A girl with a bicycle
Photo: Alexander Crispin

Hövding – when patents are the key issue

An airbag for cyclists and a business concept based on improving the safety of cyclists. It could be as simple as that given that the bike is increasingly becoming the obvious means of transport in urban areas. The product uses advanced technology, which is of course protected by patents.

The Hövding is a collar worn by cyclists which, like an airbag in the car, unfolds like a helmet over the cyclist's head in the event of an accident. Today, the Hövding is used by around a quarter of a million people, and the smart helmet has helped to protect over 5,000 cyclists from injuries resulting from everything from minor to more serious accidents.

Patents are the foundations of the company

Behind the Hövding are no fewer than nine families of patents, with the patents concerning the airbag technology forming the foundations. The overarching strategy is to only protect the technology that will actually be used in the product. The patents also form the basis for external investments and the company’s business partnerships.

- The patents are vital because they create security not just for the company itself and our owners, but also for our business partners who invest heavily in our products. They need to feel confident that the patent portfolio is of high quality. We would have found it much harder to invest in the future without the patents, explains Fredrik Carling, CEO of Hövding.

Fredrik believes that the patents also provide security for the end customer: the cyclists.

- The patents protect not only us, but also the concept of airbags for cyclists. As a cyclist, you have to rely on technology which you don’t understand and cannot touch, which makes credibility a crucial factor.

Key expertise linked to the company

Hövding is a company which stands and falls by its ability to guarantee the safety of cyclists. In order to do this, the company has identified key expertise which it must never let go of. This includes airbag and algorithm experts. The company employs at least two people with expertise in these areas at all times.

- In fact, everything revolves around how we build an organisation which has a single purpose: to keep cyclist safe by keeping our promises, explains Fredrik.

Concentrated market with global patents

The marketing strategy is clear: although the company receives requests from sales organisations around the world every week, the business has so far continued to focus on six key cities in Europe.

- We can maximise our impact if we concentrate our business. Once Hövding starts to be seen in the street, growth will increase like a runaway train, says Fredrik.

After all, the idea and ambition to one day take Hövding to an international market is still there anyway.

- Today, we have no presence in either the US or China, for example, but the ambition is for us to eventually have a presence in the major markets globally, and we are therefore working on the basis of our patent portfolio. It isn’t cheap, of course, but we believe it’s a worthwhile cost, explains Fredrik.

No infringements so far

Fredrik explains that the company has so far managed to avoid any patent infringements.

- I think there are two reasons why we have done so well. The first reason hopefully stems from respect amongst third parties for the exclusive rights that a patent affords. Secondly, our products are relatively advanced and require substantial investment, even if the technology is copied straight from the patent, believes Fredrik.

Hövding’s success is down not only to its patents, but also to a carefully thought-out trademark strategy. The name ‘Hövding’ is trademark-protected and has been translated into local languages in many major markets. So far, the company has managed to escape piracy and has only experienced a small number of trademark infringements.

- A bicycle café in Hamburg used our name, but the matter was soon cleared up. They meant well and changed their name as soon as we contacted them. Of course, the trademark is sometimes used in a way which we believe is not right or proper, but these instances have never been for commercial gain, explains Fredrik.

Sustainability for the future

Hövding remains a company which is struggling to make a profit, but at the top of the agenda is proving to the outside world that it is a company which is sustainable from a profitability perspective. The future certainly looks bright too, as more and more cities across Europe are investing in infrastructure aimed at promoting cycling.

- We look forward to more and more people choosing cycling as their preferred means of transport. It is an important sustainability aspect, both for the sake of the environment and because cities are becoming increasingly crowded. Many people who currently decide not to cycle do so because they feel that cycling is unsafe. We want to change that, concludes Fredrik.

 

The interview was conducted in 2020.

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