New products, time to market (new products), patent licenses, design protection


Mark Thatcher sat by the side of the fast-flowing Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon immersed in thought. It was appropriate that this was the location he had chosen to make one of the most important decisions of his business life. After all, it was the five years he spent as a guide/boatman on this very river that had given him the idea for his sport sandal. He had experienced first-hand the difficulties of wearing shower sandals (“flip-flops”) in an environment characterized by mud and swift water. And “sneakers” didn’t work much better. Although they usually stayed on the foot, lack of traction on wet surfaces, which described the entire raft on a whitewater trip, created a serious hazard for the wearer. Sneakers also never allowed the foot to completely dry which, on eighteen-day Colorado River trips, could lead to serious foot ailments. Mark had identified a need for a special type of footwear and developed a design he hoped would fulfill this need. He had combined the basic idea of a shower sandal with a system that would hold the foot firmly on the “foot-bed” of the sandal. This design consisted of a substantial sole and foot-bed with a unique five point strapping system. The straps were made of a strong nylon webbing material that dried quickly and provided many design options. Velcro was incorporated with the straps to allow for maximum adjustability thus insuring optimum comfort and fit. The design was so unique in fact that Mark had recently been granted a patent (see Figures 1 and 2) for the design. He could envision his new sport sandal creation eliminating the footwear problems long experienced by whitewater boaters while hopefully earning him at least some level of income. He had no idea of the number of these sandals that he might sell but he knew that American Whitewater (a not-for-profit conservation organization) estimated that there were 180,000 whitewater paddlers in the U.S. Mark dreamed of the day that one percent of the athletic footwear market would be sport sandals. If he could sell one-tenth of that in the near future he would be ecstatic. First he had to decide how he would get this idea from the prototype stage that had been sewn at the kitchen table to a production model that hopefully would find its way into specialty outdoor stores.

Only a few months earlier Mark had been a petroleum geologist for CITGO, an oil and gas company located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But after only two years at CITGO another large petroleum company had acquired them and the bulk of the geologists had been “downsized.” Mark now viewed the loss of that job as a blessing in disguise. He just was not cutout to be a “corporate man.” He loved skiing, surfing, mountain biking and whitewater rafting and kayaking. Mark was also passionate about music and often jammed with friends or simply played alone for his own enjoyment. He was so pleased to be free from the restrictions of his job as a geologist that he had decided that he would choose to be a “bum” if his new role as designer/inventor could not support him.

Since leaving CITGO, Mark had seriously depleted his financial reserves working on his invention and the patent. Although certain that his innovative sandal designed for river rafting and kayaking would be well received by the river community which he knew so well, he was less certain of its probability for financial success. Mark knew that his future and the future of his newly patented idea were dependent upon the decision he was about to make. Having been trained as a scientist, Mark was determined to make a rational decision based on all of the relevant information he had been able to gather. Unfortunately, Mark had no business background to guide him. He felt he was out of his element but had no real idea of where to look for assistance in analyzing his alternatives other than his patent attorney.

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