Marathon inventor gets patent on anthrax-killing mailbox
By Sherri C. Ranta
An invention by a South Florida resident could make average Americans a little safer when they go to their mailboxes.
Marathon resident John Cunningham has created a germicidal mailbox that would irradiate mail and kill microorganisms such as anthrax.
"I know there are lamps out there that have the ultraviolet range that can kill all types of bacteria and spores," he said. "I started putting together the idea of incorporating these lamps into a mailbox."
With the help of Miami attorney Michael C. Cesarano, Mr. Cunningham in November received patent No. 6,646,270 for his device.
Mr. Cunningham, a self-employed heating and air-conditioning professional with 30 years' experience in the industry, is looking for firms to develop the invention and has a Web site at www.safetymailboxes.com.
His idea, he said, came about shortly after the initial anthrax scare in Washington, DC, in late 2001. Cross-contamination from a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle shut down the Senate.
"I noticed they put treatment facilities in DC and New Jersey," Mr. Cunningham said, "but they didn't do anything for the rest of the nation."
The invention would kill spores on the outside of envelopes, he said, but not spores that are enclosed. The unit must be attached to a constant electrical source and is equipped with a preprogrammed timer that operates an ultraviolet lamp and motor when the mailbox is opened and closed.
Mr. Cesarano, with law firm Akerman Senterfitt, said Mr. Cunningham's patent was filed in 2002 and awarded 11 months later. He called the timeframe "lightning-speed" for the federal patent office. "I've never seen one quite that fast," he said.
Brigid Quinn, a spokeswoman with the US Patent and Trademark Office, said the office doesn't comment on individual inventions. The office, she said, has a current inventory of 500,000 patent applications.
Details: www.uspto.gov, www.safetymailboxes.com.