Airpocket beats turbulence; fit for take off

Published: 
28 January 2016

Canberran Trish Smith sat on a plane waiting for take-off. From her seat, she watched a bottleneck of passengers form behind a young woman who stood blocking the aisle, searching through her carry-on luggage bag, slowly unpacking items she apparently needed during the flight and putting them into the seat-back pocket, such as her iPad, headphones and a makeup bag.

Trish realised the hold-up would not have occurred if the woman had been able to take all those things from her bag to the seat-back pocket in one move. That was when she had the idea for the Airpocket: a slim, compact pouch, roomy enough to accommodate required inflight gadgets and yet still fit easily into the pocket of the seat in front.

She used Google to search for similar products, ‘surely there was already a product like this out there?’ She looked on Amazon, eBay and online luggage retailers. Waiting for flights, she’d seek out luggage outlets at airport terminals. There she found plenty of carryalls but no bags designed specifically to hold travel essentials and still fit conveniently into the back pocket of an airline seat.

‘It wasn’t the most scientific of approaches, but after a long search I was pretty sure I had a unique product so I contacted IP Australia for advice on how to protect my idea,’ said Trish.

She admits at that novice stage she was still referring to intellectual property (IP) as ‘what can I patent?’ Our call centre advised Trish on a number of queries, including that her concept sounded eligible for design registration and trade marking. They also explained how she could search the trade mark register for similar products, which she did. ‘I still didn’t find anything quite like my idea,’ she said.

The product name

The name ‘Airpocket’ came to Trish quickly. She liked it straight away and a quick Google search failed to turn up any other products using the name. So in May 2011, on the advice of IP Australia, Trish registered the name ‘The Airpocket’ as a trade mark in Class 18: Articles of luggage. She also registered it as a business name under the company Airpocket Pty Ltd. (This is done by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), not IP Australia), bought the domain name, and snapped up @theairpocket across social media. ‘I still didn’t have an actual, physical product at this stage,’ she said, ‘but I had secured my right to call it the ‘Airpocket’ which was really important to me because I thought it was a great name for what it was.’

Her logo came later. She had been sitting in a café having a coffee, doodling airplanes and sketching the word ‘Airpocket’ in her diary. She came up with a few ideas, varying the number and position of small, stylised airplane windows under and through the word.

She put her logo concept out on a crowd-source design website, seeking input. She received ideas but they included introducing gradients of shading and other design elements which made reproducing the logo more expensive. Eventually, she decided to stick with the one she had originally devised: the word Airpocket hovering above nine airplane windows. By September 2013, her airplane window logo was also registered as a trade mark with IP Australia.

In the meantime, with no previous business experience, Trish decided she needed further information on building a successful start-up.

‘I’ve worked in recruitment for most of my life, so I didn’t have the first clue about how to start a small business,’ said Trish. She attended seminars sponsored by the ACT Government and at one of these functions heard an IP lawyer speak.

‘He talked about protecting your right to sell your product and even use your product name in other countries, and discussed the importance of owning the rights to your IP in case you want to someday sell the company, which was something I hadn’t considered.’

He suggested contacting a specialist IP lawyer regarding international registrations, once the Australian registrations had been done.

Like most entrepreneurial journeys getting a product from germination stage to the shelf is a challenge and Trish and her Airpocket have hit occasional turbulence. ‘It’s been a very steep and sometimes expensive learning curve,’ she admits.

Building a prototype

Just getting a prototype that was retail ready was arduous. When starting out, Trish knew little about sewing and how different materials behaved, so she sought help from an old school friend who had an industrial sewing machine in the garage and a background in fashion design. They worked on the prototype over several months and produced the first set of technical specifications; those drawings were used when the first design registration was filed in September 2013. 

Eventually, Trish sought input from two different industrial designers and after several more months she had her final design, and a set of detailed specifications that could be sent to a manufacturer to produce a sample.

Finding a good manufacturer was the next challenge. Trish considered using a source agent – someone who acts as a go-between to help designers find the right manufacturer for their product, then oversee the whole process from sampling stage, through product refinement and then production and shipping, as well as handling all the financial and legal paperwork behind the scenes. But after time, Trish realised that this arrangement would not suit her.

‘I wanted to be more hands-on with the production, so I went back to Google and started looking for a manufacturer I could work directly with,’ she said. Unable to find one locally, she searched off-shore and finally found one in China.

With the help of the IP lawyer – and her new business partner - Trish had the Chinese manufacturer sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which meant they were bound to keep the design of the Airpocket secret. Only after this agreement was in place did they send the manufacturer the design.

International trade marks

In the meantime, they worked with the IP lawyer to prepare the international trade mark applications. Later, they sought legal advice to write a manufacturing contract that contained additional clauses to protect the IP.

The IP lawyer, who specialised in international trade marks and patents, provided advice on the merits of the Madrid Protocol (System) – a one stop solution for registering and managing trade marks worldwide. Through this system one application can be filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), in one language, with one fee, to protect a trade mark in the territories of up 97 members. Airpocket Pty Ltd has filed a number of international trade mark applications.

In March 2015, Airpocket was launched on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website that helps new projects get off the ground. The campaign was a huge success, achieving the funding goal in eight hours and going on to receive $49,254 in pledges from 519 backers.

In the months following, Trish and her business partner continued to refine the design and lock-in further intellectual property protections, in Australia and overseas. As of mid-January 2016 the first shipment of 2000 Airpockets is en route from China to Australia. Airpocket will initially be sold online at https://shop.airpocket.com.au

‘Since the Kickstarter campaign, I’ve had quite a few people ask me for advice on how to get their new idea to market, and one of the first things I suggest they do is get onto the IP Australia website to see about protecting their idea. It’s just so important, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.’

 

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