A sophisticated patent strategy is invaluable to a company. Take, for example, Mirror Controls International (MCi), a manufacturer of components that move car mirrors. The value of their intellectual property played an important role in the takeover by the American parent company, Flextronics, in 2015. When it was taken over, MCi’s value quadrupled over five years.
MCi started in 1935 as Industrial Koot Utrecht (IKU) and in the 70s began to focus on the production of actuators for car mirrors. Anton Koot was the first inventor of a mirror actuator and has been delivering to BMW since 1967. designs and manufactures actuators for car mirrors. These are electromechanical components that adjust the position of the mirror and allows the mirror to retract. Worldwide, MCi annually produces more than 80 million mirror actuators. With a market share of 35%, it is the market leader in its field. MCi supplies mainly to mirror manufacturers, who deliver their mirrors for many car brands, ranging from the A of Audi to the Z of Pagani Zonda. Moreover, in the area of product development, the company often directly cooperates with design departments of leading car manufacturers.
‘We don’t put anything on the market that does not have the potential to be patented.’Stefan Brouwer – MCi
At MCi, innovation is embedded in the DNA. Protecting intellectual property through patents is therefore integrated into the company’s designing process. “We don’t put anything on the market that does not have the potential to be patented. With a patent, we want to prevent the forgery of our products, thereby safeguarding our market position and margin as much as possible.”
The patents of the mechanical and electronic products that MCi produces are placed under 80 ‘patent families’. “We have been working together with V.O. since 1963. They know us inside out,” says Brewer. “Our cooperation is seamless. MCi is very active in monitoring their patents,” Bernard Ledeboer, Patent Attorney with V.O., confirms.
Particularly in the competitive market where MCi operates, a powerful patent strategy can make a difference. “Of course, we protect our new products. But when we are improving an existing product, we also look very sharply at the ways in which a competitor could improve its products. We then try a possible solution by blocking with our own patent,” says Brewer.
MCi keeps its patent strategy and portfolio well in order. It was one of the first (Dutch) companies to have a patent in China. In 2014, MCi noticed an infringement of one of its patents by a Chinese competitor. We decided to start a legal case with the Chinese patent court. “For us, this is worth the trouble. What we can profit from this case is many times more than the costs of the case itself. Besides, we stem the growth of our competition,” explains Brouwer. The V.O. lead us in this legal process. Ledeboer elaborates, “We have learned a great deal together. Although everything in the legal system in China works in a very different way from that in the Netherlands, we have already succeeded in proving that we are right.”
Car manufacturers are making more and more use of cameras that look forward and backward. MCi looks toward the future. Brouwer explains, “We anticipate new market needs by taking strategic patent positions.” Ledeboer elaborates, “Actively and flexibly handling the protection of our intellectual property for new applications will pay off in the future.”