How a Major Player in One Industry Moved into a Completely Different Market – and Succeeded!
By J. Baron Lesperance, Subject Matter Expert in Intellectual Property Law
There’s an old story about the market for buggy whips. For those who don’t know it or are too young, before the age of the automobile, the horse and buggy dominated transportation. As a result, there was a strong demand for buggy whips. However, once automobiles became common, the market for buggy whips dropped off dramatically, never to return.
What’s a Typewriter?
The same can be said for typewriters. Again, for those too young, typewriters are sort of like computers without a display, and there is no auto-correct or spell-check! (Check Wikipedia for more details).
For many years, there was a strong market for typewriters. Offices everywhere had them, and typing classes were commonplace. I even remember a typing class in my high school, if I recall correctly, most of the students were football players. Oh well.
However, the invention of computers and the keyboard input device (I’m avoiding punch cards here – again if you’re too young just check Wikipedia) changed the typewriter market forever.
What do you do if you are a dominant typewriter company and demand drops to near-zero?
You could move into the computer business, but at that time IBM was very dominant. As a result, the cost of entry could be too steep. You have experience with paper and paper movement, as well as putting words on paper – you could move into printers.
Or, you could move into an unusual market for a company geared toward creating documents – that of destroying documents!
That’s what Royal Consumer Information Products (as it is now known) decided to do. I ran across this article by Gary Strauss in the July 2020 Costco Connection and I wanted to focus on the IP aspects of what Royal has done to survive and thrive in the 21st century.
For those who are panicking that Royal doesn’t make typewriters anymore – relax, they still do, and often their models are sold out – so be sure to check out Royal’s website (www.royal.com) if you are interested in a typewriter – not only to amaze and confuse small children but also to have a communication device that is hack-proof and does not require an Internet connection!
The Bottom Line
You should always be looking forward to predict if your products could be made obsolete by developments you make, by those of your competitors, or by new entrants to the marketplace – or a combination of all. It can be difficult. Why mess with a good thing? We’re dominant in this industry! No one can touch us! That’s when outside, objective help is needed.
There are many examples besides typewriters – electric cars don’t need exhaust systems, landline phones – perhaps even WiFi will go away with the introduction of 5G. To use a patent landscape analogy, at some point in your patent landscape your map reads “Terra Incognita”.
How close are you to that edge? What will you do when a new map is made, and you have nowhere left to go?
About the Author
J. Baron Lesperance has obtained patent and trademark protection for his clients in a variety of fields, including electronics, transportation, medical device and consumer product industries. He has prosecuted patent and trademark applications before the United States Patent and Trademark Office and has assisted clients in obtaining international patent protection in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. He regularly counsels clients on patents, trademarks, trade secrets and portfolio management.