This is a guest blog by Ian Monat, Owner of Monat Technologies. When the catalytic converter was stolen off his truck he made it his mission to "protect vehicles across the U.S. and U.K. from catalytic converter theft with the best security solutions on the market": The Catlock.
As a serial entrepreneur and investor I pitch a lot of ideas and a lot of ideas get pitched to me. People also tell me I should keep my ideas close to the vest and only reveal them to the public when they’re launched. There’s some truth to that, I even have a story to support that way of thinking.
In 2008 my Toyota 4Runner’s catalytic converter was stolen. I didn’t even know what a catalytic converter was at the time, or why someone would want to steal mine. Nonetheless, to replace it cost me a $500 insurance deductible. Total cost to insurance ended up being about $1,500.
The more I researched, the more I learned this was a big problem across the US. The global price of precious metals had risen such that the platinum in a converter (which filters the engine exhaust) is worth between $50 and $200 at a scrap yard and a thief could remove a converter in a matter of minutes. I kept thinking there had to be a way to prevent this from happening again, not only to me, but to others as well.
When I was getting my 4Runner repaired at the dealership I ran into an Arizona State University professor who taught my favorite class in grad school: Entrepreneurship. It turns out he was there because his converter just got stolen as well! When I asked him if he would be interested in a converter lock for his truck he not only said yes, but also helped me find the mechanical engineer who would end up being my business partner.
Smash cut to 2011, I had created a line of catalytic converter security locks called The Catlock®. They were selling well in the US and had just expanded into the UK, where converter theft was increasing. I was proud of The Catlock; it was patented and trademarked in the US, I was getting great feedback from customers, and we were on the road to becoming profitable.
I got a call from a machine shop owner in the UK who had his own line of automotive security products, access to automotive distribution channels, and wanted to talk about licensing The Catlock exclusively in the UK. I asked him to sign an NDA and we set up a call. Call time came and I didn’t have my signed NDA. He promised he’d send it tomorrow so we went ahead and discussed the details of manufacturing and licensing The Catlock.
What came next was deafening silence. I couldn’t get ahold of the guy, until I found his contact info in a press release a couple months later for the launch of his product, The CATLOC, which let’s say, was clearly inspired by our conversation. I talked to a handful of IP lawyers about courses of action, but without an NDA or a patent or trademark valid in the UK, I didn’t have a lot of options; my hands were tied.
You might think I should have kept it closer to the vest when talking to the guy in the UK and you might be right, but I look back on this and think of where I’d be if I didn’t talk to the professor about my idea to create the product. My guess is The Catlock wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t be having record sales this year with a new national retail distribution partner. That’s why today I’m still very open to sharing business ideas, even if they’re in an early phase, because I believe that although you might lose a battle, sharing your ideas with others who can help you along your journey will help you win the war.
The importance of protecting your IP is paramount. Create your IP strategy before you discuss your business ideas with Traklight; we're the only self-guided software platform that creates your custom IP strategy.