Published in Landslide® magazine, Volume 10, Number 6, a publication of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL), ©2018 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
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PROFILES IN IP LAW
rened design, so I led a U.K. design registration, or design
patent as they are called in the United States, to protect the
shape. That was all I could do at the time, or afford. I did investi-
gate a patent, i.e., a utility patent as they are called in the United
States, but really what I wanted to invest in protection-wise with
a patent was the concept of a ride-on suitcase, which obviously
wasn’t patentable. Any technical area that I’d solved to create the
product could easily be gotten around if I did secure a patent. So
I went down the route of initially trying to get the design off the
ground, and then later it became more about the brand.
On advice for startups, if they’ve got quite a uniquely shaped
product, then a registered design is certainly a low-cost solu-
tion to give a degree of protection. In this global marketplace, it
is more about brand than people copying products, and I think it
is most important to secure trademarks to protect your brand. If
there is a level of technical innovation, then they can always inves-
tigate the patent route. The challenge of patents, as I see it, is even
if I could have patented the concept of a ride-on suitcase back in
2002, or even 1998, I had no money, so all I would have been able
to do was get a U.K. patent. Patents are only really valuable in
the markets that you are going to be selling in, and in the global
marketplace that is pretty much every market. So patents can be
extortionately expensive. Being practical, we have a rule of thumb
that we will always apply for a patent in the United Kingdom, the
United States, and China, and then different European countries
and possibly Japan, depending on the type of product we’ve devel-
oped. You can’t go for a full global patent unless you are seriously
thinking you will be turning over billions of dollars.
You have expanded your business with sales across the globe.
Given cost constraints and differences between IP systems in dif-
ferent countries, has this required any creative IP strategies?
We try and put the balance of our investment in intellectual
property into trademarks, so the word TRUNKI is now trade-
marked in 56 countries around the world. We have developed our
range of other products, which all have pretty much granted pat-
ents now, with a focus on the United Kingdom, the United States
because there is a big potential consumer market, and China
because there is also now a big consumer market and because that
is where a lot of copies come from. The lowest cost for obtain-
ing protection for us is around registered Community designs. We
actually have 70 of those protecting different product lines in vari-
ous guises and different shapes and characters.
Rob Law MBE is one of the United Kingdom’s best-known prod-
uct designers. He is the founder and director of Magmatic Ltd.,
the company behind children’s suitcase and luggage brand
Trunki, best known for its ride-on suitcases. Famously turned
down for investment on the BBC TV series Dragons’ Den (equiv-
alent to ABC’s Shark Tank), Rob has gone on to enjoy global
success. Trunki products are available in 97 countries, have
received over 100 awards, and have sold in the millions. Rob
has long known the importance of intellectual property (IP), and
Magmatic has gained a reputation for vigorously defending its
IP rights. A registered Community design covering the Trunki
ride-on suitcase has been the subject of litigation as far as the
U.K. Supreme Court. In this interview, Rob shares some of his
thoughts and experiences of intellectual property.
I do not remember the last time I visited an airport without
seeing a Trunki product. How did the idea for the Trunki
ride-on suitcase rst come about?
It was way back about 20 years ago now, studying product
design at university. It was the same course as Jonathan Ive of
Apple fame, but I was quite a few years behind him. As a sec-
ond-year student, I entered a luggage design competition. I was
in a local department store looking for inspiration, and I noted
that hard-molded suitcases were all the rage. Back then, you may
remember, injection-molded black suitcases were quite fashion-
able. I couldn’t really nd much more inspiration than that, so I
drifted off into the kids’ toy department. I was there looking at the
ride-on toys, which were manufactured using a technique called
rotational molding that wastes a lot of space, and thought why
not marry the two concepts together, using the injection molding
technology for the adult suitcases but making a really functional
ride-on toy at the same time. So that was when the idea was born.
Intellectual property needs to be an early consideration for
startups at a time when funds are often limited and there
are numerous other important considerations. What steps
did you take early on, and what advice would you give to a
new startup regarding intellectual property?
My personal experience was that I was touting around the
concept of this ride-on suitcase, and luggage companies weren’t
sure it was a piece of luggage, they thought it was more of a toy,
and toy companies thought it more a piece of luggage than a
toy, so I was really struggling to nd anyone to take it on. And
then I had an opportunity to talk to a very big player. I thought
I needed a bit more security before I started showing a more
An Interview with Rob Law
Founder of Magmatic Ltd.
By Rupert Knights
Rupert Knights is a partner at Dolleymores in Hertfordshire,
England. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.