HOMER — In his shop just off the Sterling Highway and a few miles south of Ninilchik, Lonnie Lambert is hard at work. Around him, towering aluminum dip-net frames stand as sentries, guarding Lambert’s design of an “inter ring system.”
As of May 3, Lambert has a more formidable safeguard: a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce.
The patent, which the Ninilchik entrepreneur applied for in August 2007, provides, according to statute, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling” his invention anywhere in the United States or importing the invention into the United States.
The inter ring system is comprised of a hoop smaller than and retained to the inside of the larger dip net hoop with a series of eyes Lambert welds to the larger hoop. The small hoop can be easily removed, allowing for easy and fast net changes as determined by the fishing being done.
“Most dip nets are strung on the outside of the hoop, so when the string breaks, then you have to tie it again,” said Lambert. “Mine have an inner ring that goes around on the inside so there’s no string on the outside of the hoop. There’s nothing to rub on the bottom of the river.”
Of dip-netters’ complaints that they frequently have to mend their nets or try to put garden hose around the hoop to protect the net, Lambert said, “You don’t have to do that with mine. You don’t have to mend mine at all.”
Lambert’s dip nets come in two basic designs: one made for fishing from a boat, the other for fishing from the riverbank. They vary in length from 10-13 feet; the hoops are either 48 or 60 inches. The option of a removable handle allows for easier transporting.
Specialized equipment — also designed by Lambert — allows him to roll the aluminum tubing to fit the design of his dip nets. He also does all his own welding, a skill he learned years ago on a farm in Kansas.
The nets strung on the inside hoops are cut from bales of webbing and sewn into a bag-type shape by Andy Stubblefield of Redden Marine in Homer.
“If you look at other (dip nets), you’ll see the net’s right along the edge, so when they’re on the ground, they’re right on the nets and it burns the net off pretty fast,” said Stubblefield of the advantage of Lambert’s protective inter ring system.
The design has proven popular with Redden customers
“We usually sell out, which is good,” said Stubblefield, adding that he thinks sales will be even better this year because of the powder coat Lambert has applied by Peninsula Powder Coating in Soldotna. “It’s a nice piece of work.”
The powder coating process begins when Guy Riley, owner and operator of Peninsula Powder Coating, applies a dry, fine powder to the frames, which are then baked in an oven, producing a finish Riley said is “10 times the durability of paint.”
“I did 20-25 for him last fall and then he just brought me 70 of them with another 30-40 coming,” Riley said of the increase in business.
The dip nets are sold on the Kenai Peninsula at Redden Marine, Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware, Happy Valley Store, Ninilchik General Store, Kasilof Mercantile, Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna and Fred Meyer, also in Soldotna.
“We got them for the first time last year and we expect them to sell well,” said Steve Soitsman of Ulmer’s.
Lambert moved to Ninilchik in 1988. After working with local boat builders, he combined forces with Paul Cooper to establish Pro Apollo. Now working on his own, Lambert continues building aluminum boats 20- to 36-feet in length through Lonnie’s Pro Apollo Custom Aluminum Boats.
In 1995, he began creating dip nets and quickly realized he didn’t like the time and effort to tie the nets to the frames.
“So I started welding the eyes and putting the rods on then. It was such a good idea and everybody liked it so much that I decided to get a patent on it,” he said.
Putting together a patent application is no small task and Lambert relied on a patent preparer to help put the multi-page, detailed, illustrated packet together. Now that he’s obtained the patent, he has another one pending and is working on a third, the details of which he carefully guards.
“Not that I want to corner the market in building them, but this is a nice way to do it,” said Lambert of the inter ring system. “If anyone wants to build it, they have to get my permission ... A patent is like a court case you have before you have the case.”
The term of a patent is 20 years. The life of Lambert’s dip nets might be even longer.
“They last a long time,” Stubblefield said. “You just wash them off and store them.”