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7-year-old bucks downward patent trend, invents towel with straps

In a country with over two million saunas, Jiri Lindén thought it would be handy to have a towel that stays on easily.

Jiri Lindén pukeutuneena keksimäänsä henkselipyyhkeeseen.
Jiri Lindén lives in the municipality of Jämsä, in central Finland. Image: Jussi Lindroos / Yle

"It sure would be great if towels had straps because then they would stay on!" Jiri Lindén said to his mum one day in the summer of 2018, while he was cooling off after a sauna in his hometown of Jämsä, Finland.

His entrepreneur mother Katja Lindén immediately hooked up with another local business owner to design a prototype to meet Jiri's specifications.

After a brief period of product development, Jiri and his mum applied for a so-called "utility model" with the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH), which grants exclusive rights in Finland to use certain inventions.

Utility models were developed to let people register their ideas quickly. In contrast, the process for applying for a patent in Finland lasts an average of two and a half years, as among other things, PRH examines the novelty of the invention to make sure that nothing similar has been invented before.

Jiri's slogan "The Towel That Stays On" was born just as easily as his product. The men's design features a towel at the waist with straps that cross in the back. Both the straps and waist are adjustable, to fit every body size.

During Finland's Sauna Day in July, Jiri and his father attracted a great deal of attention when they played football wearing nothing but Jiri's new invention.

"People were wondering how it's possible that something like this hasn't been invented before; that no one had thought of such a simple thing. It just goes to show that people should take the time from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to really listen to children. There are a lot of good tips out there," says Jiri's mum Katja.

Finland losing its inventive edge

Inventors like Jiri are needed in Finland, as the number of patented granted by the Finnish Patent and Registration Office each year have fallen by half in the last decade. Finland used to be among Europe's top countries in terms of patents per capita, but now it has dropped to fifth position.

"It's clear that Finland is consistently behind its peers in terms of research and development investment. This is major cause of concern, as that is how patents are generated, and patent numbers are a good indicator of a nation's wellbeing," says PRH's director of patents and trademarks Jorma Hanski.

But what can Finland do to reverse this trend? Management consulting firm Witas' innovator Jari Heilmann says the answer is to start young.

"Innovation starts in school. Schools should be equipped to provide instruction in programming and robotics, for example. This is how we inspire more young people to become inventors," he says.

Story continues after the photo..

Jiri Lindén pitelee kädessään keksimäänsä henkselipyyhettä.
Lindén says he had thought about making a towel with straps for a long time. Image: Jussi Lindroos / Yle

Born to be a business man

Jiri Lindén has been an ideas man from a very young age, according to his mum.

"He's got great business sense. He said already when he was 3 or 4 that he wanted to run his own company, and we kind of laughed it off, but now it looks as if he really does have it in his blood," Katja Lindén says.

It's unclear whether "The Towel That Stays On" will be available in stores soon, but Jiri and his family hope to have larger-scale production in motion by next summer.

"Seamstresses in Jyväskylä will do their best over the Christmas season. We have already started negotiations with a larger manufacturer," Katja explains.

The newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus was the first to report on Jiri Lindén's invention.

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