“The first time I was it I knew this was a wonderful, wonderful product that would add something very new to the Christmas industry,” recalls David Fussell of Atlanta. “It turns your Christmas tree into a carousel of living color.”
Fussell’s enthusiasm – and ability to spot a winner – was just what David Morrison had been looking for. Both men are accomplished inventors (Fussell holds 11 patents; Morrison, 29), but in this case, Morrison needed Fussell’s licensing talents.
A retired registered professional engineer, 74-year-old David Morrison spent his career working for large corporations. “My name is on 28 patents which were assigned to Paragon Electric and General Time Corporation,” he says. His contributions are substantial; for example, today’s consumer can thank David Morrison for his work and success in perfecting the automatic defrosting refrigerator! Once retired, Morrison’s inventive spirit naturally spotted items that need improvement. ” One Christmas I was looking at all the ornaments on the tree and thought, ‘It’s just the same old thing,’ ” he recalls. “I thought about getting a little motion into them.”
Morrison envisioned rotating ornaments, powered by miniature motors. He went to work a built a prototype that produced the desired results. It securely plugged into a Christmas light socket and dangled from the string of lights. In the end, an ornament could be attached to a hook which was turned by a Miniature motor.
“I applied for a patent in March of 1986,” recalls Morrison. “Then I called different companies to present my invention to them. That same year Hallmark came out with a motion ornament. They rejected my idea; I think they thought they had the ‘Cadillac’ so why bother with what I had.” However, Hallmark’s product sold for approximately $25, and Morrison knew his ornament motor would be much less expensive and, therefore, available to a wider consumer mark. “I felt I had a good product,” he says, “but after it was turned down, I decided just to wait until the patent issued before I did anything else.” But in the meantime fate – in the form of his patent attorney – intervened.
David Morrison and David Fussell use the same patent attorney in Atlanta. One day, the attorney suggested to Fussell that he had another client who had an invention he might be interested in. The two men met and Morrison showed Fussell his crude prototype. “David Morrison is a mechanical genius!” says Fussell. “When I saw his prototype I knew he had the first new product to hit the Christmas industry in years and years! I don’t consider myself a product developer but I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” They worked out an exclusive licensing agreement in May of 1989, and Fussell took over the job of getting Morrison’s ornamental motor on store shelves.
“David Morrison wasn’t familiar with licensing and marketing new products,” explains Fussell. “Industry doesn’t license ‘ideas,’ and the prototype was very rough and very noisy. So I went to work doing what I know needs to be done to license a product to a large company. First, we re-engineered the product to be more aesthetically appealing. We had tooling made overseas and manufactured production samples. Then we had packaging designed. We had a ‘point-of-purchase’ merchandiser built so a turning ornament could be displayed. What I was doing was increasing my chances of success. I didn’t want to leave anything to the imagination because the people who sign licensing agreements aren’t very creative… they need to be shown… they need to touch and feel and see the product.”
With the production samples completed, packaging ready to go, and working store display in hand, Fussell called Noma International in Chicago. “I talked with the director of marketing, and he immediately said, ‘We’ve got a busy year and I don’t think we’d be interested in another idea,'” Fussell recalls with a chuckle. “I said, ‘It’s not an idea. It’s ready for manufacturing.’ In that case, he was ready to see it. I asked for a private meeting room so I could set up ahead of time.
“When I got there, I was able to have some time to set up the display and dim the lights. When the company president, executive vice president, and director of marketing walked into the dimly-lit room, their attention was focused on a perfectly-displayed finished product that was suspended from a string of Christmas lights and twirling a beautiful ornament. To paraphrase they said, ‘Holy cow! All we have to do is put our name on it.’ ”
While Noma put its name on the product, Fussell “insisted that the licensing agreement is written around the patent and the trademark. This holiday season Noma will be spending $2.5 million to build my trademark into a household name. After 17 years they won’t have to pay royalties on the patent but they will have to pay royalties on the name. Inventors never think about the value of a trademark and they should!” This year a new trademark was selected for the product – Ornamotion® ornament motor. “We were having trouble getting the idea across,” says Fussell, “so we tried to find a name that would convey what the product was. Also, we want to build a category of products around the name and Ornamotion® fits our needs. In 1993 we’ll be introducing an Ornamotion® tree topper.”
David Fussell believes that the true secret to licensing an invention is to develop the idea before you show it. “Generally, the more you do in developing the idea, the more royalties you can receive.” Obviously, to develop an invention to the point it’s ready to go on the shelf costs money. “It cost about $80,000 to do everything we did. However, $40,000 of that was deferred because I had convinced a tool manufacturer to extend me that much credit.” But the product was so far advanced that it was presented to Noma in September of 1989 and on the store shelves that November! That first year was a test and 99,000 were sold. Over the next two Christmas season two million more were sold, and in 1992 it is projected that 5 million will be sold… and it’s only the beginning! “Noma estimates potential sales of 200,000,000 motors,” says Fussell.
Businessman David Fussell is responsible for bringing to market an innovative, intriguing, profitable new product, and inventor David Morrison is responsible for adding a little more magic to an already magical season. While each man’s contribution is vital to the success of the Ornamotion® ornament motor, only one is responsible for the delight in the children's eyes as they watch their favorite ornament twirl slowly on the Christmas tree…David Morrison, inventor and mechanical genius!
(This article was published in the May/June 1993 issue of Inventor’s DigestIt is being reprinted with the permission of Inventor’s Digest)