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Inventor, 11, Lauded for Milk Spout

By Marylou Tousignant
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

On the right of the dais sat two eminent researchers from a major pharmaceutical company where scientists have labored for 30 years to create a drug to treat prostate disease. They brought a chemical reaction chart with words such as "dihydrotestosterone" on it.

To their left sat a chief engineer for a Fortune 500 tire manufacturer that created a unique tread design that prevents hydroplaning. He brought a shiny new tire with him.

To his left sat the scientific director of a California research institute that created new technology, combining photolithography and synthetic chemistry, that can quickly screen thousands of possible drug combinations on a single semiconductor chip. He brought a two-minute videotape explaining the process.

And finally, to his left, sat Akhil Rastogi, a sixth-grader at Olde Creek Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va. He brought a one-gallon milk jug, partially filled with a cotton-candyish pink liquid that he poured using a screw-on spout that he invented and hopes to market.

All of the above were honored as distinguished inventors Thursday by a group called Intellectual Property Owners Inc., an association representing patent, trademark and copyright owners.

So who did the reporters and camera crews rush to when the formal news conference at the National Press Club ended and the informal questioning began? Akhil, of course.

Maybe it was because no one there could resist the sight of a slight 12-year-old, his hair slicked down and his neatly pressed navy blue suit almost shining in the harsh glare of TV camera lights. Maybe it was because we hear so much about America's declining public schools that we relish knowing that young minds are being nurtured there.

If necessity is the mother of invention, Akhil's mother was the necessity of his invention. When she suffered nerve damage in one hand a few years ago, it fell to Akhil to pour the milk at the family dinner table.

"There was more milk on the floor than in the glass," recalled Deepa Rastogi, a personnel officer at a bank. "I would say, `Akhil, use two hands. Lift the jug higher.' He was frustrated. I was frustrated."

"I thought, `There has to be an easier way,' " Akhil said Thursday, pausing between interviews with a local television station and The New York Times.

He was 7 at the time, an age at which clay is the building block of life. So Akhil got a wad of the stuff and in about three hours fashioned a screw-on spout with a channel running down the middle. Voila! No more spills.

He entered his "E-Z Gallon" spout at a school fair and won first place among all Virginia third-graders. (That was right before a kindergarten student accidentally knocked his creation to the floor and broke it. Akhil went home and made another.) The judges for the Invent America-sponsored event suggested he patent his invention.

Last September, after a 20-month wait, Akhil got his patent, one of 109,728 issued by the U.S. Patent Office in fiscal 1992. At age 11, he became one of the youngest people ever granted a patent (the youngest, who invented a toy dump truck, was 6).

Akhil, who now has a line of "E-Z" products, including a tape dispenser and a device to help teach blind students, hopes to market a plastic E-Z Gallon with groups that assist elderly and disabled individuals, although he believes "even regular adults" would buy it.

He thinks it should sell for about 50 cents each. And he plans to use any profits to help pay his college tuition. He wants to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Class of 2003.