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OXO, Crooks and Robbers? (oxo.com)
389 points by mikeleeorg on Jan 26, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

Aside from the "Some important lessons" section (which seemed very patronizing, although OXO seems to be in the right here considering the expired patent aspect), it seems that OXO handled themselves pretty well. It pointed out Quirky's side of things, and then presented their own side. With quite a bit of citation where appropriate.

Quirky[1] went straight for the "justice" aspect in their post without presenting much info or even a cursory discussion of related patents.

[1] http://www.quirky.com/blog/post/2013/01/rise-up-quirky-seeks...

IMO the lessons aren't really patronizing.

I'd TL;DR them down to "Whatever your bright idea is probably isn't as original as you think. If you think nobody else has thought of it you probably haven't looked very hard, or if you're very lucky the numerous other people who thought of it at the same time as you or before you never pursued it".

We all live in the same world (now more than ever), we're all influenced by the same things and IMO ideas are more tied to a time and the zeitgeist than they are to any person, every personal and historical "bright idea" I've ever encountered backs this up in my experience.

This is why ideas are a "dime a dozen" and execution is everything.

I actually loved that part. Even better was showing the many obvious quirky rip-offs from OXO products.

Very gentleman like response and correction, well done OXO.

Comparing this to the patent fights between Apple and Android et al, it is interesting to see how calmly OXO is responding. No "thermonuclear war" here over the various copies Quirky is making of their products. (Of course, I don't think the cost of design and manufacturing a plastic kitchen object can compare to the iphone). However, it is good to see an established firm like OXO acknowledge that they are being copied, to not freak out over it, and to acknowledge that the best way to respond is with continued innovation and the best product you can make. I think smartphone and tablet makers would be wise to follow that lesson.

With OXO and quirky, we're in a realm where hiring a team of $700/hour lawyers would wreck both companies. For Samsung and apple, the cost of legal advice is a rounding error.

While you make great points, the cost/risk of designing a cutting board or a dustpan is orders of magnitude lower and the response should be commensurate.

I don't think it's wise for Apple to not defend the things it believes it has patented but that's an argument for a horse of a different color.

The fact that Apple's products are more profitable on a unit basis, and can fund more expensive lawyers for longer periods of time, does not mean it is a good strategy.

I can't see any real benefits that have accrued to apple from their patent wars. The shortest evidence of this is that Android has now >50% market share. if the patent wars were a good strategy, this would not have happened.

Having more money does mean you can afford to waste more money, but it still doesn't make wasting money wise.

Not really relevant to the patent issue, but your second point is a bit of a fallacy. It's possible that android would have even more market share without a patent war, or that the patent war was a risky strategy which had positive expected value at the time it was begun, but which didn't pay off.

My frame of reference for this statement was prescription drug patents. Manufacturers can get 18 years of exclusive sales of their product. Whatever one may think of the ethics and behavior of the drug companies, it is a very effective use of patents. Other drug makers can copy what the drug is intended to achieve, but not the drug's exact composition. That seems like a reasonable parallel for how things should work in the smartphone market.

I am not sure that positive expected value was really ever the intent here. From most accounts, Steve Jobs felt personally affronted by the competition, and that is not necessarily a rational place to initiate a major action. I think the best case to make is that it delayed the growth of Android, but even that seems questionable. Android has copied them in virtually every respect, rolled out devices with little encumbrance, and shows no sign of stopping.

There's also the aspect of the patent wars where conflict become self-destructive. For example, a flame war in comments where people get increasingly nasty and lose sight of what they were even talking about. Google bought Motorola for defense, a patent portfolio. Counter suits are now possible.

Dissipating the focus of an organization's executives on rent seeking instead of innovation carries its own costs.

Both companies end up winning here, for different reasons. OXO is the voice of reason that calmly explains what's what while Quirky looks like the protector who goes to bat for their inventors and community.

To me, Quirky looks like the crazy person who escalates in a big way without even bothering to talk to the supposed wrongdoers. Not someone I want to do business with.

My thoughts exactly. They also look like hypocrites and thieves. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Well, at least they "Think Different" – "Here's to the crazy ones…"


To a lot of us, it looks like yet more pointless time- and effort-wasting squabble from the "design" crowd.

It's a matter of reputation and business for both participants in the squabble, so it's not a waste of time for them. You might have wasted your time reading it and commenting on it (if you didn't find it interesting), but that's your fault. I found it fun to read, so it didn't waste my time.

