Soy-Yer Dough on Shark Tank

Soy-Yer Dough by Sawyer Sparks

Shark Tank’s season 1 episode 7 featured Sawyer Sparks and his Soy-Yer Dough invention.  Soy-Yer Dough is a wheat-free soy-based play dough.  The product provides an alternative to Play-Doh.  Unlike Play-Doh, Soy-Yer Dough can be used by children who are allergic to wheat. (Approximately 1 in 8 children suffer from this allergy and can’t use Play-Doh).

Soy-Yer Dough’s Patents

Very early in the negotiation (2m 25s into the clip below), the Sharks begin to discuss the patents covering the Soy-Yer Dough product.  This conversation highlights the importance of using the patent system.  In this case, Mr. Sparks claimed his invention as a composition of matter, which is extremely powerful because it covers all uses of the composition.

Mr. Sparks notes that he has been courted by a variety of investors because they want his patent He notes that Hasbro (the makers of Play-Doh) have contacted him multiples times because they want his patent.  The Sharks are very interested in that patent. When Mr. Sparks discloses that his patent excludes all others from making, using, or selling his invention, Kevin O’Leary concludes that the situation is “outstanding.”
Because Mr. Sparks filed a patent application, the Sharks begin selling to him.  The negotiation becomes a seller’s market.  Mr. O’Leary boasts, “my whole business career is built around licensing properties.”
Notably, the above situation could have been completely different had Mr. Sparks not used the patent system.  For example, HasBro (the makers of Play-Doh) could have simply made their own gluten-free children’s play dough.  With Hasbro’s resources they would have easily pushed Mr. Sparks out of the market.
Mr. Sparks makes his Soy-Yer Dough product in his mom’s kitchen.  Hasbro has a factories, distribution channels, and a full sales team.  But, because Mr. Spark’s patent provides him with the right to exclude competitors from making his invention (as claimed in US 20110302887 A1), his negotiating position is completely different.  Because he used the patent system, he will likely receive what he deserves for improving the children’s modeling clay space.

Soy-Yer Dough Patent Claim

Mr. Sparks’s patent claims:

1. A soy-based modeling product, comprising:
a quantity of water;
a quantity of a salt;
a quantity of an oil; and
a quantity of a flour;
wherein at least one of the oil and/or the flour is derived from soybeans.

Accordingly, in order for Hasbro to make a product falling within that claim, they must receive Mr. Sparks’s consent, either through purchasing the patent or by licensing it.  Here, the critical limitation appears to be the inclusion of a soybean-derived flour.
The above scenario should be a lesson about chemical inventions.  Using the patent system to protect the idea provides important protections against copyists.  Here, it gives the true inventor the opportunity to benefit from his insight rather than being ripped off by a larger company with more resources.  Good job Mr. Sparks.

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