Protecting a Solution to an Unmet Need

Faveo, United Kingdom

Faveo is based in the East Midlands region of the
United Kingdom (Photo: Flickr/Alice Harold)

After purchasing a beautiful backless dress for a black-tie ball event in 2004, Dr. Joanne Morgan, then a scientist for the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom (UK), found herself in a predicament that affects nearly fifty percent of women. Dr. Morgan wanted to wear her new dress, but soon realized that she did not have a comfortable, strapless bra that could be worn with it. Going to the store did not help, as she found that what she needed was not just absent from her wardrobe, but it was absent from the entire fashion industry. Lingerie manufacturers were simply not making strapless bras in sizes D and above, and Dr. Morgan realized that millions of women all around the world were being subjected to a limited wardrobe as a result. Drawing on her experience as a scientist, Dr. Morgan decided to find a solution to the problem and develop a product that would provide strapless support for women with larger bra sizes.

Invention

Looking at the way traditional bras are manufactured, Dr. Morgan enlisted the help of Megan Powell-Vreeswijk, an experienced lingerie designer, and Ms. Susan Powell, a lifelong friend and lingerie retailer with over twenty years of experience. After preliminary research, the team realized that bra technology had not changed much since it was invented as a replacement for the corset in the early twentieth century. Nearly all bras are based on the same cantilever system of support, which works fine for smaller cup sizes but is particularly unreliable for those with larger sizes. Although adhesive strapless bras were available, they were unable to provide support or comfort for sizes D and above.

Dr. Morgan decided to do away with archaic cantilever bra technology and developed a revolutionary support system that works by molding rather than by simple lifting. One evening, she quickly came up with a basic but effective prototype. “I wanted to test it straight away,” she said, “so I cut up lots of pieces of clothing to create a prototype. I worked well into the night but realized pretty quickly that even my own crude attempt was a comfortable and supportive backless, strapless bra.”

What Dr. Morgan and her team discovered through this early prototype is that when molding takes place, support and stability is also provided and sideways or up and down movements are dampened. The effect is that the bosom is higher up (uplifted by molding instead of being lifted by a support structure) and at the same time is supported without being anchored to the body with undesirable straps and other apparatuses. With Dr. Morgan’s scientific experience, Ms. Powell’s industry knowledge and Ms. Powell-Vreeswijk’s design background, they developed a revolutionary product. Called the Faveo Freedom Bra (faveo means “I support” in Latin), it became the world’s first backless and strapless bra for larger sizes, without using any underwire or padding to provide support, shape and freedom for millions of women.

Research and development and patent information

Few are aware that bras are technically complex garments which rely on high-tech design and fabric combinations to work. Developing a product to comfortably lift and support larger sizes is an even greater challenge, and Dr. Morgan knew that when it came to developing a successful product, she had her research and development (R&D) work cut out for her. But she also knew that her invention could revolutionize the lingerie industry, as it could be used to change the way bras work and are manufactured.

The strapless bra (OHIM Design No.
000552955-0001)

Dr. Morgan’s invention does what no other bra has been able to do before: it actually reduces the influence gravity has, thus making size and weight much less important, which means that bra designs can be prettier, more efficient, effective and comfortable. Bras are like no other type of clothing and require technical precision, and this unique invention required even more precision than conventional bra designs.

Using the knowledge she gained while working as an IP manager for the NHS and the Universities of Nottingham and Sheffield, Dr. Morgan spent over one hundred hours searching patent information to be sure that there was no other invention like the Faveo Freedom Bra. As Dr. Morgan explained, “If you come up with a new idea, you have to do a lot of research to make sure it has not been described elsewhere.”

With a product design already in mind, her early R&D focused on researching what funding options were available and developing a prototype. This focus was important for a number of reasons. If Dr. Morgan was ever going to be able to develop her invention into a commercially viable product, she would have to secure financing. This would allow her to concentrate all of her efforts on successfully developing her company and bringing the invention to market. However, to secure investment Dr. Morgan had to come up with a prototype. While the idea was revolutionary, it would be hard to get investors to commit without a successful prototype to give them “proof of concept”.

During her research into financing, Dr. Morgan realized early on that the establishment of a corporate entity was equally important. Through her company, she could sell shares and thus pay investors and collaborators in corporate equity instead of much needed cash. In 2004, Dr. Morgan therefore founded Faveo Limited (Faveo) as the vehicle to undertake further R&D, secure IPRs and to create a means to attract investors without parting with the cash that was needed to complete R&D and successfully manufacture a viable prototype. Many of Faveo’s early partners and employees were therefore paid in corporate stock instead of cash salaries.

