Who is this cat (litter) burger, and where has kickstarter failed to protect backers?
All is not right in the world of crowdfunding. For every massive critical success, there are numerous projects that under-deliver. It is also tragically common for companies to never even make what they promised in the first place. As was the case with iKuddle, the revolutionary smart IoT enabled litter box that one day abandoned its crowdfunders completely.
iKuddle more or less disappeared on August 30, 2021 after amassing a whopping sum of $1,053,305 USD from a total 3,566 backers. Remnants of this ‘backer-creator’ relationship can be found on the iKuddle’s kickstarter page, where the comments section is ‘littered’ with demands for refunds (as recent as last week).
The litter box’s revolutionary system and minimalist design first made a serious impression at CES 2020. With so many cat owners excited about the prospect of never having to clean a litter box again, iKuddle then launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring this device to the North American market. Anticipation for the product’s release was then amplified by a string of positive product reviews from the likes of Digital Trends, The New Yorker and Fortune Magazine, as seen featured on their crowdfunding page.
The Inherent Problem with Crowdfunding
In a perfect world, all crowdfunding projects would live up to their promises and deliver on time, but unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world. Crowdfunding sites can’t promise that the projects funded on their platforms will definitely come to fruition. It’s up to backers to look out for warning signs that a project isn’t exactly what it seems. On more than one occasion, budding endeavors on Kickstarter and Indiegogo haven’t been able to live up to their promises, often leaving backers feeling scammed.
Kickstarter was designed as a crowdsourcing platform for creative projects to get off the ground. As it’s more a platform than it is a business, it’s easy to forget that Kickstarter offers no protections to backers from potential fraud. The exact rights of the people who give their money to a Kickstarter project are still unclear, particularly when faced with a project that isn’t what it seems.
Radio Silence Post Backing
No doubt, plenty of projects on Kickstarter manage to deliver. And if creators were to miss deadlines, backers typically continue to receive updates via e-mail and the Kickstarter page.
It is unclear what was said in the statement iKuddle issued in their last update post to their backers on August 30th 2021. However, from what can be deduced from recent comments, none of the backer orders were fulfilled.
There was however speculation on a reddit discussion log as to why the project didn’t pan out. According to an iKuddle backer, the start-up was subject to a patent infringement claim from a company called OurPets.com. A Infringement Analysis of this very case can be seen here, added by said backer. As it is Kickstarter’s policy to pause and remove any projects involved in an IP dispute, this is perhaps where iKuddle went silent.
It isn’t uncommon for opportunistic patent holders to suddenly appear with a claim at the last minute for a project to finish. The timing of it all pressures project owners to swallow bad licensing deals. OurPets.com is said to own 170+ patents, so this probably wasn’t their first rodeo drowning a hyped product with the prospect of a lengthy litigation process. According to our sources close to the company, contributing to the delays were unforeseen shipping and supply chain issues due to Covid-19 with a surge in shipping costs and indefinite stalled factory operations at the time.
While we can’t pinpoint for sure where this Kickstarter campaign went awry, we are reminded that the Kickstarter is a buyer beware market. Kickstarter as a platform, on the basis that it doesn’t actually make or offer to sell products, will always be legally ‘safe’ from intellectual property disputes. Ultimately, backers participate willingly, and that is always a matter of record. In the case of iKuddle, while some backers vowed to never back a project on Kickstarter again, others remain hopeful that they’ll see their return on investment (at least for a little while longer).