Reprinted from Rochester Business Journal


Lone inventor stands up to mighty Motorola

Garry Haltof scaled the summit of Mount Rainier on Sunday. That feat seems a mere stroll in the park for the entrepreneur fighting an uphill battle against Motorola Inc.
The saga started in 1993, when Haltof invented the "Flip Clip," a cellular-phone holder designed to mount on a car dashboard.
"As soon as I saw the idea, it was obvious to me that you could sell these things pretty easily," says Vern DeWitt, president of Webster Plastics Inc., a local firm that manufactures the product.
Folks at Motorola - which makes a compact cellular phone called, not coincidentally, the "flip phone" - initially were excited about the Flip Clip, too, Haltof says.
In mid-1994, the inventor met with Motorola engineers to show off his product. Based on a warm reception there, Haltof then sent samples of the Flip Clip to several other managers at the firm.
Meanwhile, Haltof - who runs the one-man engineering design firm, Haltof Product Design, Inc. - kept pouring his own funds into the venture.
He ponied up the price of a booth at Wireless 95, one of the largest trade shows for the cellular-telephone industry. There, Haltof's Flip Clip display caught the eye of Robert Barnhill, CEO of Tessco Technologies, a distributor of communications products. Two months later, Tessco ordered several  hundred units and began featuring the holder in its catalog.
By this point, Haltof's relationship with Motorola had soured.
A manager who earlier had requested quotes for 50,000 and 100,000 Flip Clips now told Haltof that Motorola was designing its own cell-phone holder.
Further, Motorola was dragging its feet on the issue of Haltof's Flip Clip trademark.
Haltof had filed for the trademark with the U.S. Patent Office in March 1994, approximately the same time (editor: before) he initiated talks with Motorola. In mid-1995, the patent office called for oppositions to the filing, part of the process that allows other firms to contest (the) trademark(s). 
Motorola repeatedly asked for extensions - Haltof ultimately granted five - before filing a notice of opposition February of this year.
In what Haltof calls "really dirty pool," Motorola during this period had filed trademark application for the "Flip Clip" name in Mexico and Canada. That move bars Haltof from selling his product there under that name.
Haltof says Motorola has offered to buy the the "Flip Clip" name. But the $7,500 they proposed pales compared to more than $50,000 Haltof has invested in marketing materials, trademark application fees and other expenses.
Webster Plastics also has invested "a lot" in the Flip Clip, from engineering time to manufacturing equipment, DeWitt says. "I'm on no rush" to see a payoff, he adds. "But I can wait one heck of lot longer than Garry can."
Yet for Haltof, the struggle has become "as much a moral issue now as it is a business issue," DeWitt muses.
Business certainly plays a key role, however.
DeWitt notes that the "flip" name gives Haltof's product a big advantage. The term refers to cellular phones with mouthpieces that flip down. Motorola uses the word to describe its cell phones; so do other cellular phone makers with similar feature, including LM Ericsson A/S of Sweden.
Nevertheless, Motorola is coming down hard on anyone using the "flip" moniker, not just Haltof. But while multinational conglomerates like Ericsson can marshal legions of corporate attorneys to fight off Motorola's assault, Haltof cannot.
Indeed, his energies are consmed by the trademark bout and getting the Flip Clip off the ground. And while funds are starting to flow from Flip Clip sales, "without my wife's income I'd be on the street," Haltof says.
So he decided to take his story to the street - as in The Wall Street Journal.
The publication ran a lengthy story about the dispute in its August 27 issue, headlined "Inventors Heed Tale of Flip-Phone Flip." After the story ran, Haltof spoke to with Motorola attorney Jonathan Meyer, who also was interviewed for the article.
"He said I'd caused a lot of headaches for a lot of people at Motorola, which of course was my exact goal, " Haltof reports.
Haltof describes his strategy this way: "I need to stay in their face."
(Facing potential legal action) Haltof would welcome an (out of court) solution.
"I would not like to have this fight," he insists.
Though good-humored about the whole affair, Haltof has no intention of giving up.
The case could take years to resolve, he admits. And it does sometimes seem that the struggle is endless.
"(I'll feel like) I'm rounding the corner," Haltof says, "But I'm just walking around a huge multifaceted polygon."
Haltof's Web site is