Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Guest Post: A Cautionary Tale Of Goliaths And Davids...

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 21, 2013

By Heddi Cundle

When you're building your business, you'll come across global corporations that may step on your toes. Here's a timely example of a recent scenario that happened to myTab.

 With a unique twist to gift cards, my company myTab.co has grown leaps and bounds in the past two years since launch. We created an original way to fundraise & save for travels and utilize crowd funding in a powerful fashion.

With accumulated customer funds, we can also negotiate exclusive deals with travel suppliers. We call this Match myCash and it game changes not only travel, but many lifestyle industries. Gifters know their cash will be used wisely (note $30 billion of $100 billion in gift cards a year are discarded), myTabbers have a happier pre travel experience and suppliers target our cash rich audience at a fraction of traditional marketing and advertising costs at slow and long lead times, stabilizing the industry economy.

We've also been talking with global brands about licensing our technology. This includes our full feature set to gift, save, plan, share, set individual or group reminders, Match myCash and purchase online lifestyle products.

Along the way, we've backed up every single correspondence with these Goliaths, to protect our IP as much as any speed-bump can.

Amazon was interested in myTab and we felt they'd greatly benefit from our technology to create a seamless transition from their staccato, limited UX for gift cards, purchases, and wish lists.

Phone calls and emails took place between myTab and Amazon, quite regularly since January 2013, including their request for a full online demo.

They liked what we were doing so we whipped up a full presentation directly related to one of their chosen products (fridges!) and included our group gifting attributes. Our demo firmly stated why our group gifting technology was unique from others.

 On April 32013, Amazon emailed, "I just do not see the connection/application. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, however." Feeling slightly miffed over this reply to our demo, we challenged their 180 change of direction. The response was, "Group gifting is not a scenario that we believe in investing in at this time."

On June 18, Amazon introduced a social group gifting feature: a replica of our technology and customized presentation. This was a big mistake on its part. By emailing the standard, "We're pursuing a similar objective," it would have halted our brakes.

Naturally, the timing of this response would have caused suspicion but without proof of timing, we'd have a minor case in our favor so would have to walk away, with a bad taste in our mouth. Then again, if the Amazon contact had explained that it wasn't privy to the new group gifting feature when we emailed them June 18 with a "what??" to it's group gift announcement, this would have resulted in embarrassment, especially since it's one of the egift card team leaders.

What does the David do to zap Goliath? We're a small business, Amazon is a giant and we're aware it has extensive legal teams who only handle infringement. It loved our work so much, it copied it!

So we've sent the Amazon legal team email, phone logs, and presentation evidence over the past few months and we will come to a resolution on this.

It may take time but the process will be a typical legal scenario: they initially stated that, "this case has no merit," as a default response. Then when they realize we have a solid case and aren't shaking in our boots, we will finally negotiate based on how much it's costing legal versus meeting towards an agreement.

We're very happy and flattered Amazon used our invention; it now needs to cough up the dough or we'll be using that sling-shot.

Just because a corporation is huge, doesn't mean it has the right to steal other businesses ideas. It pays enough for its own teams to create unique feature sets.

It also creates a negative image of Amazon's business and morals, since it is forgetting that myTab's team are also still Amazon customers at the end of the day. And we all know the repercussions of an unhappy customer, who has no problem telling the world of a bad experience.

One word of advice: you must protect your IP and fight back if you feel a Goliath is blatantly using petty-theft approaches that you created. This includes keeping a log of all your email correspondence, backing up your .rtf Outlook files and saving all data on a cloud platform.

Alongside this are the no-brainers such as patent applications (pending or approved), copyright and trademark protection. At myTab, we even have our original invention ideas from 2005 backed up in multi cloud locations, just in case the Northern Hemisphere explodes. 

If you don't cover your backs to any degree, then more fool you for giving away your invention to a corporation, without compensation or any protection system.  As Level 4 (Green Belt) in Krav Maga for 6 years, I've always been trained to attack the attacker and cover all bases.  Protect your business as it's your best defense mechanism from a punch to the gut.

(MyTab is a client of SVW consulting services.) 

 

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