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Monday, 1 December 2014

LEGO - a successful invention

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In July 1958, one Mr. Godtfred Kirk Christensen filed a patent at the US Patent office. It was a design for a toy, made of bricks that had "cylindrical projections" on top, and "tubular projections" on the bottom. Both the cylindrical projections and tubular projections could make contact on one or more walls of the brick, and would snap together in a "clamping engagement".

There was a priority date of 28 January 1958, as it had been filed first in Denmark. The patent was granted in October 1961.

A Successful Toymaker 

LEGO is today, an empire built on one invention. Today generation after generation knows the LEGO brand. Not surprisingly, it has enjoyed strong sales. In 2013, Bloomberg quoted an analyst as saying, "Bloomberg is on fire. It’s the world’s biggest toymaker in terms of net income, operating income and Ebitda. It had a 71 percent gross margin in its latest results and is posting strong sales growth."

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen and his 3 children.

The same Bloomberg article placed LEGO as the most valuable toymaker in the world, worth between USD15 billion to USD17 billion. In contrast, LEGO's website in 2012 modestly stated that they were the "world’s third-largest manufacturer of toys". The LEGO Group was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen was, according to this Wikipedia article, the third son of Ole Kirk Kristiansen. Godtfred's son, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, is the richest man in Denmark.

1958 was not only the year that Godtfred invented the present famous LEGO block; it was also the year that Ole Kirk Kristiansen passed away, and Godtfred Kirk Christiansen took over the company as chairman. Source Later, Godtfred's son Kjeld took over the reins of the company. Source

The present CEO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, joined LEGO in 2001 and became CEO in 2004. (Source: Bloomberg) LEGO had been making losses since 2001 to 2004, due to indiscriminate diversification and intense competition. Under Knudstorp, the company divested its unessential businesses and re-focussed on its core, and became profitable again.

The US Patent

Read the original US patent 3005282 at Google Patents. Here are images from the patent.

The design of LEGO's play blocks which will be familiar to many readers.

In claim 6, there were "cross shaped protuberances". Ref: figure 9 & 10.
In claim 7, the "protuberances" were "circular in cross-section". Ref: figure 8.
I haven't seen any LEGO blocks designed according to figures 9, 10, and 11.....


It seems that the IP firm "Stevens Davis" that filed the patent closed down in 2008: "Intellectual property firm Novak Druce + Quigg LLP has scooped up five attorneys, including three partners, with the dissolution of boutique IP firm Stevens Davis Miller Mosher LLP. .... Most of the other attorneys formerly with Stevens Davis joined Dickinson Wright PLLC." Source: Law360
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Ostrich Pillow -- An example of a successful idea commercialization

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The Ostrich Pillow is a pillow that is shaped like a hollow bean bag, meant to enclose the human head and present a soothing napping environment for its users.

The Ostrich Pillow.

A design variation of the Ostrich Pillow.

From its KickStarter website: "OSTRICH PILLOW offers a micro environment in which to take a comfortable power nap in the office, travelling or wherever you want." The Ostrich Pillow was successfully funded on 18th October 2012.

When interviewed by In Bed With Designers, the inventors said: "We have been overwhelmed with the positive response and delighted to be able to fulfill the global need for napping." The idea came about when they observed, "...subsequent to the invention of the light bulb people are sleeping less and less." The idea they hit upon was "mobile napping".

The Ostrich Pillow was also covered by CNN and Huffington Post, in 2012. Yes, I have been away...

The design patents for the Ostrich Pillow are here:

Thanks to Justia Patents for the lead information. Apparently, both design patents were filed in 2013 (March and October, respectively), after the success of their KickStarter campaign. Both were issued on 21st October 2014. Which is fairly recent, if I may so observe.

It makes sense, because why would you want to spend money on a design patent unless the commercial viability of the product is validated? 
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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Revamping this website

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After a long while, I have decided to revamp this website. It is now responsive, and I hope that it is readable on mobile devices. I know how enjoyable it is to read blogs and articles on the mobile phone; I hope that this blog will be able to offer a similar experience to readers and visitors.

In the long break, while not updating this site, I had been working on my Masters in Management from Universiti Tun Abdul Razak. (I also have a Masters in Law from Universiti Malaya.) Not content with two Masters, and at the urging of friends and family, I have embarked on doctoral studies at another local university. (The name of the university remains secret for now, until my tentative graduation in four years.)

The image of the seven lightbulbs represents the guidance that we all need in our lives. As we grow older, we find that good advice is always welcome. I find myself giving counsel to some of my younger friends from fellow practitioners nowadays; I smile remembering how I was on the other end in my younger days. It is good to share information that will guide others; this is, perhaps, the reason why we write.

In Malaysia, patent work doesn't come by every day for an all-rounder like myself. It can be said that much of the patent work goes to a small group of practitioners. Perhaps there is nothing to wonder at it: it is common for people who want something important done, to seek out recommendations from their friends. This is known as "Word of Mouth", a phenomenon where the well-connected will find themselves in the intersections of communities, and benefit from recommendations as a result thereof.

In my recent dealings with the patents/trademarks office (MyIPO, AKA the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia), I have found that there is a shift towards internationalisation of the IP regime, as well as an increased emphasis on valuation of IP. This is, perhaps, to be expected: as the business world moves towards an IP-based source of growth, IP regimes around the world require that IP be protected internationally, quickly. It cannot be good for IP holders when their IP cannot be registered in a timely fashion in other countries... that would lead to rampant IP infringement in those laggard countries. Thus, we see the rise of the PCT (Patent co-operation Treaty) in Malaysia. IP Valuation, too has increased in importance, because of business needs. Companies whose assets consist mostly of IP require proper valuation of their IP assets. Those IP owners whose rights have been infringed also need IP valuation to sue: how else do you put a figure to a court case?

Intellectual property is still developing rapidly in Malaysia. I am still learning things every day.
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