Label Inventor Recalls Discovery
A sticky situation revolutionized workflow solutions
NECESSITY MAY be the mother of invention, but sheer coincidence spawned the integrated label. In 1980, Gary Stewart, co-founder and owner of Trade Printers, Phoenix, was working on a machine he developed to apply transfer tape in segments when producing die-cut laboratory mount sheets. "It came to me that by reversing the process and applying tape to a form and then die-cutting the paper, we could create a peel-out label," he recalled. "There was not a specific application driving the discovery. I just saw that here was a concept with some merit that people would be able to utilize. The only options at the time were affixed labels or wasting full sheets of costly label material."
By the early 1980s, Stewart held the patent for the first-ever integrated label. Around that same time, Trade Printers launched the concept at a National Business Forms Association trade show in Anaheim, Calif. Needless to say, it created quite a buzz. One of Trade Printers' largest competitors showed very keen interest in the design.
Soon after the show, a Trade Printers employee saw two men walking around inside the back of the plant. When approached, they identified themselves as chemical supplies salesmen. The suspicious employee alerted Stewart. "The whole thing seemed a bit strange at the time, and sure enough, a month or so later, one of the visitors was pictured in a trade publication," continued Stewart. "It turned out the chemical salesman was actually an employee of the competitor, and the 'sales call' was a cover for conducting a bit of industrial espionage."
Eventually, the competitor infringed on Stewart's patent and started producing its own integrated label products. His 17-year patent has since expired, and several manufacturers now offer the product that continues to evolve as a workflow wonder.