Meet the First African American Woman to Hold a Patent for a Natural Hair Product
In just two short years, Gwen Jimmere has taken her natural haircare product line from passion project to side hustle to the shelves of Whole Foods Markets throughout the U.S., Trinidad, Indonesia, and she’s currently working to distribute in South Africa. “NATURALICIOUS was truly started out of necessity, as was its acceleration, said Jimmere. I was laid off from my job just a month before my divorce was final. I had no money and suddenly no job. I had NATURALICIOUS as a side hustle at the time. I figured I could either cry about my situation, or I could make something happen because there was absolutely no plan B. During that time, I had a 2-year-old to feed, and all the same bills I had before I got divorced. Plus my mortgage was due in 15 days. The only income source I had as an option was to make NATURALICIOUS work.”
On the heels of landing a patent for her natural haircare product designed for textured hair, Black Enterprise caught up with the trailblazer to learn about the patent process.
What type of patent do you have?
There are different types of patents, including utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Mine is a utility patent and covers our Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment ,which is a product made from super moisturizing Rhassoul Clay that allows you to wash, condition, deep condition, and detangle, while doing the work of a leave-in conditioner all at one time. It’s a major time and money saver. It truly is incredible, and as you might imagine: it’s our best seller. This was something I created in my kitchen. I put a ton of time and work into perfecting the formula and I wanted to protect my creation.
Describe the importance of patents in terms of marketing.
Prior to starting and running NATURALICIOUS, my professional background was in marketing and communications; I have no legal background. But I knew I had created something special; something very, very different from anything else that I had ever seen and heard about in the marketplace. I wanted to protect my invention from imitators because I knew I could be sitting on a gold mine. Also, I kept hearing Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank saying, “What do you have that’s proprietary about your business?” I wanted to ensure ownership, as well as a legacy for my company.
What are the benefits of having a patent?
Receiving this patent is very exciting and such a win not just for me, but for black entrepreneurs and for us as women literally owning (the legal rights to) our beauty. I can’t help but think about the timeliness of it all with such a large lens being on cultural appropriation right now, and others stealing what we create. I’ve been getting calls and e-mails from people saying “I had no clue you could get a patent on natural hair products!” Of course it’s deeper than simply applying for a hair product patent. There was a very stringent process in which I had to prove I created this myself and that it’s a brand new concept that no one else in the world has ever done before. At the end of the day, instead of us complaining about others stealing (and profiting from) our beauty creations, trends, and ideas, we can legally protect our inventions and keep the financial gain within our communities.
In its most obvious sense, owning a patent can stop others from stealing your invention and profiting off of your hard work. But intellectual property (IP) can also be a part of wealth building. Many entrepreneurs don’t attempt to even apply because of the costs involved when using an attorney, or they don’t feel they can navigate the process themselves. I have three trademarks and one patent and I’ve never used an attorney or intermediary (such as LegalZoom) for any of them. There’s a lot of education, sweat equity and time involved when applying for IP yourself, but it’s well worth it.
When it comes to wealth building, owning a patent puts you in a whole other league. That means something you’ve created is proprietary, you legally own the rights to it, and if someone comes along and tries to profit off of what you created without your consent, you have the right to take them to court for infringing on your patent.
It also provides a lot of control for you as the entrepreneur and it provides a lot of leverage, as well. Let’s say you decide to sell your company. If you have a patent, especially if it’s something that has a large customer base already, you can sell your patent at a premium separately from your company, since the purchasing party can’t sell what you own in any way without your approval. Or you can continue to keep the patent and license your invention to the purchasing party, requiring that you are paid a royalty for every unit sold. You can do the same even if you don’t sell your company; you can license your invention to other companies, and still sell your product also. There are also other creative options you can negotiate. But having that patent gives you those options.
This is vital to building generational wealth, which is something our community struggles with immensely. We’ve got to start owning our ideas and our inventions, not just complaining when someone comes along and tries to profit off of us.
Tell us about the patent process?
Applying for the patent was super intimidating. It can be very difficult to go through the patent process, let alone to get one granted. In the 21st century, there aren’t a whole lot of literally brand new inventions being created; so they don’t just hand patents out. Many apply, but very few are granted. It’s also very scary because it’s expensive. Applying for a patent on your own can cost between $550 and $2,000; using a patent attorney can cost upwards of $10,000 or more. (And get this: if you apply and don’t get the patent granted to you, you don’t get that money back! So yes, it is definitely something that should not be taken lightly). I opted for the less expensive choice, but that also meant that I had no guidance, and it literally took me months just to finish the application. I have no legal background, so I was in this all on my own. I became best friends with the librarians near me because I spent so much time researching what I needed to do, how I needed to best present my invention, what to do if the Patent Office initially denied me, etc. Once I applied, there was about a 15 month waiting period until I found out they were going to issue me the patent.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who’s considering applying for a patent?
When considering if a patent is right for you, first you need to understand the difference in all intellectual property types. Go to uspto.gov and familiarize yourself with the difference between patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Once you’ve determined that a patent is what you want to go for, do your due diligence to make sure there isn’t another invention similar to yours that is already available on the market. There’s no sense in spending a lot of money or time on something that doesn’t stand a chance of getting approved, so be sure to do your homework first, because your patent is a lot less likely to be granted if a product like yours exists.
This article was originally published at BlackEnterprise.com