Posts Tagged ‘IPR’


A Bolt from the Blue: A Small Company Grows as Exports Expand

May 17, 2012

Doug Barry is an International Trade Specialist in the Trade Information Center, part of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service

Stress Indicators is a Maryland manufacturing company with six employees.  Much of the raw materials for the product as well as the final bolt are made in the U.S. and sold worldwide.  This year, production is expected to increase from 25,000 per year to 75,000, with additional increases expected next year.  The company credits the U.S. Commercial Service of the International Trade Administration with providing help needed to go global. Company president Charles H Popenoe, III shared his story with Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center.

Barry:  How did you get into this business and how did this business start?

Popenoe:  My father, also named Charles Popenoe, worked for National Institute of Standards and Technology as a scientist. And in his spare time, as a hobby, he was an inventor.  He still is an inventor. And he invented the SmartBolt and patented it.

Barry:  How did he do it?  Did he invent the SmartBolt in his garage or his basement?

Popenoe:  Yes.  Garage and basement

Barry:  And he just tinkered around, and there it is?

Popenoe:  Well, he saw an article in Popular Science about a bolt with a little glass window that breaks when you tighten it to the proper tension.  And so he said, well, that’s neat, but I can come up with a better idea than that.  And he worked and worked and actually took 10 or 15 years to develop it.

Charles H Popenoe, III, President of Stress Indicators with SmartBolts, a product his father invented.

Charles H Popenoe, III, President of Stress Indicators with SmartBolts, a product his father invented. (Photo Stress Indicators)

Barry:  How are the bolts used and by whom? 

Popenoe:  The applications are numerous.  But we’ve had one in particular that’s caught on, and it’s really caught on worldwide.  It’s our most successful application.  It’s used for electrical connections.  And basically you’re joining conducting bars and they’re carrying current, and they’ve got to be tight, or else you get heat buildup and potential of arc and other issues.  It’s easy for inspection as well, because you can just look at the bolt and know that it’s properly tightened because of the color of the indicator in the head without touching these high-current-carrying bars.

Barry:  When did you start selling outside the United States?

Popenoe:  We were really just focusing on the U.S.  We got a few inquiries from overseas.  And one that we cultivated was with a Turkish company.  It was 2009 when we got our first big order from them.  And at that point, the people we were working with suggested that I talk to the Baltimore Export Assistance Center (of the Department of Commerce) to help us get started in our exporting program.

Barry:  And have there been sales to additional countries since the sales to Turkey?

Popenoe:  Yes.  Our sales to Turkey are ongoing, so we’ve been able to keep that customer happy.  But we’re also selling to Taiwan.  We have a new agreement with a company in Australia to sell throughout Southeast Asia.  We’re selling to South Africa, Japan, Korea, and the list goes on really. We have a good Internet presence and website, and we’re strong on search terms like “tension-indicating bolts,” “torque-indicating bolts.”  And we get a lot of interest from overseas from our website.  We develop these leads right here in (Maryland) usually by email and we don’t have to travel.  I’m actually going to Istanbul next month to visit my Turkish customer.  They’ve become a very important part of our business so it’s about time I visited them.

Barry:  What other kinds of help have you received from government?

Popenoe:  One of the outputs of our work with the Export Assistance Center was being able to create a business plan to submit to the state of Maryland for an Export Maryland grant, which helps pay for some of our international sales efforts.  And that actually led to a U.S. Department of Commerce trade mission to Brazil that we did the following year.  So it’s really been a series of services and they’ve all helped, really.

Barry:  And a written export plan obviously was helpful to you.  What are the main components of the plan?

Popenoe:  Well, it’s really identifying our market.  But I think one of the key things is the recognition that SmartBolts is an outstanding product for export – because it’s high value, its unique; it’s the kind of thing that can be used in almost any industrial nation.  And so the foundation of our plan is that we have a very good product for export and that we have to treat the international market very seriously if we want to grow.

Barry:  Intellectual Property Protection.  It took your dad 10 years to develop it so this would hard to reverse-engineer it in short order.

Popenoe:  It is patented.  And we have a series of patents, some internationally.  But mostly we’re protecting it based on the fact that we’re the only ones that know how to make it, and it’s not trivial to manufacture, and we’re trying to stay ahead of the competition.  But at the same time, we know that the challenge is there.  And then we have to keep developing new products to stay ahead of those who would copy it.

Barry:  What percentage of your business is international?

Popenoe:  Well, last year about 50 percent of our sales was international.  So it’s very significant.  It may even be greater than that this year.

Barry:  Good.  And what advice would you have to other U.S. companies that are considering expanding internationally or getting into it for the first time?

Popenoe:  Well, I think your local Export Assistance Center has a lot of resources to help companies determine whether they’re a good candidate for exporting.  And I think that’s where I would start, because that will point companies in the right direction to see where they should go from there. The networking opportunities are also great.  And so at this point we’re a fledgling exporter.  But, you know, in the future I certainly hope to be a model and assist others in the same path. 

Barry:  Export sales as 50 percent of total revenue hardly fits with “fledgling,” but I admire your understatement and your modesty. Are you publicly traded?

Popenoe:  No, that’s not likely.  We’re still a small company–but we’re growing.


Bringing the Russian Market to America Part 2

May 3, 2011

John McCaslin is Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs for the U.S. Foreign and Commercial Service in Moscow, Russia.

