There is no lack of ingenuity and innovation in the U. S. today. Each year, thousands of new products are invented, and but most are never produced. Knowing how to use technology to create a product doesn’t mean you know how to manufacture it and get it to market. Obtaining a patent is a key factor in achieving success, but you also need to recognize the limitation of your knowledge and expertise and utilize experts in fields you need, such as product design/engineering, patent/licensing, material/process selection for prototyping and production manufacturing, and marketing.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Adam Xavier, founder and CEO of New Hampton Technologies dba RoadLoK Security, who is an example of an inventor and entrepreneur who successfully got his product patented and into the marketplace.
His company distributes products worldwide under the brand name RoadLoK. The company specializes in the design and production of model-specific vehicle locking systems for motorcycles, scooters and off-road power sports vehicles. The RoadLoK is the only locking system that safely and effectively prevents rollaway theft. The system is designed to be permanently mounted on a motorcycle, thereby eliminating the need for storing the lock while riding. The system’s permanent mounting eliminates all momentum, making it virtually impossible to damage calipers and fenders. This is accomplished while also protecting the rider, should the rider forget to unlock the system before attempting to ride off.
I asked how he got the idea for his product, and Adam said, "My twin brother Eric and I were sitting in the outside seating area of a bar the summer after we graduated from college and saw a man forget to take off his lock and tip over his motorcycle. We started talking about a better idea for a lock and drew a sketch on a napkin. The next day, we searched to see if there was a lock similar to our idea, but didn't find one. We took our sketch to a CAD designer to turn our idea into a design that could be manufactured. A friend from college, Matt Tomosivitch, who had become a machinist, made our first prototype. Matt is now the chief engineer of our company.”
Continuing, Adam said, "We made a video of our lock that showed how it worked. We wrote a comprehensive 60-page business plan. We filed for a provisional patent in July 2005. Then, we sent our video to a local investor network group in New York and were kicked down to the group in our area, Orange County. The director contacted us, and we gave our pitch in December 2005. We got our first investment check from the Orange County Capital Development Group on February 16, 2006. This investment was enough to get us to our first trade show in March, the International Motorcycle Show in Atlanta, Ga.
Adam said that they set up their first office in Middleton, N.Y., and later moved to Newburgh, N.Y. They spent two years of R&D to finalize the design and raised another $3 million over three years to get into full production. They used 3D printing to make new prototypes as they improved the design. They received a lot of mentoring and hands-on help from their angel investors.
Their first utility patent was granted on Dec. 23, 2008, after their third attempt at an "office action" at the patent office. They got their second patent in 2010.
When they started the company, Adam said that they wanted to keep everything made in the U. S. They used www.thomas.net to find all of their vendors. They have seven major vendors for all of the different parts of their product; the vendors are located in Illinois, North Carolina, New York and Texas. Their mission is to produce a high-quality product, so all of their vendors are ISO 9001-2008 certified to meet the exacting requirements of their customers.
They later moved to California because they needed to have face-to-face communication with their two biggest customers, one located in Murrieta and one in Corona, Calif. California also has the biggest population of motorcycle riders.
The executive offices are now located in Santa Monica, Calif., but their product is manufactured in Salisbury, N.C., and assembled to order at their plant in Torrance, Calif. Since the RoadLoK is produced to order, production is not automated and does not utilize any robots. They are looking at doing more vertical integration of parts manufacturing. Their screw-machining vendor in Chicago makes two parts, and the patented design of their locking pin has 5 components made by three different vendors.
They started to implement lean principles in 2009 and changed one component from a square rod to an extrusion, which reduced material waste by 62%. They have been working towards reducing other material waste and time since then.
Their original plan was to focus on after-market sales of the product for the first two years and then license the product to motorcycle manufacturers on a non-exclusive basis similar to how the airbag is licensed to car manufacturers. Now in its 9th year of operations, RoadLoK's largest customers are KTM Sportmotorcycle and Ducati, with others to be announced within the next year.
When asked how his company has been impacted by competition from Asia, Adam said, "We don't have any direct competitors offshore, just cheaper substitute locking mechanisms. We are selling in Australia, Japan and China, and recently selected a company to partner with to produce parts in China to sell to the Chinese market. We have started the process to file a patent in China. We need to have a manufacturing plant in China to sell to the Chinese market because of the high import duties. Brazil is another country we are looking at to set up a manufacturing plant because of the high import duties. There would be a win/win benefit of jobs to the community and provide a much-needed product for the people."
I naturally asked how the recession affected his company when they were only a little over two years old when it started. Adam said that they were spending about 85% of their time setting up a distributor network and program to sell to dealers utilizing direct sales persons. But, motorcycles are purchased with discretionary income, which dried up during the recession as people lost their jobs. So, their direct sales to motorcycle riders through distributors/dealers dropped drastically. To survive and grow, Adam said, "We had to reduce our direct sales staff and reduce our travel costs. We changed our sales model to online retail sales and direct sales to motorcycle manufacturers. This model has helped us grow and succeed. We have also started R&D on the next generation of vehicle immobilizers to other two or more wheeled vehicles that do not have a transmission.”
Adam had read my article, "Which Patent Reform Bill Doesn’t Destroy the American Patent System?" and said, "Our having a patent pending was key to getting investors and having a patented product has been the key ingredient to our success as a company. Investors want the protection of a patent, but they wouldn't take the risk of being made personally liable. There is no way that we could have gotten investors if our investors had been personally liable for defending our patent in a patent infringement lawsuit." Note: Adam was referring to the ‘Loser Pay's’ provision of H.R. 9 and S.1137.
If we want to have more successful companies manufacturing products in America, then we need to protect our American patent system and stop H.R. 9 and S. 1137 from being passed. Instead, we need to pass the Strong Patents Act of 2015, S. 632, which will "Enact balanced reforms to reduce abuse while sustaining American leadership in innovation."