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A daily look back at the toys, games, and objects that captured our attention as children and continue to fascinate us today.

The Friday Five: Paul Nelson – Laser Tag

Paul Nelson is a classic and tireless entrepreneur. He’s also the inventor of Laser Tag (originally called Laser Maze), and his experience of trying to bring the game to market was his first “real” lesson in business. After learning first-hand how vulnerable an un-patented idea is, Nelson has pursued numerous patents since, and is currently owner and operator of multiple businesses – none of them related to toys or games.

Where did the idea for “laser tag” come from? Did you originally call it by another name?

I got the idea for Laser Tag in the late 1970s, when I was 19 years old. For the first six years of its formation I called it Laser Maze. The concept came from an idea I had that the game of tag needed to go high-tech.

The Friday Five

How did the idea move from concept to development? 

I knew I couldn’t raise the money needed to develop and open Laser Maze without having a college degree. So, I decided to get a degree specializing in inventing and developing businesses, and enrolled at the University of New Orleans in Accounting & Entrepreneurial Studies.

During that time, a gentlemen from Dallas, TX developed Photon in 1984, which was a game system similar to the one I was working on. I felt that there were enough differences between my ideas and his system to continue to develop Laser Maze.

In 1986 I presented my Laser Maze business plan to the three deans of the university. At that time, one of them recommended I call the business “Laser Tag”. I then partnered with one of my professors to develop it in 1987. We employed an engineering company out of California to help develop the electronics and receptors for the system.

At the time, my business partner was getting a divorce and choose to discontinue help with the funding. What I did not know was that my business plan was entered into a competition in Florida. The plan was then used by one of the promoters of the competition to open the business. I always say that was my first real lesson in business.

Photon went out of business, but my model is still up and running.

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What did you learn about the patent process?

I learned that I should have filed for patent! After seeing my idea launched by someone else, I regretted not filing for a patent on Laser Tag. Since making that mistake, I have filed for numerous provisional patents in many areas. I now hold several patents and am working on eight others currently. None of those patents are related to Laser Tag.

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What are your business interests today?

Today, I own and run Tandem Roofing, LLC; Tandem Lighting, LLC; and EZY Curb, LLC, which is a patent-holding company licensing my newest inventions and doing research and development on the rest of my brain-children.

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Do you ever play laser tag?

It’s been a very long time since I played, but I hope to do so again soon. It’s very hard finding time to play while running four companies!