UBCO electric utility bikes

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UBCO electric utility bikes

Great advice on trade mark and design intellectual property (IP) allowed UBCO to power ahead and develop innovative electric utility bikes.

Every major company has a colour. Our black and white colour scheme is a very deliberate choice.

Dream it

Daryl Neal and Anthony Clyde dreamed up a revolutionary electric idea: a battery-powered off-road utility motorbike. They premiered their original prototype bike at Fieldays in 2014 and found strong favour amongst the farming crowd.

The two inventors walked away from Fieldays with an innovation award for their efforts, plus a new investor and eventual CEO in Timothy Allan. Founder of Locus Research – the company behind the innovation award – Timothy brought a wealth of IP and product development knowledge to the business.

Timothy says he was impressed by the bike’s high-quality design concept. “It’s a ground-breaking idea. Daryl and Anthony’s unparalleled knowledge of the e-bike supply chain, and deep partnerships with key companies in China, cinched the deal.”

UBCO's 2x2 on the beach.

The latest UBCO 2x2 utility bike is geared up for off-road and on-road driving. Image © UBCO.

Do it

The proof is in the product

UBCO are driven by product development. The 2x2 utility bike has many innovative features that make it cheap to run and revolutionary as an off-road bike:

  • Electric drive
  • Near-silent driving
  • High performance in challenging terrains
  • Light-weight and strong build
  • USB power port, for charging devices in the field
  • Ready-use utility accessories
  • Digital connectivity

The latest version of the 2x2 is also registerable for on-road use.

Deciding which elements of the bike to develop from scratch and which to license from others has been an interesting process for the company.

UBCO’s preference is to develop in-house. But they’ll look at buying a license for a solution, Timothy says, “if someone comes to us, or if we’re trialling things with the manufacturer and they have some intellectual property we can use.”

Deciding when to license third-party IP comes down to two main considerations. The first is whether the IP will give UBCO a point of difference in their target market.

“The other side of it is, if you can reduce your maintenance costs, your warranties, things like that – same thing; that’s got an economic value.”

Building a unique brand

UBCO logo.

The UBCO logo is based on the 2x2 bike’s unique sub-frame.

The first thing the team did after Timothy joined them was develop a brand, even before they registered their company. They took a systematic approach that included looking at the brands of other vehicle manufacturers and identifying a unique space for themselves.

“Every major company has a colour,” Timothy explains. “Our black and white colour scheme is a very deliberate choice. The logo is very identifiable no matter where it’s used. Part of that’s the design of the logo, and part of it is the colour, which is integral to the brand.”

Own it

Developing an IP strategy has been crucial to UBCO’s business. Their portfolio currently extends from trade marks in several classifications, to designs.

What’s in a name?

“For us, the word mark is key,” says Timothy. “We might decide to change our logo in two years’ time for some reason that we can’t identify today. The word mark is the thing you’ve got to protect.”

A word mark is a type of trade mark that uses only words.

UBCO ran trade mark searches early in their branding process. Timothy suggests that working with an attorney who specialises in trade marks and has the right research skills can be a big help.

Because UBCO always planned to go global, they needed to start global. “We did ‘knock out’ searches in all the key jurisdictions to clear the use of ‘UBCO’,” Timothy says. “If you get it wrong, you’re really going to get cooked.”

A strong word mark is supported by a strong brand, he adds. That includes websites and social media content, as well as business cards, brochures, and other printed material. “If you’re not doing all that stuff exceptionally well, you won’t attract investors, you’re not going to attract customers, and so the word mark is not worth anything.”

IPONZ provides trade mark searches and preliminary advice for a fee. Or as a quick and cost-free starting point, the ONECheck search tool  identifies trade marks, company names, website domains, and social media handles that are the same or similar to the one you have in mind. A great trade mark is distinct and unique.

