No kidding when it comes to litigation
Entrepreneur Richard North has no fear in taking legal action against companies that have stolen his ideas
Having their ideas ripped off is soul destroying for small companies. Even more galling is that the guilty parties rarely get brought to justice. They bank on small businesses having neither the money nor the bottle to challenge them. Those who assumed this about Richard North’s toy company, Wow!, were wrong.
North has already spent about €185,000 on patent attorneys and legal support to stop companies counterfeiting and selling his company’s remote control shark and fish toy, Air Swimmer. With a number of other actions pending, the company’s legal bill is fast heading towards €600,000.
North estimates that counterfeit versions of Air Swimmer could have cost his company as much as €20 million in lost sales in 2011. With this year’s offering from Wow! (a battling robot called Attacknid) slugging it out with Furby to be the top-selling toy this Christmas, North is no mood to stop chasing the forgers.
North is a serial entrepreneur who loves gadgets and toys. He fizzes with enthusiasm when talking about Attacknid and how his company worked with a young inventor living in a remote cabin in the hills of Vermont to develop it.
Attacknid is probably not every little girl’s dream, but its exploding armour-clad body has gone down spectacularly well with boys (of all ages) and there were queues to see it in action when it went on sale here in Smyths Toys in October.
“The toy business is something of an enigma. It is notoriously difficult to crack and littered with failures,” North says. “I hear about IP infringements all the time and many good friends in the industry who create wonderful toys are sometimes in despair at the illegal rip-offs that steal their investment. We rely on innovation both internally and in association with inventors all over the world and we are not afraid of taking on big names.”
That said, North chooses his battles carefully. He breaks toys into two basic categories – “items”and toys with the potential to become enduring brands. An item is a toy that probably won’t last beyond its first Christmas. His attitude to items is to get them to market quickly, don’t waste money protecting them and make hay while the sun shines.
Toys with endurance potential are an entirely different ball game. These are the ones North is prepared to fight for. “We knew we had something special with Attacknid because it’s visually spectacular and a modern take on the age-old pastime of battling with toy soldiers,” he says.
“The tooling alone cost around €400,000 and we have spent around €75,000 on patents so far. This is a toy with a defendable competitive advantage and we believe it will still be here in five years time and that the Combat Creatures family will grow. Part of the development process has been to ‘future proof’ the Attacknid with sophisticated electronics that will allow it to interact with all sorts of smart devices coming down the tracks.”