The importance of protecting a unique idea with watertight patents has been a crucial lesson inventor Trevor McCoid learnt in the eight years it's taken for his Flexi Mower to go to market.
In 2003, McCoid approached AJ Park partner Anton Blijlevens with a working prototype of his invention - a mower attachment that fits onto any line trimmer.
'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. 'It's the logical lawnmower alternative for people with small properties.'
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 told them to cease manufacturing as it was in breach of my patent,' says McCoid. 'In doing this, I was challenging my own intellectual property coverage.'
'Fortunately, AJ Park had done a great job protecting my intellectual property. The fact that they had to destroy the sub-standard product proved that our intellectual property was sound.'
Undeterred by the initial false start that cost McCoid two years, 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.
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 understood the products and the business end but not the patent process and how to go about protecting my product.- Trevor McCoid, Flexi Mower
The Flexi Mower will soon be available in Australasia.
Written by Deirdre Coleman, this case study was featured in #39 of Idealog. Photo courtesy of Robin Hodgkinson.