates your idea."
The Porsche will be a red convertible.