Ayla Hutchinson, a young woman from New Zealand, saw an opportunity where others might have only seen a problem. After witnessing her mother suffer a hand injury while splitting kindling with a hatchet, the then thirteen-year-old inventor realized that there had to be a safer way. Her solution? The Kindling Cracker™: a cast-iron “safety cage” which holds the log above a built-in axe blade, allowing users to easily split it into pieces with a hammer. The invention received global praise, prompting the family to file their patent application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO-administered international patent application filing system.
Intellectual property (IP) often presents itself to us in various forms, shaping our reality in meaningful ways. On an average day, you will likely come across hundreds of thousands of forms of IP and not even notice. While IP plays a big role in our daily lives as consumers, the IP system is also readily available to those interested in taking advantage of the rights as users. From protecting the brand of a small business with a trademark to protecting the invention of a single entrepreneur with a patent, the IP system is available to all.
The story of Ayla Hutchinson, a young prize-winning inventor, is an excellent example of how an ordinary person can come to understand and make use of IP system, as well as establish a business based on the rights the system provides.
When she was thirteen years old, the New Zealand teen witnessed her mother accidentally cut her finger while splitting kindling for use in the family’s wood burning stove. The incident sparked the interest of Ayla who realized that there had to be a better, safer way to prepare firewood.
Initially presented as a science fair project, Ayla’s cast iron kindling splitter was designed to prevent accidents like that of her mother. The splitter consisted of a one-piece, cast iron “safety” cage with a built-in axe blade. The shape of the safety cage allows the firewood to be hit against the blade with a blunt object, such as a hammer, ensuring that only the piece of wood will be cut.
It also gives people with disabilities or physical impairments the freedom to cut their own kindling again. It makes it easier and safer for everyone to cut kindling.Ayla Hutchinson, inventor of the Kindling Cracker™
The concept was so well-received that Ayla along with her family decided to turn her science fair project into a full-fledged commercial product, and Kindling Cracker™ was born.
Since its inception, the simple yet effective invention earned local as well as international recognition, including garnering Ayla the New Zealand Fieldays “Young Inventor of the Year Award” in 2013 and a place as a regional finalist in Google’s International Google Science Fair in 2014.
Sales-wise, Kindling Cracker™ has proven to be a great success. New Zealand and Australia are the closest markets, but orders have been placed around the globe from countries such as Canada, Japan, the United States of America (USA), and throughout Europe. With hundreds of thousands of units sold worldwide, Ayla’s ingenious idea has also proven to be extremely profitable.
There are two factors which contributed to the success of the Kindling Cracker™. The first factor was, of course, Ayla’s great idea and her determination to realize the idea. Ayla also had the support of her family in her research and development.
The second factor working to the advantage of the young inventor was her father, Vaughan Hutchinson, a successful engineer and inventor. Coming from a long line of engineers and inventors, he had experience with the IP system, including the process of patenting inventions and searching patent information.
Therefore, from the beginning of the Kindling Cracker™, Ayla understood the importance of investing not only in the materialization of an idea, but also the need to protect her invention. This knowledge allowed her to take the necessary steps towards IP protection early on.
Most significant for the invention, Ayla applied for a patent with the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office (IPONZ) in 2013. The national New Zealand patent was granted in 2016 (IPONZ Patent No. 619104).
In addition, she sought to register a trademark to protect the distinctive sign that comprised the brand of the company, Kindling Cracker Ltd, formed to market her product. A trademark for “HA KINDLING CRACKER” was obtained with the IPONZ in New Zealand in 2014 (IPONZ Registration No. 980203).
With these actions, both the invention as well as the Kindling Cracker™ brand are protected in New Zealand, allowing the company the explore its local market.
With the growth of sales to international markets, the need to expand the scope of protection also grew. From 2015 to 2018, Ayla sought trademark protection for "HA KINDLING CRACKER" or "KINDLING CRACKER" on a country-by-country basis in Australia, Canada, China, Japan and the USA, as well as in Europe, successfully obtaining registrations of her brand.
However, for the expansion of patent protection in those same international markets, Ayla chose a different path.
When talking about protecting inventions in foreign countries, one option is to choose specific markets to enter and file separate applications to the individual national or regional patent offices within 12 months from the filing date of the first patent application.
The strategic alternative is the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) route. The PCT is an international patent application filing system that help applicants seek patent protection in over 150 countries with a single application. The final granting of the patents is still up to the discretion of the national or regional IP offices during what is referred to as the “national phase”.
One of the biggest benefits of the PCT route is the internationally harmonized procedure that allows applicants to seek protection in all PCT contracting States at once. It also provides up to an additional 18 months — on top of the initial 12 months — totaling a 30 month period from the filing date of the first patent application to decide on the target markets. The PCT includes an international search conducted by one of the major patent offices on the likelihood of having a patent granted for the invention. Furthermore, the PCT route may be more cost-effective due to the internationally harmonized procedure.
At the early stages of an invention, it is difficult to know how the invention will be accepted in the marketplace. On top of the costs associated with development and manufacture, the costs of IP protection all come at a time when the invention has not yet gone to market and is not generating much, if any income. This means that when starting off with an invention many people do not have much funding to protect their invention worldwide.
The PCT option allowed us to do that – to protect it via the scheme that offered the best coverage for Ayla, while we worked through the process of manufacturing and supply to markets that were very keen to have the invention. The PCT gave us crucial breathing space to decide which countries were going to be of most importance to us and time to plan ahead to protect the invention in countries where the market embraced Ayla’s invention, her youth, her story and her creativity.Claire Hutchinson, Administration Manager of Kindling Cracker Ltd and Ayla’s Mother
With these advantages in mind, Ayla filed for an international patent application under the PCT in 2013 and entered the national phase in seven countries: Australia, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA; and one region — Europe (PCT Application No. PCT/NZ2013/000239).
Ayla was not only able to turn her idea into a reality, but also to make use of the IP system to protect her invention and her brand. As for Kindling Cracker Ltd, the company continues to pursue new products as well as the corresponding IP protection, ensuring a prosperous road ahead. So next time you have a great idea, make it a reality. When it comes to IP protection abroad, rest assured that WIPO services, such as the PCT, are there to help protect your creations.
The easier that the IP system is, the better it is for encouraging individuals and businesses to continue to innovate. Innovation shapes our world and it is incredible that Ayla has been able to be a part of that.Claire Hutchinson, Administration Manager of Kindling Cracker Ltd and Ayla’s Mother