You invest your time money and effort to bring a unique product to market, and it’s going to be a sure fire winner... right?
Then, just as you are poised for success, somebody else copies it and makes a nice fat profit at your expense. That’s the risk every entrepreneur runs by failing to protect their intellectual property (IP) in the first place.
Yet understanding the IP you have and options to protect it is a minefield requiring professional help. In practice that means approaching a large legal firm with a dedicated IP team or an IP specialist firm with chartered patent and trademark attorneys offering everything you need under one roof.
Protecting your IP
“Generally there’s still a lack of awareness about IP,” says Patent Attorney Robert Watson, Partner at IP specialist Mewburn Ellis.
“It’s complex but IP is basically anything someone’s devised, and broadly covers all technical innovations, brands and designs. Some IP has to be registered for protection, for example patents and registered trademarks, others may get automatic protection, such as copyright. However, you cannot protect a mere idea.
“IP protection is a form of insurance that should be included and costed in your business plan from the outset. You can then defend your IP if necessary, although resorting to court action is rare as protected IP acts as a strong deterrent to potential competitors.”
Robert explains that initial consultations are often free or subject to a minimal charge and warns against taking a cost-saving DIY approach, citing the high-profile case of Magmatic, maker of colourful Trunki ride-on children’s suitcases.
In 2013 Magmatic successfully sued a competitor for allegedly copying its designs, but in 2014 The Court of Appeal revoked the judgement, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court that ruled the competitor hadn’t infringed registered design rights. Magmatic reportedly spent £500,000 fighting the case – more than on the product’s research and development.1
“The problem was Magmatic took its own steps to protect its IP without advice and didn’t obtain as good protection as they could have done,” says Robert.
Acknowledging entrepreneurs often have to disclose information to attract interest and investment makes them vulnerable to copyists, he says: “Have non-disclosure agreements drawn up and signed by anyone you hold discussions with and ensure your business owns the IP, rather than an individual in the business.”
The other vital thing to do is to ensure your concept hasn’t already been thought of and IP-protected by somebody else.
Robert adds: “Without checking first, you might inadvertently be stealing someone else’s idea. IP specialists can do searches for you, but it’s more cost effective to get advice on where to look, and carry out the necessary searches yourself.”
John Hingley is Managing Director for renewable energy innovation company Renovagen, producing field-portable solar energy generators for use in hostile, remote locations. He took professional advice to secure patents in the UK and in 40 other countries across the world.
“The real value of IP protection is that it helps attract investment because it protects their interests and they know you can defend your position. Many have told me that it is one of the top five boxes they want to tick when looking at a proposition.
“The fact you’ve gone through a process validated by a third party to secure a patent reduces the due diligence load for them. It shows you’re trusted operator with a product that’s going to be of interest to the market. It puts you a step ahead of the competition.”
Your St. James’s Place Partner will be able to advise you on which of our panel providers you would need to be referred to, given your particular circumstances and need for advice in this area.
1. www.designweek.co.uk, Mar 2016.