Case study

Intellectual Property: Tangle Teezer

Shaun Pulfrey is a hair guru to men and women across the world, fighting the war on tangles with his patented hairbrush.

Image of Tangle Teezer

Background

Many innovations today are simple adaptations of everyday items or concepts. Once imagined, they change our lives and simplify problems overnight. Shaun Pulfrey is the founder and Chairman of Tangle Teezer Limited. He is just one UK entrepreneur whose daily routine sparked such an idea.

Shaun recalls:

Working as a hair colourist, I found many of my clients with long hair suffered with the same problem. It easily became tangled. Over the years I developed a technique to detangle using my fingers and the flick of a paddle brush or a comb. I realised that tangles were a global problem, and that there wasn’t anything on the market to deal with them.

Protecting his IP

So in 2003, Shaun set out to find a solution to this problem and the result was Tangle Teezer, the world’s first detangling hairbrush. Now, over 10 years later, Shaun has patented the brush in over 30 countries. Each brush design is protected by design rights and the name Tangle Teezer is also protected as a trade mark.

Back in 2007, Shaun took his product to BBC’s Dragons’ Den. Although the pitch didn’t go to plan, the experience made him confident in his product and determined to pursue his dream.

I knew that if the product took off, people would be queuing up to copy it. From day one, it was really important to me to protect my idea.

Recognising the need to protect his ideas was the first step Shaun made on the road to success. But, like any entrepreneur delving into intellectual property (IP) for the first time, he was unsure of where to begin. So how did he overcome this problem?

I did a lot of research myself into the protection that might be available. I spent a lot of time in the British Library trying to get the right design, but also trying to work out if my product was patentable. Patents are mind-boggling so I sought professional advice. I used patent attorneys to file our applications as I wanted to get it right. I thought it worthwhile to spend some money on professional help.

Being first to market has been of huge importance, but so has having worldwide IP protection. We take a zero tolerance approach to anyone breaching our IP. Having IP rights in so many countries makes trying to combat counterfeiters and patent infringements much easier.

Image of Shaun

Enforcing his IP

Despite the hard work Shaun has put in to protecting Tangle Teezer, he’s still seen his fair share of problems. IP infringement is an issue that he feels strongly about and he asks customers to inform them of any suspicious products. But why is this such an important issue to him?

Innovation is at the heart of Tangle Teezer and our products. Tangle Teezer means everything to me. I have lived and breathed the brand for more than ten years now. I am now surrounded by a fantastic team and we all share the same passion for the brand and we’re fiercely protective of it.

We had our first counterfeit in 2011 so I know what this feels like. It’s frustrating to see exact replicas of our products. The counterfeits even say ‘Made in Great Britain’ on the packaging, even though we know they’re made in China!

Advice

Alongside the fight against counterfeiters, Shaun’s future plans for Tangle Teezer are clear. By continuing to build the brand and inventing new products, he hopes to be the worldwide leader in hairbrushes. But if he was starting out again, what advice would he give himself?

Shaun advises:

Register as much as possible as soon as possible. Registering IP can be expensive, but try to think ahead to your biggest markets and make sure that you are fully protected. I’m so glad that I spent what little money I had on as much IP coverage as possible.

One of the most important pieces of advice I got was from the IPO. They stressed the importance of keeping my innovation a secret until I had filed my patent applications. I had no idea that getting IP protection after entering a market place might not be possible.

Published 20 January 2015