Professor Dan Brown and his son, Dan Brown Jr., are straight out of central casting. Prof. Brown, the father, grew up in a working-class Irish family on Chicago’s South Side before eventually becoming a professor of engineering at Northwestern University. Dan Jr. is a moppy-haired marketing genius who is now President of LoggerHead Tools.
As a result of a father-son argument, Prof. Brown invented an award-winning tool called the Bionic Wrench and pursued the audacious idea of manufacturing it in entirely in America. Sears positioned itself to become their exclusive retailer when the initial order of 300,000 units sold out between Black Friday and Christmas. Unfortunately, not long after, Sears started pressuring them to manufacture it in China to lower the price of the bionic wrench.
“It was pure greed. And we said no,” Prof. Brown said.
When Prof. Brown refused, Sears got another company, Apex, to make a knockoff of the bionic wrench in China. So, LoggerHead Tools, represented by Skiermont Derby, took them to court. They were on their way to being vindicated when the death of the original federal judge, assigned to the case, put that into doubt.
Today, they continue to tell the story of their “David and Goliath” battle in hopes that the patent law can be improved to support America’s innovators.
“This is not the type of due process you think someone should have to go through,” Dan Jr. says. “Where is the reward?”
On this episode, Eli talks to Prof. Dan Brown and his son about the twists and turns of their story, why they continue to have faith in America’s patent system, and what it’s like to work with your dad.
Prof. Brown on inventing and patenting:
“People don’t realize it, but invention starts with real, right now problems. A solution to a problem that doesn’t exist is a vanity patent. It’s not going to scale or be commercially viable. When I recognize a real problem, that’s the key opportunity to move forward and try to solve that problem in a new, useful, non-obvious way. Which is what you need for a patent you base a business on.”
“If you don’t patent, you shouldn’t even put any money into [your idea]. Because as soon as your company makes it successful, even [with] a patent that has not been challenged, most people will avoid it. I think about the knock offs … they’re emboldened by this process. They wait to see if it’s successful, then they’ll go and knock you off.”
Prof. Brown on America’s patent System:
“That’s why we need a stronger intellectual property rights system, because more and more jobs will continue to go overseas, even if you have a patent. If not, you get a target on your back. And people say, this is made the United States, we can go ahead and knock it off, make a lot more money and then tie these guys up in litigation.”
Dan Jr. on America’s patent system and why they’re speaking out:
“The American Dream is at stake when you have giant corporations trying to crush the little guy. They should be embracing the little guy. The American Dream … [is to] one day become one of these larger companies because you have intellectual property.”
“This is an industry-wide problem — that [big retailers] do not embrace innovators. And I don’t think they respect them. So I wanted to blow the whistle on what our experience was. If they think they can get away with it and no one’s going to talk about it, why stop [speaking out]?”