Tuesday 22 October 2019

Alan O'Neill: 'Protecting your great ideas is the name of the game'

If you want to build a valuable brand, it’s advisable to think ahead and register your viable product or service at the earliest opportunity

Stock image
Stock image

Alan O'Neill

I have no doubt that the corks were popping in Pat McDonagh’s house recently to celebrate his David versus Goliath win over McDonald’s.

Whatever Supermac’s spent defending its trademark will probably turn out to be the cheapest global advertising campaign ever. What a gift from a multinational giant to an indigenous Irish brand. It was reported recently on Independent.ie that since the landmark decision, Supermac’s is getting enquiries from potential franchisees from all over the world.

The background to this is that Irish brand Supermac’s, which has been trading here in Ireland since 1978 with that name, made noises about expanding to other countries, including Spain and Australia.

McDonald’s seemed to have been willing to put up with it while the conflict with the name was contained just in Ireland.

In some ways, you can’t blame it. In the Interbrand 2018 global list, McDonald’s ranks 10th with a brand valuation of $43bn. Every global giant is obliged to protect the distinctiveness of its brand. That’s why brands like Xerox and Hoover spend millions every year reminding publications not to abuse their name. If they don’t, they risk losing the right to keep the protection. These firms have deep pockets with in-house lawyers who are focused on this.

Trademarks tend to be national and don’t cross borders unless you actively register your trademark in each country. The Beatles record label Apple Music in the UK agreed to co-exist with US firm Apple Computer, so long as Apple didn’t enter the music business. Well, as we know, that all changed with iTunes and the rest is history.

What’s in a name?

I met Raymond Hegarty, CEO of DEMPE Solutions, to get to the bottom of this. Raymond is a senior executive who has spent decades weaving through what seems like a minefield of international IP strategy including trademarks, patents and copyright. Today I’ll focus just on trademarks and return to the other topics another time.

The most significant advice from Hegarty is to consult with a specialist trademark attorney or IP strategist. It is possible to register a trademark yourself or use an online service.

However, there are higher success rates for trademark applications to be granted when prepared by professionals. Further down the line, a well-drafted trademark will be more robust if it is ever involved in a legal dispute. “This is quite a technical area that needs real understanding of the issues and implications. And it needs to be carefully planned,” said Hegarty.

Tips for Registering Trademarks 

1 If you have a viable product or service ready to go to market and you want to build a brand, you should consider registering a trademark.

“A trademark can be many things such as a name, logo, colour, a tag line like Nike’s ‘just do it’ or even a symbol like their ‘swoosh’,” said Hegarty.

2 While patents have a limited life (20 years, provided you pay the fees), trademarks can last forever theoretically. But you have to demonstrate that the trademark is being used (as with Xerox above).

3 Start this registration or investigation journey early on. If you don’t, you may find yourself having to change a name down the line. That’ll cost money for packaging, websites, catalogues and other collateral.

4 You cannot just register a trademark if you don’t intend to you use it or if it is being registered simply to block others.

5 Don’t be casual. You must register your trademark in each country that you care about and in each category or sub-category. For example, the Big Mac was registered in three classes — prepared foods, sandwiches and restaurant services. Clearly, the restaurants themselves are not branded “Big Mac”, so it would be difficult to retain protection in the restaurant services classification.

6 If you want to be a disruptor, know what you’re getting into and who you might come up against.

7 Be vigilant in monitoring that others don’t exploit your trademark. There are no “trademark police”, so the obligation is on the trademark owner to monitor use and abuse before relying on the protection of the courts.

The Last Word

China as a country has received lots of bad press over the years for ripping off brands and products. That is less than fair today, as its laws have been updated and become more sophisticated. Remember that China also needs foreign direct investment and has signed up to the World Trade Agreement, so it needs to illustrate its compliance. According to Hegarty, it has become sophisticated in recent years, but execution of the new laws still need work.