At the time, Faveo was not yet a self-sustaining company, so Dr. Morgan had to work a salaried job while developing her invention into a viable product. In addition, because of time and financial constraints, the development of the first prototype took eighteen months and cost approximately £40,000 (without any salaries for her and her partners).   During these eighteen months, Dr. Morgan’s R&D focused on developing various prototypes to show that the invention would first work on a small scale. These prototypes were successfully tested on a small number of women, which reinforced the company’s view that a viable product could be developed. This early R&D also proved to be extremely useful in learning how the invention could be improved upon and better manufactured. Following small scale testing, the company produced more prototypes and increased the scale, testing the invention among even more women in varying circumstances. Through this process, Dr. Morgan was able to develop a very technically refined product.

Beyond the technical aspects, Dr. Morgan also researched the market to determine how far reaching the invention would be. In anticipation of securing necessary investment, she developed a business plan and obtained advice from a lingerie manufacturer and retailer. As the invention was completely different from traditional bra technology, it required completely different R&D and testing. In all, it took three years of R&D to develop and test the technology behind the invention.

Patents

Dr. Morgan knew that intellectual property (IP) could be an essential tool in the search for the necessary investment to produce and commercialize her invention. By securing a patent for her invention, the company would be more attractive to possible investors. She hired a patent agent who helped her through the patenting process and made sure not to publicly disclose her invention in any way before the patent application was filed, because she would risk losing her competitive edge and the right to patent.

Faveo's patent for its strapless bra invention (PCT
Application No.PCT/GB2009/001671,
PATENTSCOPE® search)

When the invention was still in the R&D stage but before the patent was filed, Faveo entered into confidentiality agreements with employees, partners and investors to ensure no unnecessary public disclosure. To this day, Faveo continues to follow this policy with its new technologies

In 2004 Dr. Morgan filed a patent application for her unique bra with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO). The patent was granted in April 2008. Following up on this successful patent, Faveo applied for another patent with the UKIPO in August 2008 for “Improvements Relating to or In Clothing,” and it was granted in January 2010. The company also sought international protection for its invention in 2009, when it filed an international patent application through the international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system.

Trademarks

A strong brand is a mainstay of Faveo’s continued success, and as such the company has protected its names with trademark registrations with the UKIPO. In April 2005 the company registered a trademark for Faveo, and in November 2008 it registered a trademark for Curvex, which is the name of a potential new product. Beyond national registrations, the company also ensures that its brand names are protected internationally through the Madrid system. In 2007, it registered a trademark for Faveo and in 2009 it made another registration for Curvex.

Industrial designs

Recognizing that the success of a product depends on its form and appearance just as much as its effectiveness, Faveo’s IP portfolio is further protected through design registrations with the Trademarks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union (OHIM). In July 2006 Faveo applied for a design registration with OHIM for its unique strapless bra and also filed another application that same month for a separate bra design.

Financing

With a prototype a strong portfolio of intellectual property rights (IPRs) and a business plan in hand, Dr. Morgan’s next challenge was to secure financing. Due to the nature of her invention and communication hurdles in a male-dominated financial industry, this turned out to be more challenging than she first thought.

When Faveo undertook its early R&D, Dr. Morgan estimated that development costs would run anywhere from £100,000 to £500,000. While she was able to secure some investment from family and friends and she was ready to quit her job and put everything on the line for her invention, Dr. Morgan knew that ultimate success hinged on more financing than she readily had available. To that end, she undertook a three step-approach to secure financing: selling corporate shares, pursuing grants for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and starting a fund raising campaign aimed at private investors.

Luckily for Dr. Morgan and Faveo, there are many grants available to SMEs in the UK. However, they are rife with restrictions and can be extremely difficult to obtain. Faveo was able to secure two grants early in its life. The first was an Innovation Futures grant for £3,000 from the Mansfield District Council, which was administered by Angle Technologies, a specialist management services company that focuses on commercialization of new technology and the advancement of the technology industry. The second was a grant for £1,000 and website development assistance from the East Midlands Textile Association (EMTEX), a trade organization that assists regional textile designers and companies. After the initial prototype was developed, the company was awarded an R&D grant for £63,000 from Advantage West Midlands (AWM), a development agency for the region of the West Midlands.

While these grants were a great help to the company, they were unfortunately not enough to finish R&D and manufacture a commercially viable product. Determined not to let this stop her, Dr. Morgan started an aggressive nine month private funding campaign. Although the Faveo Freedom Bra was unlike anything that had come before, Dr. Morgan found it difficult to secure investment. The reason, she found, highlights one of the biggest problems in raising private financing for a product specifically targeting women: her invention appealed to women, but her investment pitches were being given to men. When someone is investing in a risky, unproven venture such as Faveo, many final decisions are driven in large part by instinct. Because Dr. Morgan was pitching to men a solution to a problem that affected women, she found men reluctant to invest because they could not relate to the problem. The unavailability of strapless bras in larger sizes simply did not directly affect them, and their enthusiasm for the Freedom Bra was noticeably low. In addition, most potential investors had little, if any, knowledge of the lingerie industry, and would many times only pay attention to the advertising coming out of the industry instead of its successful business side.

