New selfie gadget coming, with fresh strategy to fight copycats

The Canadian inventor of the wildly popular selfie stick patented his innovation, but had to defend his exclusive right to the gadget in court, after knock-off artists ripped off his designs. Now he's set to launch a new selfie device, and this time he has a plan to stymie the copycats.

With the Selfie Stick-It, Canadian inventor looks to avoid knock-off nightmares and legal fights

Toronto inventor Wayne Fromm patented his selfie-stick invention, called the Quik Pod, in 2005. But that didn't stop knock-off artists from copying his idea. (CBC)

The Toronto entrepreneur credited with creating the selfie stick has experienced the highs and the lows of inventing a wildly successful product.

Among the highs? "Seeing it used on stage by the Beach Boys," says Wayne Fromm.

"Also making it on Oprah's The O list, the Today show, The Tonight Show, Ellen — and selling out all the inventory on The Shopping Channel."  

The lows came when unscrupulous manufacturers cashed in on the exploding popularity of the device, cranking out cheap knock-offs.

No one seemed to care that Fromm had a patent for his invention, which he named the Quik Pod, dating back to 2005 — two years before the debut of the wildly popular iPhone put cameras in everyone's pockets.

"It's like they're stealing your child," says Fromm, as he examines similar products at Henry's, a massive camera store in downtown Toronto that was the first to retail his invention.

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That's why he'll take a different approach when he launches the new selfie device he's created. It will debut on The Shopping Channel later this spring.

Fromm's newest invention, the Selfie Stick-It, makes it possible to attach a smartphone or camera to any vertical surface, and snap the picture with a remote. He says it's 'less obtrusive' than a stick. (CBC)

The new Selfie Stick-It allows photographers to attach their phone or camera to any vertical surface. It uses a proprietary type of glue that fastens securely, but releases instantly when the user twists it free.

"It's less obtrusive than the stick," says Fromm.

The need to thwart knock-off artists is a lesson Fromm learned the hard way with the Quik Pod — a cautionary tale for inventors of all kinds.

Trick is enforcing the patent

Patent lawyer Elias Borges insists that patents do offer a type of exclusivity to innovators, but the trick is that they must be enforced.

"A patent doesn't protect you in the sense that no one is going to come running to your rescue," says Borges, who hasn't worked with Fromm.

"A patent gives you the right to sue someone for patent infringement, but it's still up to you to do that. And sometimes that can be challenging."

Toronto-based patent lawyer Elias Borges helped one of his clients by negotiating a license fee from the party that had infringed on the patent. (CBC)

Fromm says he did launch successful lawsuits against a few of the companies that infringed on his patent, but won't give financial details of any settlements. Many others got away scot-free, as he was unable to track all the copycats down, or in some cases, had lost the stomach to fight.

"It's a downward spiral to involve yourself in litigation," he says. "Unless you're a huge corporation, really it's a battle of resources. That's what it boils down to."  

He also declines to give a dollar figure for what he spent on lawyers' fees.   

Fromm has invented dozens of products over the years, selling toy designs to Disney and others. On the top floor of his three-storey home in Toronto's affluent Forest Hill neighbourhood, he has a room lined with the many toys he's invented.

He's had to go to court to defend some of those patents, as well.  

Big retailers will respect a patent

Fromm says that retailers, such as Walmart, Best Buy and Target, will often respect an inventor's rights, but there's no way to enforce the exclusivity of a patent when it comes to street sellers. As for the manufacturers who create the cheap knock-offs, he says fighting them is an exercise in futility.

"It's near impossible to compete with trading companies in China that have a pre-existing customer base," he says. "They have a network to sell knock-offs, and that's why you'll see it in Paris, in Rome, in Amsterdam, everywhere on the street."  

Fromm has filed a number of patents, many of them for his toy designs.

For his new Selfie Stick-It, Fromm has come up with a plan aimed at beating knock-off artists to the punch. He has designed three models, with three different prices: $4.99, $9.99 and $19.99.

"I'm going to dominate every price point, so there's no value for a retailer to buy around us," he explains. "We want to have the dollar stores, we want to have the Bed Bath & Beyond stores, and the professional camera stores and the Best Buys, with the higher price."

He figures if he already has a low-priced model in the market, retailers will be far less interested in buying from the patent-breaking operators who manufacture on the cheap.

Did the selfie stick make him rich?

The global market for selfie sticks was estimated to be worth $80 million at the end of 2016, according to financial analysis firm Market Research Future.

And while there's no question that Fromm didn't make as much money as he could have with the device, given the number of illegal reproductions, he says the Quik Pod did generate significant revenue.

But he doesn't consider it his biggest hit. "I had a good run with Disney products as well," he says.

Fromm created, for example, the Little Mermaid bubble pendant and the Beauty and the Beast talking mirror.

Not surprising, he sees limited value in patents.

"I'd rather have a brand than a patent. You can have a brand forever, whereas patents have a lifespan."

The global selfie stick market was valued at $80 million at the end of 2016, according to one market research firm. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)


Dianne Buckner has reported on entrepreneurs for two decades. She hosts Dragons' Den on CBC Television and is part of the business news team at CBC News Network.