A BRITISH beautician and mother has been voted the world’s top female inventor after coming up with a device to control children’s access to computer chatrooms.
Paula Ward, 35, developed the Phone & Net Guard as a result of fears about her daughter Stephanie’s internet conversations. Now she could be on her way to making a fortune.
The device, which fits into a phone socket, enables the user to bar specific numbers at the touch of a button.
Earlier this month, former model Mrs Ward, from Caterham, Surrey, beat more than 1,000 other hopefuls at ‘Inpex’, the world’s largest invention trade show in the American city of Pittsburgh.
She became the first Briton to win the award for the world’s best female inventor in the competition’s 20-year history.
"I am so proud and I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better," said the mother of five.
She thought of the idea two years ago when she began to worry about her 11-year-old daughter Stephanie’s use of internet chatrooms.
"Stephanie came home from school one day and told me she had been on a chatroom and that she was not very comfortable with the conversations on line," said Mrs Ward.
"A week later I checked her computer and saw a worrying conversation where she seemed to be arranging to meet someone at the park nearby."
After contacting BT, Mrs Ward was told her only option was a call barring system that blocked all outgoing calls except 999. There was no system available that could bar selected phone numbers.
Undeterred, Mrs Ward set about learning the rudiments of telecom engineering and recruited a local electronics firm to build the prototype of her device.
Then she approached telecom giant Commtel UK, whose name she had seen on gadgets in shop windows. After several fruitless attempts at securing an appointment on the phone, she turned up at the company’s offices in Corby, Northants, with the invention and two of her children.
"I got the impression they thought they were dealing with an idiot," she said. "The directors were having a board meeting and said they could give me a couple of minutes during the coffee break.
"I went in with the kids, explained how I came by the idea and how the device worked, and they asked for a demonstration. I showed what it could do and they all started clapping. They told me not to leave and got me to sign an exclusive contract there and then. I just couldn’t believe it."
Britain - and especially Scotland - was once the cradle of inventions, producing an array of machines and gadgets that have changed the world. For the best part of 200 years the country dominated invention, science and manufacturing like no other.
Some of those which have changed the course of our lives are the steam engine, the telephone, photography, vaccination and anaesthesia, the mechnical computer, fax machine and vulcanised rubber.
More recently though, inventors whose ideas have met with global success have been critical of the government for choking the life from the research and development culture the UK once had.
Trevor Bayliss, the inventor of the clockwork radio, recently claimed Britain had lost as much as 165 billion from inventions made here but exploited abroad by foreign manufacturers - including the hovercraft, the vertical take-off aircraft and CAT scanners.
Patent applications in the UK have declined rapidly in recent years, and since 1998 the number has almost halved.
A recent review of innovation policy by the government acknowledged that "Britain needs to move faster" in terms of translating its good record in scientific research into commercial ideas.
Mrs Ward’s device will go on sale for the first time at Homebase stores on 16 August at a price of 29.95.
As well as preventing calls to specified numbers, it can also block broadband signals without affecting the normal phone line.
The unit can also be operated remotely, via a phone, from anywhere in the world.
Last year, Mrs Ward won the UK inventor of the year title. She is now going on to develop other ideas, some of which first came to her several years ago.