Faveo did not limit its investment search to private entities, but also looked to banks for government backed loans. One such scheme is called the Small Firms Loan Guarantee (SFLG). Dr. Morgan had successfully used SFLG nearly thirty times before, so she knew what types of businesses were accepted. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the managers – all women – at four different banks had agreed to underwrite the loan at the local level, all four turned down the loan when the male underwriter in London looked over the proposal. Dr. Morgan found it hard to believe that her experience with SFLG was indicative of all investment opportunities, and that personal affinity with a product was so influential in the early stage of a business endeavor, before a product has been fully proven through sales.

However, after hitting wall after wall of investment indifference, Dr. Morgan soon realized that it was extremely difficult for a female entrepreneur to raise financing from private and governmental institutions for a product such as the Faveo Freedom Bra. “I have raised private investment for very early stage businesses before,” Dr. Morgan explained, “so I can categorically say that raising money for an early business with a female-led product is a rare thing to achieve. I have a list of horror stories for the lack of understanding my pitch received because of the market sector. None of the men would make a decision on investment until their wives had tried it (the Faveo Freedom Bra) on and gave an opinion, despite me giving them access to independent industry experts for them to contact that had reviewed the product.” 

Despite these setbacks, Dr. Morgan’s perseverance paid off. Through her experience with AWM, she was put in touch with the Advantage Early Growth Fund (AEGF), a venture capital support fund that is part of AWM’s extensive Access to Finance investment network. Poised to take her young company to the next level, in 2006 Dr. Morgan successfully applied for AEGF funding, and AWM acknowledged that it turned out to be one of the most innovative venture capital deals that AEGF made that year. This successful venture capital deal captured the interest of other investors, and Faveo was able to secure investment from over thirty additional private investors. With the help of AEGF, Faveo had the necessary investment to bring the Freedom Bra to the market.

Commercialization

The company markets its products under
the trademarked Faveo name (UKIPO
Trademark No.2389300)

Faveo was first started as a commercial vehicle into which equity and grant funding could be used to develop the idea into prototypes, pay for IP protection, prove the concept of the invention and do further R&D. After the company successfully developed a prototype and secured enough investment, it turned its effort to commercialization and started manufacturing the Freedom Bra in a variety of sizes.

Faveo’s investors were very supportive, but they also wanted to launch the product as soon as possible to cut costs of the testing phase. The company therefore started commercialization of its product six months ahead of the original plan. Faveo’s product was first sold through a few well known women’s lingerie and clothing stores, with availability both on the Internet and in brick and mortar stores. While the product was new and consumers were skeptical, Faveo was able to convince them of the benefits of the Freedom Bra and orders started to come in. The launch was a success, and proved that Faveo could achieve what was previously thought to be impossible.

As the company evolved, it decided that a change in marketing was necessary to reach more consumers. To that end, shortly after the initial launch the company changed the product’s name to D+ Perk-Ups, and also created sassy new packaging demonstrating the amazing uplifting and supporting properties of Faveo’s patented technology. Demand for D+ Perk-Ups increased throughout the world, and a 2008 agreement with a global distributor facilitated the product’s availability at a number of major national and international retailers.

Business results

After turning her idea into reality, Dr. Morgan’s successful use of the IP system has earned Faveo many positive results. As of 2011, Faveo products can be purchased at many specialty and lingerie stores throughout the UK, and can also be purchased on the Internet through major online retailers. In 2010, the company entered into licensing talks with an international lingerie brand, and the company continues to expand its market reach.

Dr. Morgan herself has also earned several awards for her business model based on innovation backed by IPRs. In 2005, she was a regional finalist in the Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition, and she won the Most Innovative Business of 2005 award from Handbag.com and Barclays Bank. Dr. Morgan also won a regional award for the most innovative business of 2007 from the British Chamber of Commerce.

If it is not in your wardrobe, invent it!

Faced with a problem that millions of women all over the world battle every day, Dr. Morgan’s inspiration turned an innovative product into a successful company. Even though there was nothing in Dr. Morgan’s wardrobe that evening in 2004, she was undeterred. Taking things into her own hands, she developed a product that not only met her needs, but also the needs of millions. Forming a company with a with a strong IPR portfolio from the very beginning, Dr. Morgan and Faveo delivered a solution to a problem and continues its innovative approach to developing new products and growing as a company.