canoethe British start-up known for its own computer kits and software for learning coding and associated STEM skills, Warner Bros. accused of copying one of its products and violating its intellectual property (IP).
The product in question is the Harry Potter: magic wand with magic wand that Warner Bros. announced back in October, and it shipped just before Christmas for $150 to consumers in the US and UK. London-based Kano this week issued a “cease and desist” to Warner Bros., which australiabusinessblog.com has seen, asking the media and entertainment giant to halt its go-to-market and promotional activities.
While Kano is probably better known for its Raspberry Pi and Windows-based modular PCs, the company has launched a device similar to Warner Bros.’ new wand way back in 2018. Kano’s Harry Potter coding kit came packed with a physical gesture controlled Bluetooth wand designed to engage kids in encoding spells, causing on-screen cauldrons to change color or feathers to fly, via intricate swishing motions with the wand.
The wand is powered by several sensors, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, which help the wand convey its direction and movement to the tablet or PC it’s connected to.
In the intervening years, Kano says he has sold some 180,000 copies of his Harry Potter coding stick, a figure that rises to 460,000 when you take into account comparable gesture controlled products that Kano subsequently launched in partnership with Disney spanning the Star Wars and Frozen franchises.
While Kano no longer actively markets its Harry Potter wand, some of its retail partners — formerly including Apple and Target — do still sell it.
Last April, Kano was co-founder and CEO Alex Klein got a patent for the wand’s gesture recognition system, covering the basic mechanics of how it works: the user holds down a button to start the gesture recognition, and the screen displays a cursor trace as the user moves the wand to show how a spell is cast pronounced real time.
It is worth noting that Kano launched his wand as part of a brand licensing partnership with Harry Potter rights holder Warner Bros., which is why Klein says he was disturbed when he heard his new competing wand hit the market a few months ago.
Speaking to australiabusinessblog.com, Klein explained that Warner Bros.’ thanks to the initial success with the Harry Potter wand in 2018.” the business department reached out to Kano to have it explain a bit more about how the product works, including its components and how it can recognize spells, and other possible use cases for the underlying technology.
And here’s where it gets interesting regarding the feud with Warner Bros.
Unlike Kano’s original Harry Potter wand, which was all about teaching kids how to code, Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand is all about the smart home. Are designed to connect to devices such as TVs, lamps, and speakers, allowing users to control their contraptions with “spells” and choreographed wall gestures.
According to Klein, Kano had already foreseen such use cases with his own magic wand and made some early developments in the smart home world.
“As we made it easy for a person to hold down the button on the wand and cast a spell, we realized that this is a new language for human computer interaction,” Klein said. “You could cast spells not only to make Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans explode on a screen, but you could also [also] use gestures to control your lights, unlock your door, and control the volume of the music. We realized that this gestural form of interaction could be quite powerful and could be extended to other domains in the smart home. So we came in, they [Warner Bros.] got very excited about this idea to control the smart home.
Klein showed australiabusinessblog.com a video of an early prototype of Kano’s wand that controls various connected devices, which he said was recorded in November 2018 as part of a demonstration at Warner Bros.’ offices.
Fast forward to 2022, and when Warner Bros. launched a similar Harry Potter wand, Klein says he has approached several people at the company for an explanation, adding that he was told an internal investigation would follow. But he said the line of communication went cold, leading to Kano’s cease and desist letter to Warner Bros. this week.
“A side-by-side comparison of the operation of both the encoder bar [Kano’s] and the wand [Warner Bros.’] makes clear — and has now made clear to multiple outside observers, including patent and intellectual property experts — that a problem has arisen,” the letter said. “The new product leverages intellectual property—several patent-protected assets, trade secrets, inventions, etc.—of Kano’s, some of which were shared in strict confidence with WB during the many detailed agreements between the companies.”
The story so far
Founded in 2013, Kano has raised approximately $45 million in funding from notable backers, including European VC Index Ventures, Barclays, Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff and Microsoftwhich teamed up with Kano in 2019 to develop a Windows PC.
Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg is also a fan of Kano’s products, according to this post from 2021.
However, Kano has been relatively quiet in recent years, announcing a round of layoffs in late 2019 and not really releasing many new products after that. However, in 2021, the company partnered with Kanye West to launch Stem Player, a device that allows users to isolate and remix individual song elements. It eventually withdrawn from the collaboration due to anti-Semitic remarks by West.
Kano continues today sell the stock player without intervention from West, and the company a few weeks ago revealed the Voice Projector, alluding to all kinds of new products, including food and clothing. The company also announced the transition from its old DIY PC business when it revealed it was rolling out its Kano World creative software suite as a standalone company.
However, the company plans to stay at least a little true to its roots as it develops a modular two-in-one device that can run Windows or ChromeOS, which Klein said is expected to hit the market this year. will come.
Financially, things didn’t look so good for Kano. At its best recently reported fiscal year ending March 2021, Kano revealed a pre-tax loss of £10.1 million ($12 million), although this was an improvement on the £16.8 million ($20.8 million) loss it reported last year. The company told australiabusinessblog.com a few weeks ago that its preliminary accounts for fiscal year 2022 show a pre-tax result gain of approximately £1.2 million ($1.5 million).
While Klein naturally likes to paint an outwardly rosy picture of how things are going at Kano, the fact that it’s actively releasing and developing new products is an encouraging sign. However, a contentious IP scuffle with a billion-dollar mass media conglomerate is probably the last thing it needs right now.
In a modern David versus Goliath scenario, defending intellectual property rights in court as a relatively small startup is not a cheap pursuit – something Klein is well aware of as he ponders his next steps.
“It can cost up to $3 million to defend and protect a patent/technology IP,” Klein said. “This piles up the deck in favor of the big companies. They can afford to send aggressive lawyers to smaller companies and tie them up.”
There’s nothing to say, at least at this point, that this is definitely how things will unfold. But if so, Klein indicates that he is willing to do whatever it takes to defend Kano’s work. pro bono basis, that it is a “pretty open and closed” case.
“If it is necessary, I work late into the night and weekends and represent ourselves, pro so,” he said. “We will make sure that our team’s hard work and creativity is not abused and ripped off. I may not have gone to law school, but all procedures are public and can be understood with a little elbow grease.
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. australiabusinessblog.com eventually issued a comment saying, “Kano’s claims are baseless.”*
*This story was updated shortly after publication with a response from a Warner Bros. spokesperson.