And you said '...the "design" crowd'. What are your quote marks for? Are you implying they're not actually designers, or are you mocking the idea of product design as a profession, or something else?

It's far more a waste of their time and effort than it is of mine.

Pointless drama like this does not result in new products, it does not result in improvements to existing products, it does not reduce their cost of doing business, and otherwise has no beneficial properties.

Like I said before, even from a marketing perspective, it probably does far more harm than good for both of them.

And I put "design" in quotes because I don't know how else to refer to them. They apparently don't like being called "hipsters", which is the only other word I could think of that would describe them, collectively.

I'd say the main benefit to Quirky is the publicity. OXO has been a household name for a long time, Quirky not so much.

Sadly this has backfired badly - the first I heard of Quirky story was from this post, and I am now unlikely to ever buy one of their products. Oxo on the other hand is an amazing story in the design thinking community, and it is nice to see their rhetoric match their product quality.

Digging deeper into the "protest" linked from the OXO site: http://www.quirky.com/blog/post/2013/01/rise-up-quirky-seeks...

And the whole thing feels cheap and desperate. I like the idea of being scrappy and unorthodox, but one corporate entity protesting another? It just smells terrible.

What feels even cheaper are the public protesters (assuming they are in fact real unpaid people). It's bad enough when people go all frothy over iOS vs Android, but over household product brands? I mean time to re-evaluate your priorities people.

I think the protestors were just the company staff, who took the day off to participate in a publicity stunt.

"That’s exactly what happened ... Quirky staffers took to the streets to protest ..."

Okay good. Faith in humanity restored.

It does smell of an attempt to create the Streisand effect in reverse. Which would be kind of quirky (sorry couldn't resist).

I really enjoyed OXO's response. I wonder if you see that someone is trying to create something out of nothing, how to blunt that? The OXO response seems to try for that, a bit low key, sort of 'kids will be kids' kind of thing.

Yeah this is really lame. Shouldn't they be busy with more "innovative" products? Couldn't they have just hired some non-union union protesters for this?

Have to go to Canada for that.

In 'Che' shirts, even. Satire is dead.


To make it even better, they brought the kids to it too. Because, you know, whichever side brings the kids is the right one, because, think of the kids, right?!

I don't care about the rivalry between two companies producing similar products... but this line really hit me hard:

> Ideas are limitless and patents expire for a reason: to encourage competition, innovation, and the evolution of new ideas that ultimately benefit the end user. If patents never expired, we would have only one car company, and the cars they develop would likely not be readily available and affordable to so many people all over the world. Imagine that.

Good show.

OXO has ~100 people. The parent company has a market cap of 1.6B (including Pur water filters and a few other brands). Quirky has ~80 people and $91 million in VC funding. Assuming Quirky is operating under the normal VC rules, they want to soon be a billion dollar company - larger than OXO.

I find it strange that Quirky is playing up the "david vs goliath" angle. If you've been in both of their offices, Quirky actually feels like they have more money.

More importantly, if Quirky wants to be a billion dollar company, they are going to have to do something a whole lot more innovative than a better dust pan.

> OXO has ~100 people

The crazy thing is that they make eight and a half different products per employee. When you think about the fact that you're talking about physical products, that's crazy.

Indeed, and decent products at that. I've enjoyed all but a few of the OXO products I've bought, which is more than I can say for a few of the Quirky products I've bought (pivot power for one).

Quirky are really pushing the "David & Goliath" angle in their latest response.


The comments on that piece are depressing.

OXO is one of my favorite companies. They seem to have the same quirky creative culture as much of the tech industry, except maybe even friendlier, plus a great design philosophy.



I was just really confused. Is it or isn't it the same OXO who have been producing stock cubes since the 19th century (and built the highly-visible OXO tower in London)?

On searching, it appears not to be, and the US OXO brand was 'invented' in 1990.

Hah, yeah, no relation to the famous OXO cubes.

plus some truly good products.

> They seem to have the same quirky creative culture

I see what you did there.


I found the Broom Groomer on Quirky's site [1], and what do you know?--the product description says, Patent pending. Well, that must mean there's a patent application in the USPTO system! Sure enough, Quirky's patent application, dated September 7, 2011 (provisionally filed April 18), titled Waste receptacle [2]. Bill Ward is one of the inventors. I am not qualified to judge this patent against the one mentioned by OXO, so I invite others to compare the two.