Word marks around the world

Once UBCO confirmed their brand name was unique, they used the Madrid Protocol to apply for an international trade mark through IPONZ. Basing their international application on their New Zealand trade mark, UBCO were able to easily designate countries around the world where they wanted applications filed.

UBCO registered their word mark before confirming their company name and website domain. “You can keep on getting a dot-this and a dot-that until the cows come home,” Timothy says. “But you just end up paying for a hundred domains, parking ninety-nine domains and then using one.”

Other options include reserving the company name, or managing brands separately as different words from the name of the company.

Having a registered word mark also offers some protection when it comes to fending off competitors on the world wide web, says Timothy. “If someone thinks these days that they can actually own your domain and sit on it, and that not be a breach of your rights as a trade mark holder, they’re wrong.”

Distinctive designs, multiple markets

When registering IP, UBCO choose not to file for defensive reasons. “There’s no point in just filing for the sake of filing. You only file for things that are material and are substantive,” Timothy says.

Understanding the commercial value of what you’re protecting is key, he adds. “I have a form which asks an engineer or a designer or another person working on the project to basically isolate what it is [that’s potentially unique] and isolate the commercial value of it.”

Every development idea for the 2x2 is assessed on whether or not it will restrict the company from operating in its chosen markets. Timothy says, “If we’re going to adopt a technology, we must be able to freely use that technology in all of the jurisdictions we are aiming to sell the product. It’s one thing having novelty, but freedom to operate is our baseline.”

When it comes to registering designs, the distinct appearance of the 2x2’s frame was the main IP element UBCO decided to protect. The frame is so distinctive its shape even forms the UBCO logo.

Thinking internationally, Timothy says there are three things you must do when applying to register designs – and patents. “You need to file it in your country of manufacture, you need to file it in your country of origin, and you need to file it in your biggest markets. If you don’t do those, you can really get hammered. The advantage with the Madrid Protocol and the Patent Cooperation Treaty is that they all emanate from your country of origin.”

But you could go about things differently, he suggests. “If you really want to be aggressive and time is of a concern to you, you could alternatively file directly in the country that you want to enter the market in. Because it’s the quickest route to get a registration.”

Monitoring the market

Watching what patent and design registrations other people have in the pipeline is advisable, Timothy says. “You can see what’s coming through the system the whole time, in areas that you are interested in.” This is free to do online.

But beware that people may be watching you, just as you’re watching them.

From his background in product development, Timothy suggests filing a provisional patent to reduce the risk of others seeing your IP during the patent application process. That way, “you can have a huge amount of intellectual property that is like an iceberg which just sits below the surface.” Other people won’t see all that submerged detail, “until it’s basically ready to be turned into a complete specification.”

Filing a provisional patent also allows innovators to make a quick start on their application, while continuing to work on a more detailed patent specification.

Infringement of IP is another area UBCO monitors, with a little help. "Relationships that you have at a manufacturing and supply-chain end, and the marketing and distribution end, and so on, they’re material to you being aware of people that infringe,” Timothy says.

Right advice, right time

Even with his twenty years of experience in product development and handling IP, Timothy says it’s important to use a good IP specialist. UBCO’s worked with law firms both big and boutique. The key was finding attorneys with the right IP and subject matter knowledge. “You need somebody who understands what you’re giving them.”

Timothy recommends discussing the operational requirements of holding intellectual property with a law firm upfront. “What’s their approach, how do they manage it, what level of security do they provide on those matters? If you’ve got a good firm, you can rely on them and their background systems, and you’re not going to have anything lapsed, and that’s quite important.”

If the law firm has good internal systems, he says, then reminders come thick and fast and they get heavier as you get closer to those all-important IP application and renewal deadlines.

Getting the right IP advice at the right time has been crucial not only to UBCO’s success locally, but also their expansion into the Australian and – as of early 2018 – American markets. And the ride’s not over, with further markets already in their sights. “It’s a progressive picture,” Timothy says. “It doesn’t really stop.”

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