Local inventor Gillian Thomson has earned a United States utility patent for her Skipper shower cap and with it the exclusive selling rights in that country.
"Getting this patent is sort of a proof point that this is an innovative product, it's truly a new kind of shower cap," Thomson told Taproot.
The innovative part of Thomson's shower cap is its closure system. First, a flat band goes around the user's head and closes with Velcro; second, the user closes the open pouch in the back, which houses their hair, with a drawstring.
To get here has taken Thomson three years. She filed her patent application in 2020 and launched the Skipper cap in Canada near the end of 2021. She said she had to keep her invention under wraps until confident the patent office had her design.
"That was challenging, I guess a bit slower than what I'd want to launch the product," Thomson said.
Thomson had multiple debates with the office to prove her cap was new, useful, and not obvious. "It's sort of a back and forth and with every response from the patent office, it sounds like it's over, you have no chance, you can't have it because of these five reasons," she said.
The time and financial investment required came without a guarantee, which was a risk for a startup, Thomson added.
Now, with the patent in hand, Thomson said she has confidence and a "competitive edge" to enter the U.S. market. She can turn to new opportunities, such as larger business-to-business relationships, with a degree of protection.
"It's still up to me to kind of defend my territory, but having the patent gives me the confidence to go out to a broader audience to share my design without feeling as vulnerable, especially going to bigger beauty companies that might be looking for this kind of idea."
Since finding a Canadian manufacturer and then launching the cap in 2021, Thomson has sold Skipper direct-to-consumer in Canada and the U.S. through the company website, and has found a home in some local boutiques.
Thomson is now pursuing the Canadian equivalent of the utility patent as well, which could be less complicated as the U.S. office has already done the groundwork. Thomson's Skipper cap already has a Canadian design patent. A U.S. design patent is pending.
The new patent will open up Thomson's product to even more innovation. "I'm telling publicly how this design has come together, how the invention works, and in exchange I'm the only one who can sell it," she said. "And then the idea is that somebody might be able to see my invention and innovate on it further."
Thomson stressed that Skipper cap secured its patent using a low-tech approach to innovation, a method that can be overshadowed in our tech-centred world. "I think there's a lot of products that we use on a day-to-day basis that could use quite a lot of innovation in terms of materials, sustainability, and they don't need to be high-tech," she said.
Thomson may branch her product into fields like health care scrub caps and food service hair nets as well.
"Getting rid of the elastic around the band and finding this way to make a headpiece like this sit on your head, that's actually comfortable and stays in place," she said. "That kind of function, which is what this utility patent protects, is applicable to other headpieces."
Thomson will soon hold a "Patent Party" to celebrate the win.