There’s nothing quite like an 18-year patent to secure your market position.
That’s what SmileDirectClub (SDC) recently announced. The new patent, good for 18 years, prevents any competitors from adopting its SmileShop retail and digital technology concepts for direct-to-consumer clear aligners.
SDC’s news release reads in part, “The patent, U.S. Patent No. 10,861,599, further strengthens protection for SmileDirectClub’s groundbreaking method for bringing affordable, accessible oral care to more people through its telehealth platform. The patent further ensures no clear aligner competitor will be able to duplicate SmileDirectClub’s unique model for 18 years.”
For most dentists, this is probably a non-news event. But for those who count on clear aligners as a revenue stream, it’s likely not a good thing.
Another 800-Pound Gorilla?
When it comes to commerce, size and position matter. Much like Google – still boasting a whopping 86.86 percent market share as of July 2020 – SDC may be poised to completely dominate the clear aligner market.
With size and exclusivity come economies of scale. SDC’s prices already undercut most of the other major clear aligners on the market, and dentists should prepare for even more price undercutting as SDC claims an even greater market share.
Exploit SDC’s Fatal Flaw
The clear aligner telehealth model has many competitive advantages, but also a serious weakness. There’s relatively little personal contact involved. Sure, patients meet with the person staffing the SmileShop, but that’s probably the last in-face meeting they’ll have with anyone representing SDC. And at present, those shops aren’t staffed by licensed dentists.
Younger patients may be quite happy with the idea of visiting a location, getting scans, and then later getting the aligners in the mail. Older patients, not so much. And if problems arise with the fit or function of the aligners – historically among SDC’s most frequent complaints – those patients will need to consult a real, live, practicing dentist.
You can and should exploit SDC’s fatal flaw if you offer clear aligners in your practice. Emphasize the personal contact, the ease of getting questions answered and adjustments made, and the confidence that comes with knowing they’re in the hands of caring, accessible professionals.
There are some places even 800-pound gorillas can’t sit. Make sure your practice is one of them.
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