Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Work and Family Balance

I have often been asked the question "how do you balance work and family?" And I have never really been able to give what I feel is a great answer.  This is partly because I have never had time to really THINK about this and how I actually balance work and family life.   But somehow I manage to do it.

As a single mom of three children it is particularly hard to do, especially with no family support in this area and a child with special needs.  So how do I manage family life while running a multi-million dollar business?  Priorities, sacrifice and a cohesive family unit.

But I can't take all of the credit.  I have also been blessed with very good children.  Maybe I had something to do with that, and maybe that was God's way of giving me only what I can handle.  But my children are, in fact, very well behaved and out of necessity have become very self sufficient children and I am proud of that.  We are a family unit, and family units pull together and all carry their weight.

But from a management standpoint I have had to decide what is a priority....such as fixing my children breakfast, taking them to school in the morning, picking them up from school in the afternoon, fixing a meal and sitting down at the table in the evening as a family.  Now, I said "fixing" a meal - that may take the form of Chinese take out or freezer food, but it also takes the form of home cooking when time permits.  These are my priorities, and my special times with my children to establish a sense of normalcy to our household. 

Sacrifice comes both on the personal level and the family level.  I have sacrificed sleep many years to get homework done, put my kids to bed and then "get to work" at 10pm until 2am.  Sacrifice comes when I have to leave my kids to travel for work for days at a time.  I had to miss a big event for my two boys when I went to LA to film Shark Tank and that nearly killed me, but my children and I are part of a unit and they have all felt involved in this business from the beginning.  They know how much FuzziBunz means to me, and to them, and to their future, so we all pull together and do what it takes to make our little family work.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Patent Q&A Part 2

Q. What is the legal process someone should take if they feel someone is violating their patent? 

A.  If someone has a patent that they feel  a product is infringing upon, the proper protocol is to have their patent lawyer send the company or the company's lawyer  a cease and desist letter OR they could in fact bypass that step altogether and file suit.  If the company refuses to cease and desist the patent holder then has the right to file an official lawsuit and take the company to court to let a court decide if that person is infringing and then a settlement is rendered.   However this rarely happens due to the costliness of this process (see link below).  What is NOT proper protocal is posting all over the internet that this one and that one (and naming names) are stealing their intellectual property because then there is a risk of defamation of character issues and it's just unprofessional. 

FuzziBunz Related:

Myth: FuzziBunz is free license and the company does  not protect their intellectual property rights and anyone has the right to make and sell pocket diapers because FuzziBunz has never sued anyone so they won't sue me.   

Fact: FuzziBunz fully intends on protecting our intellectual property rights.  We have been actively working behind the scenes within the patent office for years.   It has been a long process and one that has required immense patience, but we feel the value of waiting it out will be significant. 

Q. Is there a potential fallout for retailers and customers to buy / sell possibly infringing products?

A. Customers?  No.  However in patent law, someone who sells a product that has been sent a cease and desist order can also be sent a cease and desist and also be sued by the company.  That is not our desire however but it is within patent rights to do so.  

Q. Have you ever sued anyone and do you plan on it?

A.  I am a peaceful person and a lawsuit is not something I want to be a part of.  They are costly and time consuming but unfortunately I see it being inevitable at some point.  What I would rather see is for companies sign a license so that the legal system is being upheld and they can continue business as normal.  Licensing really is the smart way to go.  The royalty is typically modest and the business can sleep at night knowing they will not be served with papers in the morning.  PLUS it is just the right thing to do.  I have done it with another product (similar but not exactly the same) and I have not died or been bankrupt by it - in fact it is a mutually beneficial relationship.  

How much is that patent lawsuit going to cost you?  Read here.

Patent Q&A Part 1

Q. What kind of patent does FuzziBunz have?

A. There are several different TYPES of patents.  A "utility patent" is a patent that protects how a product works and functions.  A "design patent" protects the design aspects of a product such as a snap configuration or a pattern.  FuzziBunz holds a UTILITY patent which means a baby diaper that has a method of inserting a removable absorbent insert that has a polyester high pile wicking fabric to keep babies bottom dry.

FuzziBunz Related:

Myth: The patent protects a pocket at the back (leading edge) of the diaper so by moving the pocket elsewhere or a few inches down gets around the patent.

Fact: It is irrelevant where the opening is and what is a  "leading edge" anyway?  If it were a design patent this would hold true, but it is not.  It is a utility patent. Leading edge simply means somewhere in the vicinity of the back, front or side of the diaper. 

Q.  Pocket diapers existed before FuzziBunz how can you have a patent on that?

A.  This is true, there were diapers with pockets in them prior to FuzziBunz, and this information needs to be disclosed in the patent office and has been.  It is patent law that any "prior art" must be cited in a patent application and if found after the fact, still must be disclosed by the applicant via special process or one risks having their patent invalidated.  However it is not just a pocket that is patented it is a combination of a pocket to insert something that is absorbent into and the fleece that makes the product work and gives it the utility to keep wetness away from a babies skin.  It is the two features together (amongst others) that are patented, not one or the other.  There were no pocket diapers (or any diapers to my knowledge) using fleece as an inner layer prior to FuzziBunz or a patent would not have been issued.  It does not cover pocket diapers with flat material as the top layer or non polyester / piled knitted like hemp.  It also does not cover an all in one diaper that has a fleece layer on the top. Its about the combination of features that make the product function in a particular way. 

