Cotswolds patents and innovation: The next big thing
- Credit: Ng
Have you got an idea that could make you millions? We look at how design ideas can come to life
As Neill Ricketts, CEO of Versarien said in his our interview in this issue, universities are generating huge amounts of intellectual property that never make it to production. There are a lot clever people out there who are entrepreneurs, they just haven’t realised it.
Some will discover their potential quite early on in their career, like James Hygate of Green Fuels. For Roy Turner, a 73-year old architect, it might take a bit longer. Roy thinks he might have discovered the solution to building on the world’s flood plains. You’ll read about both men in this feature. We look at how to bring a product from the design stage to issues around patenting and trademarking.
Britain has the longest continuous patent tradition in the world. Its origins came from the 15th century when the Crown started making specific grants of privilege to manufacturers and traders.
Open letters marked with the King’s Great Seal called Letters Patent signified such grants. Henry VI granted the earliest known English patent for invention to Flemish-born John of Utynam in 1449. The patent gave John a 20-year monopoly for a method of making stained glass required for the windows of Eton College that had not been previously known in England.
A patent protects intellectual property and is a deal between the applicant and Government in return for adding to the country’s body of knowledge by disclosing scientific and technical information. In return, they will be granted a monopoly for a period of time. Patents are a mixture of technological breakthroughs and improvements to everyday items.
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In April 2013 the Government introduced legislation called the “Patent Box” that reduces the rate of UK Corporation Tax payable on profits made on patents, the sale of patented products and even the sale of products incorporating a patented component, among other patent-related profits. The reduced tax rate will eventually be as low as 10%.
The Patent Box complements existing tax incentives for research and development, and applies to worldwide patent-related profits earned after 1st April 2013. This is a pretty liberal provision; for instance, even if your product is only covered by a UK or European (EPO) patent then worldwide sales of the product will qualify for the reduced tax rate.
The scheme also applies to certain other types of Intellectual Property, such as rights covering data exclusivity, pharmaceuticals and plant breeds, as well as national patents granted in certain European countries. It should be noted, however, that it does not apply to registered trade marks or designs.
Patenting your idea
Vicki Strachan works for Cheltenham-based Wynne Jones IP Patent Attorneys.
“I’ve been a patent attorney for 20 years and seen a fair number of trends,” she says. “Early on, the digital communications sector was huge and I also secured patents for some of Toshiba’s DVD players. It seems such an old technology now but when I was asked to work on the patent, I’d never seen one.
Then it was mobile phones and more recently hybrid vehicles. The latest trends include inventions for speeding up mobile phones as well as those to make them smaller, more powerful and cheaper.”
Vicki meets people with practically every idea under the sun.
“During the rainy season we will get a lot of flood barrier designs and in recent years there has been a focus on environmentally friendly products.”
In fact, the Patent Office does aim to prioritise green inventions and has special procedures to speed the process up by several months, or even more.
As soon as they have been approached by an inventor, patent attorneys will either go straight ahead and file a patent application or offer a ‘novelty search,’ a ‘prior art’ search to ensure nothing like it is already patented. No point reinventing the wheel, after all.
The costs of filing of a patent application vary, but are generally front-end heavy. That’s when a lot of the legal work happens as getting the patent document right is essential. Typically early costs come in at £2,000-£3,000, depending on the time taken. The full cost of patenting an idea will vary but could cost from £4,000.
Another issue for patent attorneys is last-minute Larrys. “We have had situations where a client is about to visit a potential customer for their product and rather late in the day has realised that it might be a good idea to apply for a patent,” said Vicki. “We can get a patent application in immediately, but it’s better to think ahead.”
The alternative to ‘patent pending’ is a confidentiality agreement but they don’t provide the same level of protection. The granting of a successful UK patent takes about four years, unless your invention is green. Vicki’s success rate for achieving a grant of patent is above 90%.
“In the last 12 months having prosecuted 50-60 UK patent applications I’ve only lost one,” she says.
The most important thing is that an inventor must keep everything confidential until the patent is in place.
The design and prototyping process
From designing flexible hairbrushes, odd-shaped salad tongs, children’s rocket backpacks and even a new golf trolley, it must be a lot of fun working at Cheltenham-based design agency D2M Innovation.
Phil Staunton is managing director and his business helps develop, prototype, manufacture and protect new concepts.
“Protecting and launching a new product idea is a tricky process and our job is to help people through this maze. We will create prototypes, design the concept for production and support the idea through all the necessary development stages, whilst working alongside patent attorneys to secure the future of an invention,” he said.
One of the first considerations of the design team is, will the concept work? This might sound like a no-brainer, but sometimes the reality is harder to achieve. Another early consideration is, will anyone want to buy it?
“We are always surprised how slow some people are to approach their potential customers to check there isn’t a fundamental issue with their product,” says Phil. A good development strategy is important to assess and deal with potential risks, and conducting a patent search is often essential to establish originality.
Phil also advocates market research, including competitive product analysis that will inform the design process. “Making sure your product has an edge over the competition is crucial.”
Target price points are also useful to check. “We often find that the inventor thinks they know their market because they work in it, but market research sometimes comes back with a totally different conclusion which can be backed up with statistical analysis. All this can mean that our client’s assumptions are blown out of the water and they have to abandon the project or go back to the drawing board.”
Concept exploration phase
The D2M design team will look at an invention’s ergonomics, key functionality and whether they can add further innovation to the original concept. More input at this stage results in both time and money saved later on in the process.
Phil adds: “We produce prototypes relatively early in the process because being able to visualise and hold a product really focuses the design at a much quicker pace.
Effective planning at the outset is absolutely key, adds Phil, “We recommend that our clients develop an integrated approach with not only their designer, but with a patent attorney, focus groups and potential customers, so that they end up with a product that will take the market by storm.”
For the full article from the 2014 August issue of Business and Professional Life, read the pdf online here.