Moritz Mühlebach from Zurich started out as a tradesman before becoming an inventor. Now he is an internationally successful entrepreneur. Here, he tells us how he manages his intellectual property.
Moritz Mühlebach's latest patent relates to cork surfaces. The technology makes it possible to add customised designs to what is becoming increasingly popular cork flooring.
The structuring of cork flooring is the latest in a seemingly endless array of inventions from the trained interior decorator, who entered the flooring industry 20 years ago when he acquired a small flooring accessories business.
These days, the names Mühlebach and Profloor are well known, even in the international flooring industry. The tools, components and technologies from Uster are synonymous with innovation for floor layers, their suppliers, international equipment manufacturers and flooring manufacturers.
“It's a gift,” says the 46-year-old. He has a talent for spotting potential options in the value chain of floor coverings, where others only see hard and fast rules. “The technical solution usually works itself out on its own,” explains Mühlebach.
The Profloor boss has filed around 100 patents to date, of which he still manages over 50. “We think very carefully about whether and to what extent we protect an invention,” says Mühlebach. “Because what counts in the end is not my ego as an inventor but the commercial potential of a finished product.”
Profloor is dead set against what Mühlebach calls ‘missionary work’. “As an SME, it is not our ambition to change markets.” An invention is only pursued and protected if it fits into existing production and sales structures and solves a clearly defined problem.
Profloor also determines how the invention will be used in the future before filing a patent specification. Will the intellectual property only be used by the company itself or will production and sales licenses be granted? For the latter, it is advisable to extend protection to countries in which you do not operate but which may be interesting for a potential license holder.
Profloor is constantly redefining its defence strategies for individual patents drawing on the commercial success of the related products. “You can't prevent every case of idea theft,” says Moritz Mühlebach, “but you have to show people you're on your guard.”
Meticulous IP management comes at a cost. Profloor's annual patent costs amount to a six-figure sum, but Moritz Mühlebach sees this as an investment like any other. Because he knows that the company's expertise in IP is the basis of its long-term business success.
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