Tormek – Innovation and patent strategy behind a unique positioning
– Working to innovate, constantly improving our products: it’s in the company’s genes, says Tormek’s Håkan Persson.
As CEO for a strong global brand in a niche industry, he takes a hands-on approach to innovation, and he talks with pride of a company that has some twenty secured patents and offers a complete system for achieving optimal sharpness for all types of hand tools.
It was no coincidence that Håkan began his career at Tormek in Lindesberg in central Sweden, starting as a sales manager.
– I’m genuinely fascinated by technology and have been around sharpening pretty much all my life. My years as a sales technician brought me up close to how companies go about solving things, and I have always had an interest in improvement and innovation.
– At Tormek the distance from idea to testing and further development has never been far, says Håkan, who was behind most of its recent patented innovations, all of them developed with its skilled technical team.
– I bounce new ideas off the others. We play around with ideas and try them out! A design engineer does the hard work of designing and realising them. And we have a committed team of buyers and production technicians, and now a technical project manager too. Our proactive sales team is quick to pick up on the needs of the market.
Tormek and Ström & Gulliksson – Trusting collaboration
Håkan takes a keen interest in the patent process, but he would be the first to agree it is not easy to understand and it is worth bringing in the right expertise and skills.
– The company’s founder, Torgny, was probably far more involved in the whole process of applying for patents. He realised early on just how crucial it was to protect their very first designs. Because the way of sharpening tools they discovered was unique, it was open to them to use patents to secure future value. Today we have a complete sharpening system and excellent patent protection. I see it as a natural part of us maintaining our position, though I’m happy to hand over most of the work to Christian Arkelius and the Ström & Gulliksson team.
Tormek continues to innovate at a high rate, reflected in its frequent contacts with Ström & Gulliksson.
– We often have something new on the go and speak several times a month. Having a dedicated patent agency like Ström & Gulliksson gives us peace of mind. They have a wealth of experience in responding to patent examiners’ comments, and I find it invaluable, all the monitoring and their skill in formulating patent applications correctly.
One of the reasons for the successful collaboration between Tormek and Ström & Gulliksson is close contact, notable for its openness and trust, says Håkan.
– Christian knows us well, knows how we think, knows what competence is available here at Tormek. Usually all we have to do is just mention to Christian that we have a new product in mind. We’re in safe hands with Christian, and now with William Helin who’s also joined the team. It often hits me how readily they understand what we do; you can tell from the informed questions they ask. I rarely need to explain what we see as the inventive step, for example, says Håkan.
In collaboration with Ström & Gulliksson, more people at Tormek are learning about the patent process.
– It’s one thing to have a patent portfolio, quite another to communicate why it makes us unique as a supplier of high-quality products. I think both the marketing side and the technical side will benefit.
Global brand’s customer care centres on training and inspiration
Today Tormek exports to over 35 countries worldwide. Among its end users are craftsmen, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts and especially restaurants, professional chefs, and keen home cooks. Tormek’s sharpening system is also used by service outlets. Its largest markets are the Nordics, Germany, and the US. During the pandemic its popular live broadcasts from Lindesberg replaced sales meetings and fairs; every week, Tormek reached out to inspire customers in four different languages. It brought in 50–100 viewers a time, who also had the opportunity to interact and ask questions.
– Many of our customers are unashamed geeks and our live broadcasts went down really well, says Håkan, who is looking forward to the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations next year. They are putting together a film which will include close family of Tormek’s late founder and the very first customer.
– Of course the company has grown and evolved over the years, but what all of us here share, then and now, is that continual drive to make things a little better. It’s about optimising our products, maintaining our position, and constantly moving forward. We operate in our small niche and are confident about what we’re doing. Thankfully, we haven’t had to spend time and resources on patent infringements. Our patent portfolio is stable and the number of patent rights alone signals that we’re a strong company!
The Tormek Story
In the 1970s, Tormek’s founder Torgny Jansson struggled to get the market to believe in his innovative new sharpening machine. A few years earlier, Torgny, an engineer and keen hobby woodworker, had come up with an innovative way of putting a really sharp edge on his tools. It turned out to be exceptionally user-friendly and reliable, and the patent was granted.
In 1973, Torgny founded Tormek AB to manufacture and market his invention. It was not long before Tormek was exporting to Europe, and in the 1980s it developed its universal support, which remains central to the Tormek sharpening system.