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Manufacturing Startup Culture

In Defense of Dustpan Innovation, Product Developers Protest

Outraged over ergonomic gadget maker OXO’s introduction of a $25 dustpan-and-broom design that closely resembles a two-year-old, $12 Quirky model, Quirky staffers staged a street protest in New York last week. Armed with a megaphone, signage, and samples of the original BroomGroomer, some 40 demonstrators marched the two blocks from Quirky’s Chelsea loft space to the sidewalk outside its competitor’s headquarters. The dustup is getting mixed reviews.

Quirky, whose crowdsourced-design approach Techonomy has covered before, claims that “as a haven for transparent online collaboration, Quirky must strive to protect the interests of its inventors and influencers.” Acknowledging that “this customarily takes the form of patents and long-winded legal proceedings” company CEO Ben Kauffman blogged that “there are select instances where you have to pick up a sign, slap on a mask, and get a little angry.”

Many Quirky fans cheered the company’s championing of inventors. But Gizmodo called it a “ridiculous fight.” And Wired suggested Quirky should have gone quietly back to work after OXO’s thorough and levelheaded public response:

“Instead of just sweeping this story under the rug, Quirky responded with an open letter to their community reaffirming their position. There were plenty of strong words, but none that addressed OXO’s most damning point, Quirky’s hypocritical practice of releasing designs that look like the competition. They also continued to play up a misleading David vs. Goliath story—according to their websites OXO has 76 employees in their New York office (99 world wide) compared to Quirky’s 85 employees. Quirky has also raised $91.3 million dollars  of venture capital, giving them substantial resources.”

What the two housekeeping designs have in common are rubber teeth for grabbing dustbunnies from the broom. Quirky says the design was the brainchild of Bill Ward, an inventor who contributed it in an ideation contest, and that OXO ripped it off. But OXO points out on its blog what Quirky staffers had learned during their own feedback process two years ago: An inventor named Addison Kelley patented the dustpan-with-teeth idea in 1919.

 

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