Leaving Cincinnati on a Sunday  I would start the toughest part of my journey, four cities in five days.  Arrived very late Sunday night in Baltimore via Minneapolis due to cancellation of the original direct flight.  The BRIC program started first thing Monday morning at a downtown hotel and featured an excellent keynote address by our Assistant Secretary for Trade Promotion, Suresh Kumar, followed by individual country plenary presentations on each of the four markets, and then concurrent breakout sessions on more specific aspects of doing business in these markets by successful US companies; a great program all in all, with over 100 business participants.

As noted earlier, these types of business outreach programs are put together by our outstanding domestic field and their local partners, in this case the Baltimore U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) and the state of Maryland.  Again,  all I had to do was show up.  Baltimore is a great venue for these types of programs because of its proximity to Washington, which makes it easy to bring in senior U.S. Department of Commerce management, our Market Access and Compliance country desk officers and Commerical Service Regional Directors; quite a formidable array of U.S. government resources all brought together to support our US business clients in a very practical and informative format.

As usual, the local USEAC set up meetings for me at the hotel with individual local companies interested in the Russian market, so after my presentation to the larger group and before hopping on a plane for my next city, I met with two local firms.  One company, an experienced manufacturer and distributor of dental products with lots of international sales, was already established in Russia and was coming to me for advice on a problem with their exclusive Russian distributor.  This is a pretty typical case for many US firms that come our way and we always try to do our best to help them out.  The issue involved counterfeit products of the US company showing up in Russia, which was hurting legitimate sales.  Intellectual property rights (IPR) is a big issue in Russia and one in which we are well equipped to assist, since we have a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Attache that sits in our FCS office in Moscow and a Russian IP attorney on staff.  I put the US firm in touch with our IPR staff in Moscow along with our Commercial Specialist who covers the medical sector, so they will be in good hands.

The second company was a well established manufacturer from Pennsylvania that sold duct work accessories into the HVAC sector in a number of foreign markets.  They have had some passive export sales to Russia, but really wanted to do much more.  I had a feeling we could really help this company so that day I put them in touch with our Moscow Commercial Specialist who covers this sector in order to start a dialogue and also looped in our Pittsburgh USEAC, which has worked with this company in the past.  Looking ahead to possible trade promotion opportunities, I let this firm know about a proposed energy efficiency trade mission to Russia later this year that the US Dept of Energy is planning with support from our agency.  This could be an interesting market entry vehicle for the company since the mission would be designed to bring Russian firms to the US and then take US firms to Russia in order consummate in-depth, long lasting business relationships.

Next stop Cleveland.


Serving the U.S. Business Community in South Africa

October 5, 2009

Jed Diemond has been with the Market Access and Compliance (MAC) division of ITA for almost eight years.  He serves as the Senior International Economist covering the five Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries – Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. 

Last month I got to do the most interesting and fun part of my job: I staffed Stephen Jacobs, the acting assistant secretary for MAC, during his trip to Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa.  I worked very closely with the Senior Commercial Officer in South Africa, Craig Allen, and his staff on the trip.  Over an intense two days, we had a series of meetings with U.S. companies based in South Africa, South African business and trade promotion organizations, and South African government trade officials.  Our goal was to explore ways to expand the U.S.-South Africa trade and investment relationship.  Some of the themes of the meetings included cooperation on intellectual property rights protection and advancing trade and investment promotion cooperation in the context of a U.S.-SACU trade and investment dialogue that we are trying to jump-start. As the South Africa desk officer, I had the unique opportunity to work with Acting Assistant Secretary Jacobs to shape our message in the meetings and expand my own working relationships in South Africa, which allows me be more effective in my job.


World IP Day

April 24, 2009

Andrea Cornwell is an International Trade Specialist with the Office of Intellectual Property Rights in the International Trade Administration’s Market Access & Compliance unit.

Intellectual property surrounds us almost constantly. And it’s not just McDonald’s trademark Golden Arches or Apple’s patented iPod technology or Miley Cyrus’ latest copyrighted album. For instance, I would bet that you create content protected by copyright nearly every day. Have you written an email today? Have you doodled on your notebook during a meeting or class this week? Have you snapped a family photo recently? If so, then you’re an author – an author with a copyrighted work.

The fact that intellectual property rights (IPR) exist in so many facets of our daily lives just goes to show that our Founding Fathers were right – provide people with legal protection for their inventions and creative works, and technology will advance, knowledge will spread, and societies will progress. Did you know that our Constitution authorizes Congress to protect inventors’ and authors’ creative works? Or, that our current trademark law preserves a long American heritage of 120-plus years of protection for our entrepreneurs’ trade names, logos, and the like?

In fact, IPR is so essential to continued global development and trade that each year we celebrate World Intellectual Property Day on April 26th. This year, World IP Day focuses on Green Innovation and the important role of IPR in promoting the advancement and diffusion of increasingly critical technologies for the mitigation of climate change. This coincides nicely with widespread celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd, and provides us with an opportunity to proudly say that, as global environmental needs evolve, our American entrepreneurs are developing new means for addressing them. According to the House Small Business Committee, the renewable and efficiency industries, comprised of more than 90% small firms, created 8 million new jobs in 2006. The

U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that by 2038, the American green tech industry’s development could add another 4.2 million jobs to the economy.

So, you see, the fundamental IPR principle established so many years ago still rings true today – IPR protection is essential to encouraging innovation and competitiveness. This is particularly relevant to the growing green tech industry, as both U.S. industry and our global community stand to see great benefits from new technologies and methods for addressing climate change. As Francis Gurry, Director General of the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization, recently said, “The power of human ingenuity is our best hope for restoring the delicate balance between ourselves and our environment.” This World IP Day, the International Trade Administration welcomes the celebration of Green Innovation and our green technology industry.

For more information on IPR and ITA’s activities related to IPR, please visit