[1] http://www.quirky.com/products/36-Broom-Groomer-Broom-Cleani...

[2] http://www.google.com/patents/US20120260453

Patent pending or not, there's clear evidence of prior art, and the patent will most likely be rejected. I can file a patent on about anything from the wheel on up, and for the period between filing and rejection, I can claim that the wheel is patent pending - it still doesn't give me much further protection.

Apparently, Bill Ward earned $15k for re-appropriating a design from 1919.



Did he put silicone prongs on it?

That seems like a really bad idea. Silicone rubber is high friction - it's going to make cleaning the bristles hard work. And cleaning the prongs is going to be hard.

I love how easy it is to read and actually understand that patent.

It rather depends on the patent claims. There are over 500 patents on barbed wire, and searching for "paper clip" just now, there are new paper clip patents in the last few years, like 6,973,700 and 7,500,301. To say nothing of the many design patents for paper clips.

So not, it's not obvious that it will be rejected. It could be a seemingly minor thing. I brought up paperclips because in Henry Petroski's "The Evolution of Useful Things", the author describes how one paperclip patent claim was for the variant where the outside wire extends beyond the loop of the paperclip. That seems like a minor variation, but the submitter showed that no one else had done it, and got the patent.

I hate to say it but after ridiculing that change in the design I actually realised that it would totally solve the problem that I have with some paperclips: if I pushed it right down to level the clip on a pack of papers, pulling the clip off can sometimes catch the outside arm on the paper as it comes off. It doesn't tear the paper but it leaves a weird ugly mark.

That new design would avoid that problem I imagine. I'd totally but those paperclips!

I spent a while looking for the paperclips. They are nothing new. I remember seeing them some 20 years ago. But the various sites I found mostly sold Gems, some sold Gothic, and the rest were decorative styles. I even went through the old patent literature looking for it, but the closest I found was pre-Gem, from around 1900.

I did find a picture of what I'm thinking of, in the logo for http://www.bureaudirect.co.uk/ .

Still, I don't think you want an extended Gem. Try a Gothic - it has longer legs and is supposed to be favored by archivists, who are more affected by the problem you mentioned - but I haven't yet found an online source for them. Or perhaps an owl paperclip, since that doesn't look like it has anything which will catch the paper and several places stock it.

Wow. I know I'm not really adding anything to the conversation now, but I just wanted to thank you for opening my eyes to a world that I didn't know existed. So much information about something I didn't know was even a problem.

Awesome. Thanks!

You're welcome. And thanks for the thanks.

Does it even care if it's rejected or not? There is a prior patent, doesn't that count as 'prior art' (i.e. this new patent is just overpriced paper)?

You can also patent improvements. Since no one knows the details, you can't be sure that there is no prior art. What if the patent is on the specific way the dustbin is attached to the handle?

You need only review the barbed wire or paperclip patents to see how seemingly small differences can be patented.

Ah, that didn't cross my mind. Thanks

I've been in the tech industry for too long. The first few times, I read "Quirky" as "Quirk.ly".

That said, this sounds insane to me. Why would you spend money going to war with a competitor over such a trivial matter? ("OXO copied a patent that we also copied. Help, help, I'm being repressed.") Only to lose in the end? I don't get it.

One other observation: excellent application of Betteridge's Law of Headlines.

> Why would you spend money going to war with a competitor over such a trivial matter?

I think the Quirky people genuinely thought they were ripped off. They wanted to be seen as the small company of inventors being ripped of by a much larger company. Unfortunately, they lacked enough introspection to realize they have done worse, and now they look like hypocrites.

Do attack ads ever work, even if the facts are accurate?

(All I can think of are Microsoft's attack ads against Google, or Apple's "Redmond, Start your Photocopiers" ad. Wouldn't that money be better-invested in improving the product?)

> Do attack ads ever work, even if the facts are accurate?

Absolutely, because it puts the attacker on the same stage as the much larger company. It is risky, so it is a tactic that should be limited to companies that have less to lose.

Look up the history of Salesforce.com, and you will see all sorts of attack tactics that were instrumental in their success: attacking oracle, staging fake protests outside enterprise software conferences, etc.

Apple's "mac vs pc" ads seemed to do well.

Were you paying attention during the 2012 US Presidential elections? Do those count?

In politics, attack ads work well because if it causes someone to stay home it is a win. In business, negativity can damage the entire segment enough that both sides lose. Imagine if Coke and Pepsi accuse each other of selling "poison for idiots", then people will quit drinking soda altogether. Politicians don't have to consider this dilemma.

