Protect your stocking filler

Use IP to protect your stocking filler

We all know the phrase “stocking filler” as a cheap(ish), small(ish) gift intended to be put in a Christmas stocking.  That could be a child’s toy or game, but stockings are increasingly frequently given to adults and even pets, so the term ‘stocking filler’ can be applied to a wide range of gifts including electronic gadgets, toiletries, jewellery, clothing, food items, etc. 

If a product could be described as a ‘stocking filler’, it is likely to be a high-volume, low(ish)-margin commodity that is expected to generate the greatest revenue during a short period of time around Christmas.  It is also likely to be quite easy to copy and, bearing in mind the (possibly) low margins, the biggest risk to the business is likely to be that of copies quickly entering the market and eroding your market share.  So how do you protect your stocking fillers?  The answer is, of course…

Intellectual Property (IP) rights

IP rights not only allow you to prevent or stop a third party from making or selling infringing products via the courts, but they also allow you to take down listings of infringing articles from online marketplaces such as Amazon.  Not only that, but an IP right can be registered at customs (in the country covered by the right) so as to prevent infringing products from leaving a country of manufacture or entering a key market.  Read our article for more information on customs registration.

‘Alternative’ IP rights

You may have already thought about ‘traditional’ IP rights, such as patents and trade marks, and concluded that the value and/or expected lifetime of the product isn’t worth the financial outlay, not to mention the time it would take to secure a granted right.  However, a few strategically placed ‘alternative’ IP rights, such as utility models and registered designs, could provide a ‘happy medium’ in terms of protecting your interests at a reasonable relative cost.

Utility models and registered designs

A utility model is a relatively short-term right (6-10 years), which is similar to a patent (in that it protects technical innovation) but doesn’t go through the same rigorous examination process (so usually takes much less time to be granted and therefore enforceable) or require the same stringent criteria for patentability.  In fact, it usually only requires a single novel feature, without the need for a so-called “inventive step”. This means that, not only are the timescales much reduced, but the cost is generally also much less than for a patent.  Ideal to protect your stocking filler if that is an electronic gadget or toy, for example.

Manage your IP strategically

Not all countries have utility model provisions, but China does, for example, as do France, Germany and some other European countries.  So, if you are a UK business manufacturing your product in China and selling predominantly to Europe and USA, a few strategically placed utility models (in China and one or two European countries) could really strengthen your market position.  This could be supplemented by registered designs (which protect the outward appearance of a product) in countries like the UK and USA, which do not have utility model provisions.

An alternative strategy in this scenario might be to have registered designs in China, EU, UK and USA, thereby placing granted IP rights in (potentially) your main markets and, again, the country of manufacture.

These are rather simplistic examples, used to illustrate the thought process behind a strategic IP policy. In fact, depending on the product, there are lots of different IP strategies available that could provide crucial IP protection relatively quickly and protect your stocking filler without breaking the bank.  Once an IP strategy has been devised, the cost can be weighed against the potential value of your product, and you can decide what’s best for your business, but the message here is that it’s always worth exploring carefully before dismissing IP and going unprotected into the fiercely competitive stocking filler markets.

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