Q. Are patents global?

A. There are no global patents - however you can apply for international protection through a different process when filing an application.  This allows you to chose which countries you wish to have protection in.  The original FuzziBunz patent is only a US patent.  Other patents pending are filed under the international option. 

Q. What patents do you have and what is pending?

A.  I have a patent on the original pocket diaper which was granted in 2003.  However in 2003 we also applied to continue the patent application to help further define the claims.  THIS is still pending!   I am also patent pending on our One Size design using adjustable AND removable / elastic which was filed under international status. No other diaper has completely non-sewn in elastic that can be easily removed when it wears out to give the diaper a longer life. 

Q. How does a patent actually work?

A. Well, an inventor files paperwork disclosing their invention to the patent office, and they take 3-4 years to process that application and decide if the invention should be granted a patent.  If so they are protected for 17 years.  However in those 3-4 years under a pending patent there is not much protection so this opens the market up for many similar products to be launched.  Once the patent is granted it will then take the inventor tons of money to then stop the look a likes and prove that they are infringing.  It is a FLAWED system!   So do patents actually work?  Sometimes. But it takes more than a good patent for a product to succeed.  

Q. How do you effectively enforce a patent?

A.  First you must always be pursuing patent protection and you must do it universally.  While it seems we have not been protecting our patent, in fact we have, just not in public.  And once the public acts of patent protection starts, it must be enforced universally.  You can not pick and choose who needs to stop, who needs to pay and who you will ignore and let go on.  Unfortunately to be effective and not lose credibility every product that is being made that may infringe needs to be treated equally.  By showing favoritism to some and not others it weakens the credibility and the validity of the patent.  If the patent holder ignores the little guy and sues the big companies - the bigger companies defense will be "they don't enforce their patent rights so I should not have to abide either" and that is exactly what we don't want to see happen.   Its complicated and confusing to many, I know.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Little Perspective

Post my Shark Tank appearance I had an outpouring of support by friends, family, retailers, our Facebook followers and the most rewarding... complete strangers.  I also had people give me some constructive criticism which I have always welcomed.   I am truly grateful for both and thank all of those for thinking of FuzziBunz so passionately. 
The hard part here is to acknowledge that handful of people who haven't been constructive at all... and in fact downright hurtful, sarcastic, hateful and vulgar. I've often pondered why some people feel so compelled to throw insults at me, my company and my employees. They don't know us. But to give you a little perspective, we are real people with real feelings. Sure, I have my personal faults, but I am a mother, sister, daughter and friend. The people who work with me are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, spouses, etc.  We are real people.  We do not merely exist behind a computer screen.

Here's more perspective. I am very proud of the fact that FuzziBunz employs more than a dozen people. I am also proud to be now putting more people to work in the United States and creating jobs where there were once none.  We are all grateful to have such wonderful jobs despite these tough economic times. Plus, FuzziBunz is sold by hundreds of other business owners who employ hundreds of other people. Thousands of families use FuzziBunz and have saved tons of money doing so too. FuzziBunz fuels our economy and puts food on many tables each night... that is why I am not giving up or giving in. There are too many livelihoods at stake.

A little more perspective... what I'm not so proud of is that the ugly part of my business is being discussed so rabidly by people who know very little about our journey or know bits and pieces. Not one of those people has walked in my shoes. But this post isn't meant to be a woe is me thing. It's just to simply meant to give perspective. I admit it. I have had  manufacturing troubles. Earlier this year a batch of our diapers went out unbeknownst to us with manufacturing defects. We replaced any diaper we knew about with money out of our own pockets. The factory did nothing to compensate our loss.  Our customers were of our utmost concern - nothing else. We even changed our warranty to protect our customers against future defects. 

More perspective is to remind everyone that watched Shark Tank that you saw a 3 minute cut of my appearance on Shark Tank (even though I was in the tank for a lot longer). The cut was about the patent dispute. It made for great TV. For anyone worried about the future of other cloth diaper manufacturers, I'm certainly not looking to put anyone out. I'm just looking for companies who have created diapers using the innovation I patented to do the right thing through licensing and that will be pursued in due time.  
The patent problem is far bigger than the general public understands, especially with the $4.00 diapers coming directly from Chinese manufacturers being sold on Ebay. This hurts the entire cloth diaper industry - not just me - however as the patent holder  I am the only one that can take action to stop that and when I do the entire industry will benefit because they too will stop losing sales.  I am not only thinking of myself.

I, too, am disappointed that I let my emotions get the best of me in the tank as many of you have noted. It's a heated moment, incredibly intense and in time and the sharks bring out everything - the good, the bad and the ugly. You can't help but feel emotionally-charged. I was defending a business I have loved and spent 12 years building and loving. Not everything was positive, as you saw, and I kept my cool in the tank. When you're passionate about your business, you get fired up. It's just human nature. I can't and won't apologize for being human. 

Remember, life is all about how you choose to look at things. I choose to continue to make an amazing diapering product for the families of this world and I continue to improve upon it. I choose to keep fighting for what is rightfully mine. I choose to fight for FuzziBunz. I choose to give a little perspective.

Thanks for listening.