Albert Schmeiser 2013-05-03 00:14:32
In 2001, Schmeiser, Olsen and Watts completed negotiations with the United States Patent and Trademark Office regarding the issuance of a U.S. Patent, Pat. No. 6,221,145, for a process to produce water-based paint from a plurality of premixed compositions. This patent along with several follow-on U.S. and international patents and trademarks granted became the body of intellectual property that is the framework and identity of a Gilbert company named MicroBlend, Inc “MicroBlend.” In recent discussions with members of the management team of MicroBlend we explored how their intellectual property (“IP”) had added value to their company. Most importantly, they said that MicroBlend would not exist today without its IP. With approximately ten multi-billion dollar companies in the paint industry, an entrepreneurial enterprise could not compete without its innovative technology. Further, without IP protection, the giants in the industry could have duplicated their process and steamrolled them. MicroBlend uses a point-of-sale process where paint components are mixed on-site and to user specification for type (interior/exterior/primer), color, quality level, performance capabilities, application preferences, sizes and sheen. Because the paint is mixed on location, there is no storage of pre-mixed inventory and much less cost in terms of transporting large volumes of product. In addition, retail stores do not need to dedicate several aisles to storing cans of paint. Containers are filled at the store, as needed, and in the amount desired by the consumer. Accordingly, the store footprint for this technology is much smaller than the traditional retail model for selling paints and the retailer is never out of stock of any paint SKU. Over the years MicroBlend has participated in three major pilot projects, the first with the U.S. company, COSTCO. While all three pilots successfully met their metrics, over time, it became clear that the innovations presented were so disruptive to retailers’ expectations in the paint industry that the first two pilot companies decided not to proceed with a full rollout, even though the pilots were successful. (This disruption is similar to what happened to traditional photography and the Eastman Kodak Company when digital photography became accessible to everyone and Verizon Wireless with cellular technology.) Accordingly, MicroBlend turned to a Latin American retailer named Sodimac Home Centers for its third and long-term successful pilot program. The pilot programs were instrumental in strengthening MicroBlend’s patent protection. As their products and processes became available to the public, the company learned practical applications and have been able to layer more patented innovations into their proprietary systems. As a result, MicroBlend was selected as one of the top three companies for “The Green Innovator of the Year” award in the 2009 Governor’s Celebration of Innovation for the state of Arizona. They also learned that a disruptive technology is a two-edged sword, offering both the greatest opportunity and the greatest risk. When a century-old industry paradigm is set in stone and everyone is used to obtaining an industry’s products in the same way, retailers and consumers are resistant to disruptions. On the up side, when you are successful in overcoming the paradigm paralysis, you are the only game in town and everyone wants to know what you are doing and how you are able to accomplish such a new way of doing business. Perhaps the most important thing that MicroBlend learned through their pilot programs is that companies who work with large retailers should not engage in a pilot program without contractual assurances that the retailer will proceed if clearly defined metrics of the pilot are met. A verbal commitment is simply not enough. The actual costs and investment of time required for a major pilot program can set a startup company back years if the retailer decides not to proceed with the rollout even after the pilot was a success. Because Sodimac Home Centers has a dogged determination to have an advantage over its competition and wants to be “uncompetable” for the benefit of their customers, they agreed to engage in a rollout once MicroBlend had shown them a successful pilot program. The rollout is under way with huge potential because of the large number Sodimac Home Centers locations in Latin America. As a signal of their success and to optimize their desire to have no other competition that meets the quality and the availability of their product, MicroBlend applied for and on March 15, 2013, received a U.S. Trademark registration for the term UNCOMPETABLE for use with “architectural and industrial coatings, namely, interior, exterior, residential and commercial finish paints, paint primers, finishes and wood stains.” While few inventions are as disruptive as MicroBlend’s technology, each patent and trademark bestows upon its owner rights which make owners’ products and/or services “uncompetable.” I say “uncompetable” because competitors cannot compete by using the patented technology or names which are confusingly similar to the owner’s registered trademarks. Obtaining these intellectual property rights evens the playing field with larger competitors, provides significant marketing advantages and as in MicroBlend’s case, may just be the difference between being nonexistent and “uncompetably” successful.
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