This isn't so much "in politics" in general, as "in elections in systems which have features which strongly reinforce duopoly"; in a duopoly, getting people to stay home or to dislike the target slightly more than they dislike you for the negative attack is a "win", but in systems where driving people away from one target (whether they stay home or actively vote against) with negative ads can fail to increase your share of the vote actually cast (because there are more meaningful options than vote for target, vote for attacker, or stay home), the incentives are different.

I wasn't paying attention, no. I already knew who I was going to vote for. (I don't watch ads on TV anyway. This leaves me woefully uninformed as to what sugar-infused toothpaste to buy, but I think I'll live.)

I had the pleasure of meeting the father son team that started OXO a few years back. Their story is very interesting, they started out redesigning the carrot peeler, and look where they are today.

Side note: I ordered a bunch of stuff from quirky the first time I saw the site and almost all the the stuff I got is really complete crap.

This makes me adore OXO even more than I did before. Very human response.

I love that fact that the other company was actually recycling an idea from 1919 and thinking they were onto something new.

Seems to be the both OXO and Quirky are acting in good faith here, and Quirky just went completely of the reservation instead of even considering they may be wrong. I can understand how this could happen, for instance if OXO's initially didn't take Quirky's case seriously enough to give it a decent response like they're doing now.

The ball is in Quirky's court now. If they have any shred of decency they will at the very least admit that they completely overreacted and that the case is more complicated than they claimed.

I don't expect that though. There is something horribly "off" about the lame way Quirky dressed up a PR stunt like genuine protest, the kind of people that do that are not the kind that are likely to admit mistakes.

They've riled up the Quirksters though - how do they back down and keep the forums calm?

I freaking love OXO products. Why? When you browse the kitchen utensil aisle at target you have a choice:

Do you go for the cheap ass $1 dishbrush or do you splurge and get the awesome OXO brush? Time and again I think OXO does a great job at delivering a quality product that puts up to all the crappy abuse I dish out.

Most large corporations wouldn't even bother with an article like this. OXO is simply trying to stay true to their roots. I respect that.

I like Oxo products, but their silicon brush is a bad product. The silicon brush is glued into the plastic handle, and it eventually falls off.

> I freaking love OXO products.

As do I until I made the mistake of buying their kitchen timer which has one redeeming feature (many hours of timing - most are limited to 90 minutes) and sucks in every other way possible: buttons that don't work well, bizarre modes (clock, timer, expired timer, repeat last time) and a hard to read display.

It has a second redeeming feature: it has a numeric keypad for quickly entering times. Most digital timers don't, which makes them harder to use than mechanical ones that you twist. Most digital timers squander their potential, but oxo gets that one right.

The modes make sense to me, so I see those as a plus. I agree with you though about the hard to read display and the hard to press buttons.

Try the Pampered Chef timer - yes, it's a multi-level marketing company (aka pyramid scheme), but they make some good basic tools. I have one that I've been using on a weekly basis for 3+ years on the original battery, dropped frequently and still works.

The problem with the modes is that you can't tell which it is. And I really don't need another clock - devices are pointlessly littered with them. I'll grudgingly accept one providing it keeps itself synchronised via radio/WWVB.

Wow. A direct response with just the right amount of "snark" that's backed up by generous citation.

It's slightly juvenile, but you know what? Quirky swung first; they don't get to complain when somebody swings back.

Kudos to Oxo.

Quirky got served. Must be shameful to work there this morning.

It's a shame that Quirky would take to the streets like that. It comes off as childish and combative rather than as scrappy and willing to go to bat for their inventors.

It also comes off as a cheap publicity stunt (because that's what it is).

It's impossible for us to know all the facts of this dispute, but from the outside it looks like a childish move on Quirky's part, and a mature response from OXO.

This seems pretty obviously a calculated publicity stunt. And it worked. I'd certainly never heard of Quirky before. Now I know not only who they are but that they stake their brand on protecting small inventors. That message will probably outlast any remembrance that they essentially smeared a beloved company. From that point of view, I say congratulations.

But OXO handled it brilliantly and turned it into a PR coup of their own.

I've heard of neither Quirky or OXO before reading this. Now I know that OXO make cool designed products, while Quirky are the sort of company I would rather not do business with.

Good marketing by everyone involved, honestly. Everyone wins!

The Quirky CEO was on Jay Leno's show last night. Interesting.

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