Gilbert man's bright idea attracts Attention

Blake Herzog Arizona "East Valley Tribune" 8/12/2009

Photo: Ralph Freso, Tribune

Gilbert resident and inventor Harold Kopp, with his dog Shamus, has developed a new type of recessed lighting for landscaping using LED lights inside glass blocks

Harold Kopp retired to Gilbert after a career of inventing several successful products, battling three kinds of cancer and losing most of his vision.

But a mind that's always on the search for solutions has him getting another product ready for market.

In this case, the problem was in his front yard, specifically along the driveway.

"We put some of those landscape lights, those Malibu lights, and people kept running over them with their cars, and I got tired of replacing them," Kopp said.

So the ham radio enthusiast and sometime poet found yet another pastime in coming up with a solution. He calls it the Tuff Block Light, a set of three tiny LED chips connected to a circuit board and encased in a quarter-inch thick glass block.

The blocks set flush with the ground so they can't trip people. Cars can't run them over and they can even be parked on, Kopp said.

The response to the durable, energy-efficient lights has been so positive that Kopp started a corporation, applied for a patent and a UL rating, and gotten veteran Phoenix-based lighting sales rep Tom Underwood on his bandwagon.

The two were connected after Kopp contacted the American Lighting Association, and Underwood was quickly sold on the idea. "It's so simple, and so practical, it's ridiculous," he said.

Underwood said the lights will probably retail for about $50 each. So far, they are getting positive responses from all the landscapers he's brought them to.

Kopp, 68, and his wife, Kay, bought their house in the Seville area as a winter home three years ago and left Buffalo, N.Y. to live here full time a year and a half ago. He has strung the lights along his driveway and in the back yard, where they help him find his way to the garage where his granddaughter Karlie Wenger builds them.

Once he's ready to ramp up production, Kopp is hoping to contract the work to a shop that provides jobs for disabled workers, with Wenger supervising. "It seems appropriate," he said.

The Navy veteran battled testicular cancer in the 1960s, then went on from TV repair into developing several products now enshrined in a trophy case in his home. The items include one of the earliest surge suppressors for computers and the Sure Test circuit analyzer, which is still used to measure the voltage of electrical outlets and diagnose problems.

He battled esophageal cancer in the 1990s, and lost his sight to a botched operation during his treatment. He regained some vision in his left eye within the last couple of years, for reasons which aren't entirely clear. He thinks it might have something to do with his own efforts, pushing himself to focus on a computer's screen rather than having it read the text aloud. "I forced myself to not take the easy way out," he said.