During lunch with a technology client I reminded him that a commercialisation lawyer should have knowledge broader than silo legal knowledge. Let me illustrate with a case study about headphones.
Assume that back in 2008 a start-up wanted to lauch into the headphone business.
That client has a vision. It sees significant growth of mobile music devices leading to more people wanting to buy headphones and use the instead of low quality standard earphones.
The client’s plan is to manufacture and sell designer headphones tweaked to be bass heavy for listeners of contemporary hip hop and related music genres.
For such a client I contend a commercialisation lawyer could and should apply broader knowledge than just that falling under intellectual property laws (eg trade marks, copyright and patent law), contracts and other business law.
This headphones commercialisation example comes to mind today because of a statistic in Stereophile, a leading Hi-Fi magazine.
Stereophile’s statistic is on Beats by Dr. Dre, a headphone brand:
Thanks in large part to the success of the Beats by Dr. Dre brand—which, last I checked, owned a shocking 64% of the $100-and-up headphone market—headphones have become as much fashion as audio accessory, with a mainstream popularity that’s impossible to deny. [Bold emphasis added]
What accounts for the success of Dr. Dre headphones? Is it intellectual property alone?
- The headphones have an industrial design that stands out. OK, back in 2008 that might have permit a design registration as a category of intellectual property in Australia.
- They have a stand out name too, which is easily registrable as a trade mark in Australia and elsewhere. And well before production it would have been sensible to conduct a patent search to check that the product was not infringing.
- The name, “Beats by Dr. Dre”, should also be secured as a handle across leading social media sites.
Protecting existing intellectual property is one thing. But how do you future proof such legal work as well?
I would strongly argue that when protection advice is sought, seek a lawyer that has awareness and insight into the future.
Everyone gives better advice if they understand product life cycles, product extensions, product customisation possibilities. Otherwise trade mark registrations and other work can date quickly. For commercialisation everyone should be capable of thinking ahead and in a manner that integrates knowledge of law, markets, technology trajectories and so on. This type of forecasting is useful, often critical.
To illustrate, Beats by Dr. Dre is extending its business line into car audio with Chrysler and music streaming at https://www.beatsmusic.com.
So much for intellectual property protection and futurism. What else could a commercialisation lawyer have done for the Dr. Dre venture?
The marketing strategy for the Beats brand has involved numerous celebrity endorsements. Every such endorsement should be governed by a written celebrity endorsement agreement. Agreements fall into the field of law known as contract law. The lead endorser is Andre Romelle Young, known by his stage name Dr. Dre.
If others wanted to distribute, or otherwise partner with the Beats product, there may have been many product distribution and licensing agreements. These too are contracts. Intellectual property licensing would also be needed if the headphones incorporate the proprietary technology of others.
The value of well negotiated and well drafted contracts is under-appreciated. Too often people in business get excited about the glamour of the words “intellectual property” and overlook the secure bedrock created by good contracts. Contracts build wealth just like property.
The Beats by Dr. Dre commercialisation case study is covered well by Wikipedia here.
Now don’t go off and buy the Beats by Dr. Dre headphone. You can get a lot better value for money with other headphones, such as those recommended in the Stereophile report, the accessory of the 2013 year.
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