Andrew Vickerstaff, gives an insight into his role at Seatriever International Holdings Limited
Seatriever International Holdings Ltd is a small but rapidly growing company that designs, manufactures and distributes unique innovative products throughout the world. Established in 2007, the company is located in Cheshire, China and the USA. It has a blue chip customer base and distributers in several countries. I joined in 2012 having previously worked for the company as an external advisor while in private practice. Since then, as the first in-house lawyer the company has had, I’ve begun to develop the group’s policies and contract management systems to help provide a firm base on which to continue its ambitious growth targets.
Given the wide nature of our operations the cliché about ‘no two days being the same’ is definitely true, but generally I’m up around 6.30am and will take a quick check for any emails which may have come in overnight. Given the global reach of the business, it is common to have quite a few emails come in, particularly from the US. I then begin the day with a tough - and often stressful - negotiation in trying to get my eldest son dressed (quickly) for nursery! After the odd tantrum, we’re then usually in the car by 8am and following a brief stop to drop him off, I’m then back on the road for the short drive to the office.
I will be at my desk by 8.30 am and I’ll then grab breakfast and a coffee and begin to go through my emails in detail. I also catch up with our HR manager with whom I share an office on any recent updates and then plan my day around meetings.
Seatriever was founded less than 10 years ago and its success is based on the innovative products it develops. The company first came to prominence following James Halliburton’s (founder) appearance on BBC’s Dragons Den. James successfully pitched to the dragons a miniature floatation device designed for the retrieval of keys and other valuable objects lost in water known as WATERBUOY®. Despite Theo Pathitis’ on-screen efforts to destroy the balloon used to lift the objects to the surface, they saw the commercial appeal and he and Peter Jones offered to provide the investment sought. Although James later decided to decline their investment, the programme was a springboard for the company’s success. Developing new and innovative products to take to market remains at the heart of what we do.
The programme is regularly repeated on overseas TV channels and as a result we still receive enquiries from around the globe. Our most popular product at present are ILLOOMS® - a light up party balloon available in various, shapes, sizes and designs and popular with young and old alike (they even made an appearance in one of Coldplay’s videos).
The morning often starts with the R&D team running through the current status of ideas, prototypes, discussing IP protection for the new products and in particular any relevant patent applications made. Updates with the operations team on the future delivery of new product lines to existing retailers or existing lines to new retailers usually then follows. The large retailers we deal with globally have very specific requirements and it’s essential to ensure that the product and the packaging conforms to all market and customer specific requirements as well as those of any licensors of specific brands.
When time permits I take lunch in the staff room and might try and squeeze a game of table tennis in, or time on the games console. But more often than not I don’t stop for lunch and instead I try to multi-task by grabbing something quickly at my desk while at the same time using third party software to track the sale of potential counterfeit products online.
During early afternoon, I’ll follow up on any suspicious items identified in the earlier searches by arranging trap purchases, sending cease and desist letters to infringers and liaising with external law firms acting on our behalf to protect our IP globally. The maintenance of our extensive IP portfolio and the protection and enforcement of our IP often takes up a significant proportion of my working day. I frequently receive “tip-offs” from contacts and customers as to potential infringing items being sold around the world.
As with all successful brands and products we have found numerous parties seeking to “reverse engineer” our products. Such actions are often extremely expensive for those found infringing our IP as the rights the company owns gives various powers (depending on the local laws of the country) to seize goods, demand product withdrawals, destroy infringing items (at their cost) as well as pay damages and costs to Seatriever. The reputational damage for those found to be infringing can also be highly detrimental to their business. While infringers are often attracted by what they see as quick rewards, those found to be infringing our IP are dealt with robustly in order to prevent future repetition. The returns they believe they can make are ultimately far outweighed by the overall cost to their business once a legal dispute has been raised.
In the latter part of the afternoon, my focus tends to shift more towards the US side of our business as our US staff based in California and Arkansas begin to come online. I’ll pick up with them on the status of draft contracts with various retailers and distributors and any other operational issues.
I usually finish work around 6.30pm. Rather than stay late, I tend to work from home later on in the evening when necessary. Usually after the kids have gone to bed as due to the eight hour time difference with our LA office, I know they will still be online for several hours.