About Utah: Blender battles behemoth: Tom Dickson of 'Will it Blend?' fame wins settlement against Vitamix
OREM — Tom Dickson, the mad blender professor of YouTube fame, is one of those upbeat sorts of people who seem to always be smiling, even if you're not exactly sure why.
But last week, there was no guessing the reason.
On Tuesday, federal judge Tena Campbell ruled in a summary judgment that the Vitamix Corp. of Ohio violated U.S. patent law by copying the blending jar Dickson personally invented.
In early June, a jury trial will be held in Campbell's Salt Lake courtroom to determine damages, which could reach well into eight figures.
The ruling culminates a four-year David vs. Goliath type court battle pitting Dickson's upstart Blendtec company against Vitamix, the dominant name in American blending for nearly a century.
That dominance was threatened by the revolutionary, five-sided blending jar conceived and produced by Dickson, a BYU graduate (class of '71). He is a kind of modern-day Ben Franklin whose inventions also include the world's first motion-sickness patch, a home-friendly grain mill and what the History Channel hailed as "the world's strongest blender."
Dickson's five-sided jar greatly reduces center clogging and dramatically increases blending speed and efficiency. This enables commercial vendors such as Baskin-Robbins and Jamba Juice to make their smoothies and milk shakes in a fraction of the time.
Facing a decidedly competitive disadvantage, Vitamix's engineers studied and dissected Dickson's jar and copied it — and then went to court and said they didn't.
"They tried to bury us with paper," said Dickson of repeated appeals and counter-appeals filed by Vitamix's lawyers over the past four years. "Finally, the judge had seen enough."
Blendtec and Dickson's ability to go toe-to-toe with Vitamix in the expensive legal battle hinged, appropriately enough, on the burgeoning popularity of the blender and five-sided jar in question.
In October 2006, about the same time the legal fight began, Dickson started making his "Will it Blend?" videos.
In case you're not one of the millions who have seen them, in these videos, Dickson dons a white lab coat, stands in front of the camera with a sly grin on his face and asks, "Will it Blend?"
At which point he produces the object du jour and stuffs it into the Blendtec blender.
You name it, he's blended it — golf balls, running shoes, a lava lamp, glow sticks, a half-dozen Bic lighters, hockey pucks, a bag of marbles. Anything he can think of that he can jam in his blender.
He once blended an iPhone and, just this week, an iPad.
Jay Leno invited him on the "Tonight Show," where he blended a rake handle. He's blended on the "Today Show," "CBS This Morning," the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and numerous other programs.
So far, nothing has failed to be successfully blended (although the Bic lighters exploded and singed Dickson's eyebrows).
A television network in Germany, Pro 7 TV, was sure it was all a hoax and flew a film crew all the way to Orem to prove it.
Dickson brought them into his makeshift recording studio, blended their cuckoo clocks and turned them into believers.
Along the way, "Will it Blend?" has become an Internet phenomenon, with views nearing 300 million and counting. On YouTube alone, there have been more than 105 million hits (including nearly 5 million this week alone for the iPad blend). Blendtec's own Web site, Willitblend.com, has also registered well over 100 million views.
This has produced two significant results for Dickson:
One, sales of Blendtec blenders have increased 1,000 percent over the past three and a half years. More than 100,000 blenders a year are flying out of the company's warehouse just west of the University Avenue I-15 freeway exit. Distribution is now in 86 countries worldwide.
Two, Dickson can't go anywhere without getting noticed.
He was in Estonia recently when he observed a guard stationed at the royal palace eyeing him with a "you look familiar" look.
Dickson inched up close to the guard and asked, "Do you know who I am?"
Standing stiffly at attention, the guard's lips barely moved as he answered in English, "Will it Blend?"
The outgoing, 63-year-old Dickson is enjoying all of the attention and success immensely, especially now that Vitamix has been exposed as an "adjudicated patent infringer" and must cease and desist from using the blending jar he created.
"They say imitation is the highest form of flattery," he said. "But I'm tired of being flattered. I want to stop people who steal."
And that's not just according to him. That's according to a court of law.
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to email@example.com.
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