In 2011, Michigan inventor Cheong Choon Ng developed a new device which would elevate the humble rubber band from being a simple stationery cupboard essential into a rainbow-coloured global phenomenon.
Today, loom bands, are at the centre of a multi-million pound industry. They have inspired adults and children alike to invest hour upon hour carefully fastening and weaving the bands together, transforming them into a variety of different objects ranging from toys and charms to bracelets, and in more extreme cases, even clothing.
The idea behind loom bands is a fiendishly simple one. A special tool and board are used to weave different rubber bands together. The bands are joined using a special type of knot known as a brunnian link or fastened using a patented clip. Significantly since his first patent applications, Choon’s Designs – the company founded by Cheong Choon Ng – has filed multiple patent applications internationally, aiming to prevent others from not only copying the way in which loom band creations are made, but also how they interlink.
In some countries such as the US, some of the patents filed by Choon’s Designs have already been granted. Once a patent has been granted, its owner has the legal right to pursue damages from business rivals trying to cash in on the idea – and that’s exactly what Choon’s designs did – filing claims against a number of large toy manufacturing companies in a bid to prevent them from cashing in on his invention, as well as pursuing damages.
There are a number of claim and counters claims currently being fought in the US courts between Choon’s Designs and several toy manufacturing companies. However, the popularity of loom bands is not simply a trend that’s been restricted to American children, but one that’s proved to be popular across the world.
To protect his protect his business, similar patent applications to the ones granted in America have been filed in a number of different countries including Hong Kong. Australia and Europe. It’s worth remembering that different rules can apply in different countries when it comes to determining whether a patent is granted. Simply because a patent has been granted in one country doesn’t necessarily mean the same right will be granted elsewhere.
In Choon’s case, some of the patents granted in the US were rejected in Australia. This is not unusual and the decision in Australia is currently being appealed. It does illustrate how sometimes it is possible for an invention to gain legal protection in one country, but cannot be protected in another – often the result of lengthy and costly legal battles where claims and counter-claims are brought into question.
It’s likely to take some time before the first rulings are made in the US Loom Band lawsuits, but the disputes between Choon’s designs and its competitors are not dissimilar to the legal issues which have been at the heart of the multi million pound patent wars around mobile phones and tablets.
These patent wars are a series of high profile legal cases which have seen some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and Sony, meet in courtrooms across the world to dispute the rights in smart phone technology. The claims and counter claims have resulted in some devices being banned and large compensation being awarded and disputed. The cases have been fought across the world since 2009 and show little sign of ending any time soon.
We may already be starting to see a similar situation arising around loom bands. However, perhaps it’s worth remembering that in the mobile patent wars, once a mobile device has been effectively banned by the courts, it has usually been superseded by a newer model which is not necessarily covered by the same ruling.
Whatever the outcome of the loom band litigation, the case goes some way of highlighting the importance to entrepreneurs and business owners of making the right provisions when it comes to protecting a new invention.
A patent is the only legal right that can allows an invention to be protected from copying. When products are successful, it’s highly likely that they will attract the attention of copycats – eager to place short term gain ahead of long-term consequences.
Time will tell whether or not loom bands are here to stay, or simply a short term playground craze, but obtaining the right form of intellectual property protection means that when others decide that they may want to try to steal your ideas, you have a legal right in place that will deter others from trying to cash in on your hard work.