Michael Schuster tells us how he turned being a daydreamer to his advantage
Could you tell us a little more about your role at NCH Corporation?
“I run our Chicago Innovation Center that develops products and equipment for different groups within NCH.
“On the product side, we develop retail consumer products typically found in the DIY market—through retailers like Depot, Lowes, Menards, and Walmart—as well as small retail stores. Our equipment is distributed internationally and used to deliver biological or chemical products in multiple applications.”
What are some of your key focuses for 2018 as a company?
“A number of areas that NCH will be focusing on in 2018 must remain confidential—however there are some I can share with you. Our focus is around finding new categories that are ripe for innovation and improving our current development process, this includes our current speed to market.”
What are the typical challenges you’ve come up against within your industry? Either as a business or for you personally?
“There are some common challenges that my R&D and product development division of the business can face. Learning how to balance speed with the correct level of reliable data—by finding the perfect balance we know that we aren’t operating on faulty assumptions which is highly important.
“Also, there can be challenges around taking the time to stop and quickly learn from what we’ve done in the past. This is while keeping all the other balls in the air at the same time.
“And finally, it can be a challenge for myself & the team when we kill certain projects too quickly. There have been occasions where we have not gone deep enough into a project before we determined whether or not we should proceed.”
How does PatSnap fit into your day-to-day role, and has it added any value to your work?
“PatSnap has and continues to help NCH Corporation as it expands the platform by listening to what its customers want—customers like me. I know they’re doing this because we suggest areas to expand or improve and the PatSnap team instantly shows a solution they are beta testing or a new platform they are ready to launch. The case in point is, we recently communicated several NCH challenges that appear to be solved in the upcoming PatSnap platform.
“Regarding where it fits into different decisions we make, we use PatSnap to consider partnerships with inventors and acquisitions of companies—I can say that it has literally saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars. Where the saving comes from is, NCH has the tools through PatSnap to be able to quickly assess the value of certain patents, see the value of IP by a company and then be able to make recommendations.
“In the past, we’ve licensed through inventors, and sometimes those inventors feel as though they have a goldmine of IP—when in reality they can only have a gold coin. So, what we’re trying to do with the information from PatSnap is get them more grounded, through data from the tool and our ability to extract the correct information. We can then share that with the CEO of the company, who is then able to leverage that information in negotiations with the inventor. It can then go from a very high price to a more realistic one.
“We also use PatSnap to identify white space as we explore new areas to innovate. We love the landscape tool! It helps us explore totally new categories and quickly get up to speed with prior art—as well as the latest technologies.
“We use the landscape tool quite often as we look at specific products. For example—one product comes to mind—another example of the inventor thinking it was a goldmine. When we evaluated it, we saw that there was a lot of prior art that would disqualify their patent application- resulting in no IP. So, we looked at the white space and were able to use this to come up with a better product overall, with a much better IP. In that example, we looked at the prior art and tried to understand how they had ended up with poorly written patents. By identifying the root of the problem—which no one else seemed to be solving—we were able to create an even better product and took it to a market where it is doing really well.
“NCH Corporation has been using PatSnap for a lot longer than I have. My group has been using it for about 1.5 years. In that time, I would estimate that we have put 9-12 products through the PatSnap platform during their development. In the previous 1.5 years, we only launched 3 products- I cannot say this was solely because of PatSnap, but I can say without PatSnap, the time to market would have been much slower.
“If we want to use the PatSnap landscaping tool to track our competition, we’ll normally start from products that we know are already in the space, and drop them in to see where they land relative to others. And then because we are in that space, typically, we are able to look at the whole landscape to see who else pops up. This allows us to identify some white space where we can play, because if the area is too saturated—and that is equally important to us—if there is lots of prior art, then there is a decent chance that we don’t even want to play there.”
Are there personal drivers behind what you’re doing? Why is this so important to you?
“I have always been a daydreamer with an attention deficit. I think differently than most people, and I learned to work this to my advantage.
“I love every aspect of product development and started 16 years ago when I quit my day job and started my own company with the idea of developing our first product. After growing the business, I sold the company to NCH and I’m now back to the part of the business I love.
“I currently have over 70 issued and pending patents, and I’m only just getting started.”