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Sugru: The patented formula to fix the world
27 September 2021
Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, inventor and CEO at Sugru, shares her story with 4iP Council
Today’s patented formula of ´Sugru Mouldable Glue´ was originally Jane’s happy accident, a material that she made out of different powders when she was studying product design. After making some small balls with the material, she left for lunch and on her return, she saw how the balls had become a flexible silicone rubber.
Photo of Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh
In Jane’s words: “It was the bouncy property that I found intriguing, it made me want to find out where it could be used”. This playfulness and exploration that Sugru provokes to everyone that uses it, describes perfectly the company’s spirit. Her project turned out to be a tool to use on other objects.
It can be used to fix, hack & mend anything, you just stick it and then mould it to take whatever shape you need and, when it sets, it turns into a strong durable silicone rubber that stays that way for a very long time (until you decide to remove it).
Jane tells us more about Sugru’s relationship with IP and their future plans:
How much did you know about IP when starting Sugru?
Back in 2004 / 2005 as a young design graduate starting Sugru, I had absolutely no experience of IP. I was excited about ideas and creativity. However, I was very lucky that one of my co-founders was passionate about it, and had lots of experience and good relationships to help us with that.
“We had very small budgets, but we spent a large proportion of them on securing the best IP and IP advice we could afford and that turned out to be a great decision.”
He introduced me to a senior partner at Marks & Clerk, one of Europe's leading patent attorneys, and I learned about the process by working with great people and just going through it. Since we were inventing a whole new product category, that would go on to become the platform technology behind Sugru mouldable glue, and it would take years to invent the technology before it would be sellable, it was crucial that we could protect our work and investment. We had very small budgets, but we spent a large proportion of them on securing the best IP and IP advice we could afford and that turned out to be a great decision.
How did IP benefit your company?
As the Company grew and our products became successful, over the years there have been a number of copycat products. We protected our business against these with our patents, but also trademarks in our largest markets. We use trade secrets to protect some of our proprietary manufacturing processes. As a small company in a market dominated by corporate giants, our IP was a very important method alongside our commitment to the best product quality, as well as our creativity and customer focus to protect our business and remain the market leader in the mouldable glue category we created.
Sugru is all about making fixing easy and fun for everyone, and therefore becoming a widely available household product. To get there, protecting our technology and our brand with IP was crucial to be able work with investors and larger partner companies to reach that scale.
“[..]protecting our technology and our brand with IP was crucial to be able work with investors and larger partner companies to reach that scale”
What Intellectual properties does Sugru have now?
We use patents and trademarks, as well as trade secrets. Over the years, we have invested in continually improving our technology and our products through R&D. We've made our formulas safe for all the family as well as stronger and longer lasting. As our technology evolved and improved, our patent portfolio expanded and we recently celebrated the grant of two new patents.
What has been the biggest difficulty that you had to face since you started this project and what has been the best moment?
Our mission is all about inspiring people to fix things and to be resourceful and creative in order to reduce waste. We're so lucky that many of our customers are passionate about this, and that they share their fixing stories with us and the rest of the community. Hearing on social media or through our customer support about how Sugru has helped someone to fix or create something is always energising and makes us smile every day. We love that!
“Sugru's versatility is what makes it so useful [..] that's a huge challenge to communicate simply, so we rely on great content and our community to help us keep spreading the word!”
The most challenging aspect is simultaneously our biggest opportunity. Sugru's versatility is what makes it so useful, and such good value - you can fix everything from washing machines to shoes to toys with it, and do so many projects too. On the other hand, that's a huge challenge to communicate simply, so we rely on great content and our community to help us keep spreading the word!
What advice or message would you like to give to other entrepreneurs that, like you, want to improve our planet?
Go for it! There has never been a better time to share your ideas with the world. Understand your purpose, and get close to it, understand the problem you're trying to solve and why you feel so strongly about it. Learning to tell your story well is how you will find your people, or how they'll find you. To start with, you don't need many, just the right ones who will help you refine and develop your ideas. Keep on connecting with your purpose, work with people who genuinely share in it and enjoy the ride!
Since Sugru’s launch in December 2009, over 2.5 million people have used it, it has won the “European Patent Office Inventors Award” amongst others, it has been featured in London's Design Museum, and delivered over 20m fixes in 178 countries around the world. In 2018 Sugru joint forces with tesa SE, an international firm with over 100 years of experience inventing and selling breakthrough products for fixers, makers, craftspeople and professionals.
Sugru is in constant development and the goal is to make it more and more friendly, both for the planet and for kids. Jane believes that “the 'take-make-waste' model is almost dehumanising; it assumes that everything will go straight to a landfill”. This is why Sugru’s team keeps working on improving the formula on every single aspect, from manufacturing to customer experience, while keeping the original properties that made it such a simple but incredible tool to fix everyday objects.