Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Copycats left at the dock, but not without big costs

The Associated Press

VALLEY VIEW, Ohio - Two business partners developed a promising floating dock that allows boats to glide out of the water into dry-dock.

Since then, the men have had to hire patent attorneys several times to keep competitors from watering down their business.

"If we need to, we'll become the poster children for protecting our intellectual property," said David Faber, who co-founded Jet Dock Systems Inc. with Allan Eva.

Jet Dock's patent defense against companies from the Cleveland area to New York and Key West, Fla., has been expensive. In addition to the roughly $75,000 the company spent on the patents, nearly 10 years of nonstop court cases challenging copycats have cost $1.2 million.

"We could have built our headquarters a year or two sooner or expanded our sales force with that money," Eva said.

By law, Jet Dock's patents give it a 20-year monopoly on its docking system. Without its seven patents, the company would face competitors and shrinking margins.

Jet Dock's floating dock system dry-docks everything from personal watercraft to speedboats by driving them up onto it. No cranks, pulleys, hoists or mechanical lifts are necessary.

Companies started copying the idea within a couple of years of Jet Dock's 1993 founding. Standing in the way of the copycats, however, were patents Eva and Faber had obtained.

Jet Dock, based in this Cleveland suburb, is undefeated in five patent cases so far, with a sixth headed for trial later this year.

"The American dream of starting your own company and bringing something new to market really is the coolest thing. But it's one inch away from being impossible," said Eva, 43.

The idea for Jet Dock started with Eva in the early 1990s when he was trying to figure out how to dry-dock his personal watercraft on the Cuyahoga River.

Dan Lovinger, a Shaker Heights business and real estate attorney who is a Jet Dock customer, said Jet Dock's system is much easier to use than hoists and mechanical lifts.

Jet Dock has 35 employees, a network of 200 dealers, its own 32,000-square-foot facility in Valley View, and a second office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

While Jet Dock doesn't disclose its annual sales, Eva said they were less than $15 million.

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