Hafiz Zubir, Athirah & Co.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LESSONS FROM THE FILM ‘JOY’ (2015)

While I dedicate my life for my passion, intellectual property, I really enjoy watching movies. I consider the latter a hobby, which is something you do for fun, during leisure time. On the other hand, passion is something you would love to do constantly or even for work. You can never imagine how I will be lost at the ninth level of the nirvana when these two elements are embedded in one form i.e. watching a movie that has Intellectual Property substance in it.

Prior to this, I had given a review from Intellectual Property’s perspective on a real-life story movie, ‘The Founder’. It is a movie featuring the historical journey of McDonald’s from an eatery in a small city of San Bernardino into one of the powerful global franchised restaurants. You may read the review here.

Another real-life movie that catches my attention in term of its Intellectual Property lesson is ‘Joy’. Released in 2015, this film was written and directed by David O. Russell. Unlike ‘The Founder’ which Intellectual Property lessons revolve around Trademark and Goodwill, ‘Joy’ accentuates the importance of another component of Intellectual Property, which is, Patent.

‘Joy’ tells a story of Joy Mangano, a divorced Long Island mother, who invents a detachable, self-wringing mop and overcomes significant obstacles to develop a huge successful enterprise. As it is a real-life story of a successful business woman cum inventor, I have no doubt that this film has tonnes of business lessons, nonetheless, the point of discussion will be focused on the context of Intellectual Property alone. Having said that, I found there are at least five (5) main points that can be learned here:

  1. Law is a very wide field and Intellectual Property is one its niche areas. Not every lawyer knows how to deal with it.

Joy is an inventive and creative person ever since she was a kid. When she was in high school, she invented a dog collar which had a quick release so that dogs would never choke. Unfortunately, thanks to her family’s ignorance and limited resources, no one took it seriously to get advice from a patent lawyer to make the technology protected which subsequently was patented by a company called Hartz.

When Joy becomes an adult and her hands get injured after wringing a mop that she uses to clean up a shattered glass, she invents a whole new kind of mop that is self-wring and able to be cleaned using a washing machine. Feeling determined to change her life and the future of her children, she decided to monetise from this invention nevertheless she misguidedly relied on a family member to suggest a lawyer who didn’t have the right background or expertise in Intellectual Property. As a result, she had to unnecessarily pay a wrongfully claimed large sum royalty to a con company who claimed as a representative of the patent owner of a similar technology in Hong Kong.

  1. A strategic Patent Due Diligence is a must prior to launching a new product or technology.

The freedom to operate search helps identify third-party patents and helps avoid infringing the patent rights of others. With a patent due diligence review, we can provide guidance on effective patent portfolio management strategies.

In Joy’s case, she does it right when she asks a lawyer to conduct a patent search before she starts a mass production of her mop. It’s just that the lawyer is not a lawyer who has adequate Intellectual Property knowledge and expertise which results in Joy pay a non-existent royalty in order to avoid a potential lawsuit. It triggers Joy’s ex-husband to wonder how the company who alleged it is the representative of the patent owner of a similar technology in Hong Kong is the same company who offers to manufacture Joy’s mop at a cheaper price however he was ignored by Joy’s other family members.

  1. Intellectual Property valuation plays an integral part when it comes to closing an investment.

Joy was once an online booking agent who struggled financially but she needed a large amount of money to launch her mop. After being convinced by Joy, Trudy, a wealthy Italian widow whom Joy’s father was dating, agrees to invest in Joy’s product.

Understanding the value of the intellectual property attached to a business will help investors and buyers reap the most from their investment. Ideally, startups need to consider Intellectual Property as an imperative tool in the justification of the company valuation in order to attract any potential investment.

  1. To come up with a brilliant invention is one thing, to commercialise it and make it marketable is another thing.

Having manufactured her first batch of product without any experience in business, Joy has no idea how to put her product in the market. Joy tries to approach a retail shop to get her mop displayed at the window however she is turned down because unlike big companies, Joy is unable to pay for the shelf space. As suggested by the retail shop owner, Joy, then approaches a big company to obtain a business-to-business arrangement but again rejected because they reckon selling cheaper mop is more profitable than more expensive long lasting one because they get to sell it more often.

Refuse to give up, Joy later tries her luck by setting up a car boot sale at a Kmart parking lot but is raided by the police and her products are seized. Joy’s ex-husband then introduces her to Neil Walker, an executive from QVC, a televised home shopping channel, who agrees to sell her mops on TV. Even so, it is not easy at the beginning and after a few hindrances, Joy’s mop sells out, earning thousands of dollars.

  1. Intellectual Property dealing is the most critical part of your Intellectual Property Management. Any miscalculation or lack of proper strategy will cost you a fortune.

 After successfully breaking through QVC and receiving tens of thousands of orders for her mop, Joy’s business and rights are vulnerable. Peggy, who is Joy’s paternal half-sister, renegotiated the license agreement without Joy’s knowledge so that the actual costs of the mop could have exceeded its retail price.

Joy’s inexperienced business is financially compromised after Peggy pays the manufacturer’s excessive overcharges without Joy’s approval. The manufacturer refuses to refund the money, and fraudulently attempts to patent Joy’s mop design as their own.

It is only after filing for bankruptcy, Joy sits cross-legged on the floor, reads stacks of legal documents learning how she was tricked and makes a phone call to Hong Kong only to discover that there never was a similar product there that becomes the turning point in this story. She then confronts the owner of the con company, Derek Markham, renegotiates the deal by forcing him to refund the overcharges, pay damages, and relinquish any claim to her patent or else face criminal charges.

In a nutshell

The ending of the movie shows Joy has become a successful entrepreneur cum inventor who owns hundreds record setting patents. She is also known as the Queen of HSN, a competitor TV Channel of QVC. What elevates Joy to succeed is her drive, ambition, and aptitude for invention, but all of these could have fallen apart by her limited Intellectual Property familiarity and lack of attention to detail.

The management of an Intellectual Property is not all about the protection only but also includes its dealing, valuation, due diligence, commercialisation as well as enforcement. It is vital for one who wants to monetise from his/her novel invention to have the required expertise on all legal and Intellectual Property matters, either by self-educating or outsourcing to an Intellectual Property specialist, and ensure that all relevant agreements are in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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