Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, passed away at the age of 91 on January 28th, 2018. Kamprad was admired as one of the greatest and most influential entrepreneurs of the 20th century as he pioneered the flat-pack furniture movement and changed the way that people bought and built their furniture. Their tagline ‘make everyday life better for the many people’ is more relevant in 2018 than ever before, as IKEA integrates technology and stylish Scandinavian inspired design to meet their ever-growing consumer base.
IKEA now has 389 stores in 46 countries and had 2.1 billion visits to IKEA.com in FY17. IKEA’s business model of accessible and affordable furniture has been imitated countless times but to little success, largely due to their strong Swedish brand personality and simple and functional design for an affordable price.
However, how does IKEA protect their intellectual property when oftentimes their products are simply a few slabs of wood?
In the United States (US), IKEA only holds 87 patents according to the USPTO. Considering their vast product range, you would expect the number of patents to be significantly greater and similar to Apple or Amazon who were awarded 2102 and 1662 patents respectively in 2016. However, the IKEA strategy is to file patents for manufacturing processes or devices such as hinges to build their furniture rather than to file individual patents for each chair or kitchen cabinet. Their latest device for furniture building is the ‘wedge dowel’ for which a USPTO patent was granted in 2016. This dowel eliminates the need for tools or glue to build their furniture and it makes building a dresser as easy as completing a jigsaw puzzle.
By filing patents for manufacturing processes and tools rather than each item, IKEA has ensured that whilst another company could create similar designs, no competitor can imitate the success of the BILLY bookshelf – one of which is sold every 10 seconds.