West Hampstead inventor takes on Dyson: Tony Waithe ‘will fight on’ after losing hairdryer patent case

TonyWaithe, a professional hairdresser & inventor, has invented a new type of hairdryer to stop RSI

TonyWaithe, a professional hairdresser & inventor, has invented a new type of hairdryer to stop RSI and is set to become the first to get a patent on his product in just three months - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A dogged West Hampstead inventor took technology firm Dyson to the High Court this week arguing he should be credited with helping invent the firm’s “Supersonic” hairdryer.

Although he lost, Tony Waithe is now hoping the multinational company will offer him “an olive branch” – but a Dyson spokesperson told this newspaper that this is unlikely.

Afterwards, Tony told the Ham&High: “I believe because I’m not a lawyer and acted as a litigant in person, I didn’t word my witness statement as well as it should have been worded.”

Tony’s case – seeking to be named on the patent for the Supersonic – against Dyson ended up in the High Court’s Chancery Division after he appealed a decision made by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) last September.

Then, a patent officer had ruled against Tony’s application to be listed on Dyson’s patent – but Tony fought his corner all the way.

Unable to afford a lawyer, the West Hampstead man represented himself at the hearing a week ago (Thu) before Mr Justice Mann.

His original claim rests on his having written to Sir James Dyson in 1999 suggesting Sir James could work with him on the design of a lightweight hairdryer with a metal fan-driven motor concealed within the handle – as is the case with the 2016-launched Supersonic.

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Then in 2011 he says he had a telephone conversation with an engineer at Dyson about the same idea.

Tony also argued that a discussion he had in a documentary produced by the Open University with poet Benjamin Zepahniah where he discusses the inspiration he found in the Harrier Jump Jet influenced Sir James Dyson’s decision to purchase a disused Harrier in 2012.

Dyson has not disputed the correspondence took place, but successfully argued the aspects of the idea Tony claims to have discussed were not a “revolutionary new style of motor”.

In September, the IPO’s hearing officer Stephen Probert ruled: “Mr Waithe’s idea was already demonstrably in the public domain at that time, and had been for many years.” Mr Probert cited a US patent to this affect.

Mr Probert also upheld the statement made by Dyson that: “It is denied that there is any connection between the claimant and the defendant’s purchase of a Harrier Jump Jet in 2012.

But Tony did not accept this and appealed, only for the Mr Justice Mann to reaffirm this stance.

Tony said: “My original letter spoke of a whole one and a half inch miniaturised hair dryer motor case with air flow pipes and the aluminium impeller blades – these three very important components combined are novel.”

Tony is upset by what he sees as a loophole in the law. He claims that because the European Union design rights that Dyson has on elements of the product – which he says prevent him from utilising a metal-bladed motor in a design of his own – were not taken into account by the courts.

Despite another setback, Tony – who is undeterred – is hoping to apply to the Court of Appeal for leave to challenge the decision.

He has also lodged a breach of confidence lawsuit against Dyson – for which he is looking for a lawyer – as he continues to search for a breakthrough.

After the case concluded on Thursday, Tony offered to work with Dyson to produce a low-cost version of the Supersonic together.

He wrote to Dyson’s lawyer Mr George Sevier with the suggestion as a way of avoiding further courtroom drama.

Mr Sevier indicated he would respond after Easter.

A Dyson spokesperson said: “In this instance Mr Waithe contested entitlement to a Dyson patent at the UK Patent Office in 2018 and lost. Mr Waithe appealed to the High Court and last week he lost his appeal. He has been ordered to pay costs to Dyson and he has been refused permission by the High Court to appeal again.”

In 2013, Tony was one of the first people to get a “fast-track” patent after the Queen wrote in support of his curved hairdryer design – which he created to minimise repetitive strain injury in the hairdressing injury.

Tony, who works out of a West Hampstead design studio, has also appeared on BBC shows Newsround and Eureka over the last 20 years.

He also founded and ran the Young Inventors Club – aimed at encouraging young people into inventing – until 2009.