Entrepreneur Ken Walker had the genius to trademark a date, and those numbers have made more numbers - this time with dollar signs in front of them.
By Carol Milano

Typically, doodles are those little scribbles in the margins of our day planners; useless stuff that fills up time as we take mental breaks from our "productive" work.

Ken Walker felt the same way - at least, he did until one of his squiggles started raking in millions of dollars.

Back in 1994, when he first heard about the possible computer glitches related to Y2K, he wanted to understand the problem. So, in his terms, he "started doodling" on a piece of paper. As president of WalkerGroup/Designs, an architectural and design firm, he had always been a visual thinker. He scribbled 12.31.99 to signify the last day of the year, and then jotted down the next day. "I liked the way 01.01.00 looked," he says. "In it, I saw the computer glitch, and the language of the next millennium - those zeros and ones. It's an abstract mark, language-independent, not relying on a word jumping out at you."

Recognizing a potentially hot business idea, Walker decided to register the symbol 01.01.00 and see what he could do with it. He trademarked his doodle, a process that took three years and $500,000 in what he recalls as "a long, hard, expensive process, requiring three law firms. We registered 14 categories in 30 countries, each with a different set of rules."

However, the results were worth it. He forecasts sales of over $100 million from his patented items by the year 2000. Since 1997, WalkerGroup/Designs has licensed "The Mark of the Millennium: 01.01.0011" to 60 companies. Items tagged 01.01.00 are sold across the USA, Europe, Japan, Canada, Korea and The Philippines. "They're everywhere from Bloomingdales to Wal-Mart, and in duty-free shops worldwide," says Walker. "We're universally recognizable."

While they have the obvious clocks, watches, caps and t-shirts, the company has also created higher-end, more unusual items with the trademarked tagline. Among these are a leather bomber jacket ($250) a silver mini-purse ($700), and items made by such famous names as Nicole Miller, Salvatore Ferragamo, Josie Natori and Adrienne Vittadini. Whimsy also sells. "A lot of fun things, like our countdown gloves (about $15), sell well. My favorite's the snow globe with an exploding computer," admits the company president, who's also partial to Millanimals, a line of plush toys.

Why do so many consumers want things tagged 01.01.00? "The millennium will be the greatest celebration in our collective lifetime, a point in time everyone will remember. Your grandchildren will ask where you were," Walker believes. Low-key and softspoken, he's very proud of coming up with the 01.01.00 idea. "It takes people a second to get it; then they feel good for catching on. I love the smile that comes on people's faces as they say, 'Why didn't I think of that?"'

In fact, he's so confident that he's trademarked the numbers 01.01.00 through 01.01.10, but isn't yet: sure what he'll do with them. Knowing the U.S. Patent Office received over 1,500 applications with millennium or Y2K in the name, he exults, "We have the lion's share of millennium merchandise. We're the only ones who did it globally, the only ones who created a brand for the millennium.

He's not the only one to notice that fact, either. Walker and his 01.01.00 line have been featured in People, Harper's Weekly, Forbes, The New York Times and other print publications, as well as on Good Morning America and CNN. Getting on such shows wasn't just vanity; it was shrewd marketing. "Press coverage was a necessity, on several levels. It educates consumers that this is something special, giving retailers the confidence to buy our merchandise, knowing shoppers read about it."

Articulate and engaging, Walker also benefited from 25 years of good media coverage at his first firm, WalkerGroup/CNI, the world's largest architecture company specializing in retail design. He sold it to WPP Group in 1987, staying on as CEO/Chairman. "When potential clients see your work in print, it carries a lot of weight," he says.

Walker's retail background was a boon for selling 01.01.00. His team visualized millennium shops within department stores and showed retailers sketches of how boutiques could look. Walker designed special elements like a large countdown clock - a key in convincing Bloomingdales to install America's first millennium shop. For the launch, on August 19,1999, Walker suggested a giant countdown clock over the Third Avenue entrance. "A great visual, and an early millennium event, it was on TV all over the world," Walker grins.

Walker promotes his brand wherever he can. An avid amateur race car driver for 38 years (with Akin Motor Sports), he put a large 01.01.00 logo on the 53-foot rig that carries his cars all over the country. His race car's number is 00, with 01.01.00 on the back. You'll also find him driving between his historic Long Island home and his office in Manhattan's trendy Flatiron district. His vehicle of choice? A Mercedes with a vanity plate reading - what else - "MR.01 01 00."

Many of these articles appear on the publication's website, which are often password-protected or members-only. For your convenience, I've gathered them on my own website.