Crafting a business through IP

Back in 1978, when former Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada employee LeonardLee founded Lee Valley Tools, the company was a mail-order business that had its debut in a kitchen. The woodworking and gardening tools manufacturer and retailer has since grown into an emblematic Canadian name with 18 stores located nation-wide, and online sales shipping around the world.

Lee Valley uses various forms of intellectual property (IP) to maintain its established reputation for high-quality products and excellent customer service. Part of the hardware company's success is built on its strong brand recognition that resonates with consumers.

Starting right with IP

Lee Valley has IP in mind throughout its product design process. In fact, the IP conversation begins well before the pre-production phase. Before making major investments on manufacturing, they develop the design requirements and perform IP searches to understand what has been created and filed. It is better to know at the start of the design process if creations risk infringing on established IP. Uncovering an existing patent for a similar product saves the company from unnecessary infringement disputes and licensing fees.

Lee Valley's engineering and design staff have a strong understanding of IP. They are knowledgeable in research and development, so they know the competition, and are aware of developments in their market space. Having IP knowledge and processes built into  their design methodology has saved them time, money, and effort.

Picky patenting

Although Lee Valley monitors and defends its IP portfolio, the company is selective in its IP investments. Registering a trademark or industrial design, or obtaining a patent for an invention can be a significant investment. It is not economically possible to protect everything a company manufactures. This is why Lee Valley does a cost-benefit analysis before seeking IP protection. The company wants to know that the cost of obtaining a patent will be recuperated through the sales of the product.

Considering that some of Lee Valley's unique and specialized products may have a relatively small market, these may not be worth protecting with a patent. Rick Blaiklock, Vice President of Veritas Tools Inc. (the manufacturing arm of Lee Valley Tools), says the company typically does not invest in IP in these cases.

Trademarking to secure marketing

Over the course of almost 40 years in business, Lee Valley has used and registered 10 trademarks in Canada, including Lee Valley Tools®, Veritas®, Tools for Life® and Innovation in tools®. Blaiklock believes that a carefully selected registered trademark will help distinguish a company from its competitors. The company protects its trademarks in export markets to make its brand recognizable at home and internationally. With its portfolio of registered trademarks, Lee Valley can adapt its marketing strategies based on different markets and audiences.

What can we learn from Lee Valley's IP success?

  • Tackle IP considerations early on in your design process.
  • Use cost-benefit analysis to carefully plan when and how to invest in IP.
  • Combine a clear brand identity, good business practices, and IP protection to maximize your business potential.
  • Protect your IP in Canada and abroad.