You know how when you're sweeping with a broom and all those little dust bunnies get caught in your broom and you can't get them out? Both OXO and Quirky have smartly designed products that solve the problem. They're dustpans with little rakes. Genius! But now the two companies are getting all AppleSamsung over it. Update: Quirky responds.
The collective design and manufacturing startup Quirky recently started selling a product called the Broom Groomer ($US12). It's a little handheld dustpan with little teeth for cleaning of the bristles of the broom. It looks like this:
Now Quirky is all up in a huff because household gadget company OXO designed this Upright Sweep Set ($US25) with a dustpan that also has teeth to comb the muck out of your broom.
Quirky believes that OXO stole the idea and decided to launch a huge campaign publicly calling OXO out for stealing the idea. Quirky even went as far as hanging a huge banner outside its New York offices with images of both of the products, which reads "designed on 28th street, ripped off on 26th street", referring to the locations of the two companies offices. It also got a group of protesters together and marched on OXO's offices with signs and a megaphone.
The central argument is that the Broom Groomer predates the new OXO sweep set by three years, and that this proves OXO are a bunch of thieving thieves. For shame OXO! Come up with your own ideas!
You could see why Quirky might be upset. It's a startup and OXO is a company that's been around since 1990 with a lot of market power. Damn the man! Except that it appears Quirky didn't do its research, or at the very least, that OXO really has its defensive ducks in a row.
OXO responded to Quirky's claims bypointing to a patent first issued in 1919 which describes a product with a virtually identical rake dustpan design.
That patent expired which means that the idea is more or less up for grabs. Ooops! But just because Quirky doesn't have a legal case, doesn't mean it can't ride the moral outrage to some good publicity. And that appears to be what it's trying to do more than anything else. OXO quite rightly points out that products frequently mimic other products which are all based on expired patents, and that's why patents expire. It helps innovation. OXO asked Quirky for a truce so that they can all go back to designing better products.
That makes sense, and if all Quirky can do is whimper like a hurt dog over this, it needs to think long and hard about its business model. Or, at the very least, do its homework.
We reached out to Quirky for comment and will update when and if they respond. What do you think about the whole situation?
Update: Quirky got back to us with the following response to OXO's claims:
it must be slow at oxo if they're basing new designs on 100 year old ideas. We are proud of the steps we have taken and confident that there will be justice for Bill Ward and the inventors of the world.