Dyson: 'We spend a lot of money fighting to protect our ideas'
8th Feb 2013 | 16:58
We quiz Dyson's Airblade chief over product design, IP theft and more
Chris Osborn is clearly very proud of what his team has achieved. Based at Dyson's HQ in Malmesbury, UK, he talks candidly about the experimental nature of the company's product development as well as its no-nonsense attitude to theft of the company's intellectual property.
"Yes there are a few competitors that look similar, but they don't work the same. Disappointing aren't they? We have big problems with IP theft generally all over the world. We spend a lot of time and money fighting to protect our ideas.
"The lawyers are constantly in battles with various other companies trying to protect what we've come up with, because that's where the hard work goes in. We spend the money developing our ideas and we want to protect them."
In that sense, is Dyson no different to key consumer tech players such as Microsoft, Apple and Samsung? "Exactly. Companies that are willing to take risks and spend money on research design and development need a way of protecting that intellectual property, otherwise it's a waste of money.
"Dyson is very unique in the amount of money it spends and the risk it takes on research, design and development because those are ideas are what we sell."
"The Airblade is very iconic," says Osborn. It's been in a lot of movies, TV programmes, everyone's familiar with the hands-in drying action now. We had to keep it in the range because people say, 'That's the one I know, that's the one I've seen.' The Mark 2 has the latest motor and it's lighter, we've removed over a kilogram of materials to better our CO2 emissions. It's a tweak to an already very good product."
Next we asked how Dyson came up with the idea for its Airblade Tap, the combination of a tap and handryer in one. "There is a problem to solve here," believes Osborn. You have two appliances where there's no need to have two appliances. One is you're saving space, another is people in the bathroom dripping water on the floor as they move to the drier.
"We'd all like to have one appliance that does multiple things. In our homes we're seeing televisions, CD players, radios all becoming one thing. There's no point in having separate parts of the process. It's all about integrating to make it easier to use. "
Presumably you did a lot of Market research? "Nope, we're very technology-led; we're a technology push company rather than a market-led company, we like to come up with really good ideas which we test ourselves in secret first and then we'll say, 'Actually guys, I think we've got something really good here.'
"It really isn't until we're quite a long way down the development path that we'll open the doors and let people see it. We know what people want as the Dual Cyclone will tell you. People said they didn't want it, and they did want it."
So is the design of these products down to Dyson's tech-first culture? "Yeah. We do have marketing people, but it's very back-to-front as far as other companies are concerned. We don't have product briefs written first that we then satisfy. We experiment in the labs, come up with ideas, we stick things together with a hot glue gun and go 'woah, this looks pretty good' - it's exactly how the original Airblade was conceived.
"We weren't using the motor and the blade of air as a dryer; we were trying to do other things with it. It wasn't until somebody said, 'This is really good for drying hands' that we decided to make a hand dryer. We don't sit there one day and go, 'We know what we're going to do, we should come up with a hand dryer.'"
The products are designed in the UK at Dyson's headquarters in Malmesbury, where about 2,000 people are employed, including 850 engineers. "All the design and development is done by that team and then we have a manufacturing facility in Singapore. All our hard work is done [in the UK], that's where our brain power is."
So where does Osborn believe that the Airblade Tap will be used? "Hotels, stadiums, that kind of thing. We've designed it for high footfall environments but it can be used anywhere. We're looking at putting them in art galleries, which is not high footfall, but is somewhere were a [decent amount] of people will use it.
"The truth is we don't quite know [the various applications] but if people want to put them in their kitchens, we'll take notice. Obviously we're already working on next generations and new ideas, but we'll watch what happens and take a steer from that."