Launching a new business can be full of unexpected twists and turns. But with watertight patents in place to protect his valuable IP, one inventor has kept his project on the straight and narrow.
All successful entrepreneurs make a few mistakes along the way. While his product, the Flexi Mower, has just gone on the market, Trevor McCoid’s learnt some valuable lessons in the eight years it’s taken to get to this point. A crucial one is the importance of protecting your unique idea and the value of patents.
In 2003, McCoid approached patent attorney Anton Blijlevens at A J Park. He’d already marketed a working prototype of his invention – a mower attachment that fits onto any line trimmer – but he wasn’t sure what to do next.
“The Flexi Mower hovers 35mm off the ground, and the suction of the mower holds it there so it’s completely safe to use,” explains McCoid. “It feeds the lawn by mulching the grass back into it.”
It’s a simple idea, but it hadn’t been done anywhere before, says Blijlevens, who immediately saw the product’s potential.
“Trevor convinced me right from the start. It’s the logical lawn-mower alternative for people with small properties.”
Blijlevens began by conducting a thorough worldwide search to ensure the concept was novel – something McCoid was certain of already. The mechanic and engineer has owned and run mower and equipment-hire shops for years, and knew every product on the outdoor market in recent decades.
On Blijlevens’ advice, McCoid registered his company, Torque Technologies, and filed an international patent pending application to cover 120 countries. This has now proceeded to a full patent in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China and the US, which have been identified as key markets.
These patents proved invaluable when the Flexi Mower’s first Chinese manufacturer and Australasian distributor were bought out by another company that attempted to bring a poorly made version of McCoid’s product onto the market.
“I had a sub-licence agreement with the original manufacturers, and I advised this new company that it wasn’t transferrable,” says McCoid. “I told them to cease manufacturing and destroy all the product they had or they’d be in breach of my patent. In doing this, I was challenging my own IP coverage – if they didn’t believe I had a good patent, they’d have told me to get lost.
“Fortunately, A J Park had done a great job protecting my intellectual property. The fact that they had to destroy the sub-standard product proved that our IP was sound. That’s the value of going with someone really good. The whole thing is a waste of time if you don’t get this part of it right.”
This initial false start cost McCoid two years of hard work but, undeterred, he found another Chinese manufacturer, and has now secured sales through Ryobi’s multinational parent company, TTi, which began marketing the Flexi Mower in the UK earlier this year.
“We lost some leverage because of that initial hiccup, but now we have a much better product. We’ve learnt from our mistakes. The holy grail of this industry is to have someone like Ryobi build a product you’ve designed, developed and had made.”
McCoid is quietly confident, and if sales run as projected, the Flexi Mower will soon be available in Australasia.
“Trevor’s quite an inventor,” says Blijlevens. “He’s also very determined, and good at executing his projects and drawing an enthusiastic team around him.”
A J Park also has a strong commercialisation team that helps clients with the drafting of contracts, negotiations, writing licences and sales and purchase agreements, and setting up tax-effective company structures. In this case, McCoid took care of these aspects himself.
“Anton’s been very helpful, he’s guided me and given me good advice. We trust each other and I knew he’d understand what I had, which is important. I knew what the business end had to do and understood the products but not the patent process and how to go about protecting my product.”
To find out more, contact Anton Blijlevens
(09) 356 7665