Bespoke meal company that is delivering on a healthy ambition

Clean Cut Meals.jpg
‘Managing expectations, being honest and working with the customer over time is our mantra,’ says Conor McCallion, left, with Micheal Dyer. Photo: James Joyce

Business: Clean Cut Meals

Set up: 2015

Founders: Micheal Dyer and Conor McCallion

Turnover: €1.4m

No of Employees: 10

Location: Galway

As I drove into Dublin city at 6.30am one day last week, I passed WestWood fitness Centre. There was a queue of cars out onto the road trying to get parking. It got me thinking about fitness, diet and the New Year resolutions that people make. I thought about my own regime and wondered if I was doing enough.

Further on down the road, I saw a huge billboard advertising veganism and designed to encourage us to stop eating animal-based foods, including dairy. That multiplied the thoughts in my mind about how the world is changing.

I couldn’t help pondering on the impact of this health and wellness agenda on the business world. There will always be winners and losers, runners and riders, trends on the up — and on the way out.

And there will always be profits and losses. I’m sure my friends in Glanbia, being the largest milk producer in Ireland — along with the very important Irish dairy industry as a whole — will be watching this disruption very closely.

Clean Cut Meals

On January 5, 2015, two college pals came together and launched their new business with a bang. They are two of the most enthusiastic and animated entrepreneurs that I’ve met and their passion is infectious.

Being conscientious millennials who want to live and eat healthily, they were disappointed with the foods that were available to them.

Clearly Micheal Dyer and Conor McCallion are not complete health freaks, as it was over a few pints on a Saturday afternoon that their idea for Clean Cut Meals was born.

Their business is all about ready-made healthy food in bespoke meal plans, for those wanting to be more healthy.

With Micheal having studied culinary arts and Conor having studied hotel management in Galway GMIT, they started out in what they describe initially as a ‘me-too’ healthy food business.

They initially conducted market research by doing tastings and an online survey.

Within their first week, they got 3,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. This inspired them to get going and build the business. Their thinking evolved as the business grew and they realised that their purpose was actually to change people’s lives.

They’re now doing that for about 550 regular customers who spend an average of €105 per week on a seven-day three-meal plan.

The Business Model

This is mainly an online business, although the business does have a multiple retail range in Joyce’s supermarkets across Galway. The batch cooking is done mainly at the weekend. They then despatch orders on Sunday nights to arrive to the homes or offices of customers around the country on Mondays.  Each consignment will have instructions and clear labelling for how to microwave or cook the meals.

I received a sample delivery last week and was initially amazed at the attention to detail, the packaging and the presentation. The menu mix and quality of food is also very impressive.

It’s a subscriber model, where customers engage for a healthy-eating programme.

One of their USPs is to make changes every week, to keep the programme interesting. Within a week of the first order, customers get a call from a nutrition expert to have a one-to-one discussion about their goals and lifestyle.

With this information, recommendations are made for a healthy-eating plan. Regardless of whether the goal is to lose weight, build muscle or to improve health, the advice will be realistic and honest.

“Managing expectations, being honest and working with the customer over time is our mantra. We genuinely want to improve lives so we’re always available to our customers to listen to them and offer further advice when they need it,” said McCallion.

“Distribution is critical and is obviously outsourced to a courier service. I constantly challenge my clients to ensure that they give excellent service at all touch-points. Using third-party outsource partners presents a risk to that.”

“We are on a huge learning curve here and we have every intention of being the best we can be, so customer feedback is essential to us,” said Dyer.

The Future

The market for convenience food is likely to continue to grow with economic growth and full employment.

So also is the focus on healthy eating with the next generation being extremely health conscious.

We hear lots about the levels of obesity in Ireland, so inevitably that focus will become even more apparent over time.

What this business has achieved in just three years is truly extraordinary and the ambition is to increase the subscriber base this year from 550 to 750, which will generate sales in the region of €3m to €4m.

The model is working and already, the owners are exploring the potential for their business in western Europe.

Shelf life and improved packaging will play a big part in that. Due to Brexit, UK is not on the radar right now.

Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to sundaybusiness@independent.ie

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