March 24, 2020
Nonna Heiskanen, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, has a doctor’s heart, but the blood of an entrepreneur coursing through her veins. Nomai Oy, a startup founded by two health sector professionals, developed a menstrual cup designed to conquer the world. Kolster protects the efforts with trademarks and design rights.
“We wanted to start big and conquer the world in a year: first Europe, then China and the United States”, says Nonna Heiskanen, co-founder of Nomai Oy, which manufactures and sells menstrual cups.
The idea for an international menstrual cup company was born at Heiskanen’s practice, which was visited by a lot of women who use a menstrual cup. She thinks that the ecological and cost-effective menstrual cup is the best thing invented for women. However, the alternatives on the market did not meet the specialist’s criteria.
“I noticed that there is no medical expertise behind the products. Models that are too hard irritate the bladder and mucous membranes, so in addition to a constant need to pee, using them feels like sitting on a golf ball. Although I have a doctor’s heart, the blood of an entrepreneur courses through my veins: I was confident that with over 20 years of experience in female anatomy and physiology, I could do better”, Heiskanen says.
Nomai Oy was created together with nurse Mari Kosunen. The first Nomai menstrual cups were launched just a year after the founding of the company, in the spring of 2019. Fysioline Oy, a company specialising in the import and marketing of wellness products, started distributing the menstrual cup almost immediately, and now half of the pharmacies in Finland sell the product.
“Shortly after the launch, we were also contacted by retailers of ecological female health products from Romania and Hungary. Nomai is an absolute hit in Romania!”
The founders of Nomai Oy are Nonna Heiskanen and Mari Kosunen.
IPR is at the core when entering the international market
At first, establishing business activities were alien to Heiskanen and Kosunen. One of the first surprises was the importance of IPR in international business.
“Intellectual property was as new for us as cash flow and a five-year plan. Its significance only became clear with Kolster’s help: IPR is at the core of our operations and means everything to us”, Heiskanen says.
The first patents for menstrual cups were granted as early as in the early 1900s, but large global brands are missing from the market. That is what Nomai aims to be. International business based on e-commerce requires careful planning of protection and forethought.
“Nomai is entering the market IPR first to ensure that products are protected at every turn. Unnecessary costs and unpleasant surprises are avoided if you find out in advance the eligibility for registration of the product and trademark in a particular country”, says Kolster’s European Trademark Attorney Hilkka Kerminen, who is managing Nomai’s trademark applications.
Neglecting IPR issues can result in financial losses if, for example, marketing materials and campaigns have already been finalised but a competitor holding a similar protected trademark suddenly prohibits the use of the trademark.
Trademark localisation provides protection in China
The small company has had challenges enough in balancing its resources and aspirations to conquer the world.
“Following market research, we realised that the world is conquered piece by piece and through prioritisation, not in one go. For example, the Chinese market, which we have been interested in from the beginning, would require us to have greater production volumes and resources than is now the case”, Heiskanen says.
However, with Kolster’s help, the company has already filed trademark applications covering multiple categories of goods and services in China, as well as localising the trademark and obtaining Chinese domain names there. The trademark applications have recently been approved for registration, and a design registration for three designs are also already in force in China.
A survey on the profitability of business in the United States is underway as well. This is the largest market for the menstrual cup, so to be on the safe side, trademark protection has also been sought in the US. Registration for the trademark was granted there already in October 2019.
“The market is extremely expensive due to product marketing and insurance. In Europe, the menstrual cup is a hygiene product, but in the United States, it is a medical device that requires separate approval from the Food and Drug Administration”, Heiskanen explains the challenges of the market.
Making the menstrual cup into a mainstream sanitary product
The UN estimates that there are about two billion menstruating women in the world, but so far, only 2% of western women use a menstrual cup. Nomai’s aim is to make the menstrual cup a mainstream sanitary product by appealing to, among other things, responsibility and eco-friendliness.
“During her lifetime, a woman may generate more than 150 kg of non-biodegradable waste due to menstruation.
An ecological sanitary product is an important option especially for conscious people in their twenties and young adults”, Heiskanen says.
Nomai’s products are manufactured by Teknikum Oy in Sastamala, Pirkanmaa.
“We want to be familiar with both the production materials and processes. Quality control is important with a product held inside the body.”
Growth requires reassessment of IPR protection
Nomai has paid particular attention to the fit of its menstrual cup. The products were made to meet the physiological differences between women by using a test group of 80 women and by evaluating the products of 50 different menstrual cup brands. The material of the Nomai menstrual cup is medical-grade silicone that is as soft as possible, conforming to movements and being unnoticeable in use.
“A strong medical background sets us apart from our competitors, but company growth also requires long-term work and the stars aligning”, Heiskanen says.
There are plans to expand both the product family and the market area, and standing out in the femtech market promoting women’s health is not cheap for a small startup. As the range of products and services grows, new trademark applications will have to be filed and earlier trademarks reassessed, for example.
“Before starting sales and marketing in a new target country, we make sure that the existing protection also covers new products and services and that the protection meets the requirements of the target country. Existing protection can and should be expanded, both regionally and on a trademark-specific basis”, Kerminen says.