Like many working women, I have been grabbed, patted, pawed, or otherwise disrespected in the workplace. The last time it happened to me, I was up for a CEO of the Year Award, and it was the title sponsor who thought my backside was a safe place for the palm of his hand. Is it wrong that I thought his cheek (on his face) was the right place for the palm of my hand? A cheek for a cheek! None of that is as bothersome as when people blatantly steal my hard-earned technology and ignore intellectual property ASSets.

I was walking down the aisle of our biggest trade show several years ago with a Fortune 500 executive. He looked down at me and said, “Well now, we will see if you are still in front of the pack next year, now that I have given out your recipe (to the competition). Let’s see if their cookin’ tastes as good as yours.”

Me: “You did WHAT? You can’t just ‘give’ my product ideas that had been shared under non-disclosure agreements to my competitors! Not only is it our intellectual property assets, we actually have patents granted on some of that.”

He calmly looked down at me and said “You’re welcome to cry like a girl, but the only thing that would happen is you will look bad and make enemies.”

He was right. I was labeled as “emotional,” “difficult,” “angry woman,” “madwoman.” He asked my Chief Product Officer and other members of my team (all men), “Can’t you keep your bitch on a leash?” The same executive later asked me, “Why won’t you shut up and just do what you’re told?” (IE: give up the IPR I spent millions of dollars creating.) Do you have any idea how hard and expensive it is to GET a US method patent in technology! Also, obedient is not one of my stronger personality traits…just ask my husband.

Another company was working on an IoT project with us and then put the project on hold. I found out later that the project was not put on hold; they decided if they dumped us, they could do it cheaper. I called the CIO and politely asked about the licensing fees due per our written contract, which he gleefully refused. Frustrated, I contacted an attorney and had the costs and reality of IP litigation explained to me and realized if I filed suit, they could drive us out of business with legal fees alone. Even if we won the case, we could easily lose the business. I remember like it was yesterday, the awful feeling of helplessness as I watched my hard-earned assets stolen, and I allowed myself to be bullied. Did I become “difficult” and ask people to stop stealing? Did I become “emotional” when they ignored us or threatened us with reputation damage or to bury us in legal fees? This is the business I have spent my life building. I have continued to reinvest my own money and my family’s future into this 100% bootstrapped business. My employees have been with me for decades, and they are betting their families’ futures as well. That story had the karmic ending of the company never did get their own product to work.

Many big companies have standard operating procedures to take a great idea of a small company and hand it to other companies in the name of competition.  Do they not understand they are stealing from a small business who has invested hard-earned capital (and the time of their team) to create something that is new and special? This behavior is not free enterprise and competition; this is stealing. Creating an internal PowerPoint slide does not invalidate a U.S. Patent. Choosing not to innovate and be a fast follower is a fine strategy, but if you are following and copying the IPR(Intellectual Property Rights) of another company….still stealing.

For the companies who knowingly use the IP (Intellectual Property) of others because they can outspend them in litigation… that is corporate bullying. If you know it is happening and that an idea did not originate at your company, stand up and do the right thing. Call and ask for a license agreement.  If you tolerate it and do nothing, you are enabling and complicit. Just like every person who was in the room or on the phone when I was called inappropriate names… they are complicit.

Healthy competition makes for a better business climate. It can be a win-win. I have received regular calls from the CEO of one of our competitors. He texted regularly to check on me and my daughters while we were sick with COVID, showing compassion and kindness. He led his company to invest in innovations that are distinct to ours. Those innovations make the entire product category better. Thank you, Ahmad.

I will share my own cooking analogy. When I bake bread, I use a small amount of yeast that has been cultivated and fed and nurtured that makes the bread rise to be big and beautiful. It’s called STARTER. I have a starter challenge for everybody out there. It is made of 1 part integrity, 1 part honor, +1 part innovation. If you nurture it, instead of stealing and bullying, it is amazing what big ideas will grow! We have a recipe that works for us at our shop, and we love to share… and if you like our innovation and product ideas, feel free to contact us, and we will be happy to license our IPR for a fair price. That is FAIR trade. So unless you have consent, keep your hands off my ASSets.

So if anyone wants to help me fight the bullies, drop me a note (or a couple million dollars for the war chest). #keepyourhandsoffmyASSets.



Vanessa Ogle Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Title Photo by Rob Shanahan