THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

28 posts categorized "Intellectual property / IP"

20 October 2016

Tracking down old toy railway patents in the Business & IP Centre

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I seem to recall a famous BBC radio show called Any Questions. Perhaps the title for this blog post should have been Any Answers. Because, each and every time I have called on the services of The Patent Office Library - now called The British Library Business & IP Centre, they have promptly found the information I need.

I first came into contact with the Patent Office at their Station Square House offices in  Orpington way back in 1988. I had come across a piece of printed ‘0’ gauge model railway track , clearly printed – “G.W. and Co. Ltd., Prov. Patent 5902/23.

I was transferred to their Search and Advisory Service in High Holborn. They were able to locate the actual Patent number – 217,959 which unlocked, at last, the difficult history of this particular company.

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Fast forward 28 years and I came across a toy train with a patent number and date clearly printed on the cab side. I had known of this particular engine as it was featured in the May 1924 issue of Games and Toys, the monthly Trade magazine of the British Toy industry. However, an actual model had never previously been seen. I thought it would be fascinating to find a copy of the original patent.

What a journey, what a virtual tour of Britain! I started in London, but was transferred to the UKIPO in Newport. I gave them what I thought was the patent number – 233183, but this number did not match the toy engine. Sadly, some rust had obliterated one number, so could we try 233163 I asked? Again we had no luck. It was suggested I contact the British Library in Boston Spa. Again no luck, but they suggested I contact the Business & IP Centre in London.

Within two hours of my email request, I was astonished to receive an email from Information Specialist Gail Mitchell who had not only found the patent (it turned out to be 233103) but had emailed me a copy. Fantastic service! Quite superb!

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Your service is like the Rosetta Stone – it is the key to unlocking the history of industry

Of course, it did not stop there. Inventors, manufacturers are rightly proud of their products and patents. This patent number is worn with pride and frequently used to feature in their advertisements, box artwork or even printed or stamped onto the actual model itself.

Such a product was a tinplate Dockside Crane which we were photographing. Turning it over, we saw this patent number stamped -142747 underneath. We believed it to be taken out by the manufacturer – British Metal and Toy Manufacturers Ltd. We were surprised to read it was actually taken out by a Mr George Hazelton of Portadown, Ireland.  This was in May, 1920 before partition, so he must have authorised BMTM to manufacture it for him. For us, your archives, your service is like the Rosetta Stone – it is the key to unlocking the history of industry.

Only last month, I came across a picture in an old book advertising a 3D jigsaw of a toy ship which had the patent number printed on the box label. Once again, your Information Specialist, Gail Mitchell was able to track down and give us not only the patent but the company name, date, address and the name of the patentee. It is magic to be able to anchor our research and history in this way.

For researchers such as I, to have such enthusiastic, helpful people assisting us to unlock the ingenuity of our forefathers is really quite wonderful.

Michael D. Foster

Brimtoy Mech Patent1

  Brimtoy Mech Patent

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19 September 2016

How one woman turned her passion for swimming into a successful business

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A keen swimmer and all-round active person Lisa Irlam noticed a gap in the market and took the plunge into the wearable fitness technology world. Her business, Swimovate, launched in 2007 and since then the business has gone from strength to strength, selling the innovative PoolMate - a waterproof watch the counts your laps while you swim.  We asked Lisa some of our burning questions about how she got started and became the success story she is today.

Hi Lisa! Where did the idea come from to start your own business?

As amateur triathletes, my husband Jim and I realised that there were plenty of products to monitor performance for runners and athletes, but nothing for swimmers. We talked to retailers, magazines, triathletes and swimmers who all said they would buy a product if it existed. There was a gap in the market and the PoolMate idea was born.

How did the Business & IP Centre help you along the way?

Initially we did some technical research, reading scientific papers at the British Library and discovered the Business & IP Centre and what an amazing range of support and services it offered. We attended free workshops on intellectual property and researching your market and spent a lot of time searching the databases that the Centre provides access to. It really helped us to understand our field and what we needed to do to make our business a success. Through the Business & IP Centre we met some inspiring and very helpful people who gave us invaluable advice and support, completely free of charge.

What have been your greatest achievements since starting up?

The best feeling was selling out of our first batch before it had even been delivered and knowing we were at the start of something massive. After selling over 100,000 units, it still gives us a buzz to see our watches on people’s wrists on the street.

What one piece of crucial advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting a business?

Be very careful with your finances, it’s easy to get carried away with costs. Make sure you only risk what you are prepared to lose. Try to do as much as possible yourself, this will teach you so much and don’t forget to make use of all the great free resources out there, like the Business & IP Centre.

 

We’ve been helping people like Lisa turn great ideas into businesses for over 10 years now. To celebrate we’re holding a day of free workshops, talks and events on everything you need to know to start a business, from raising cash to getting your business online. You’ll meet like-minded people, chat to seasoned business experts and entrepreneurs and even get your first professional headshot. And our new ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’, Julie Deane (founder and CEO of The Cambridge Satchel Company), will be showing you how to start a business from your kitchen table. Join us at the British Library on the 27 September and get inspired to take your first step to entrepreneurship.

 

05 July 2016

Celebrating British IP Day – get IP savvy

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Today is British IP Day – but what does Intellectual Property (IP) mean for you and your business?

Well, it might mean beginning to take more control over your brand, exploring new opportunities to commercialise your ideas by selling creative pieces and designs. Or indeed revisiting the business plan and opening up global marketplaces with licensing options.

Being savvy with your intellectual property can make your business scale faster. If you know how.

Protecting your ideas

We know how, and those experts who are on hand in the Business & IP Centre can advise you straight away on what to do to on questions ranging from how to avoid copyright infringement through to what can be trade marked in the UK.

Knowledge is power and by knowing your rights and how to navigate the process to protect your ideas, your business will be stronger.

Award-winning entrepreneur Dana Elemara, founder of Arganic says, “if I hadn't have gone to the intellectual property course at the British Library, I wouldn't have even thought about trademarking my business name”.

 

 

“Branding is a byword for success”

British Library Business & IP Centre Ambassador and businessman, Stephen Fear, has started-up and succeeded across many sectors in his business career and offers this advice; Brands and branding are important because they represent consistency and that is a byword for success. 

Any entrepreneur wishing to build his or her business must first achieve consistency before they can obtain riches. By building a brand you are telling the world that you intend to be around for a very long time. You tell them that you and your business can be relied on to deliver a consistent high quality service or product.

You tell them that they don't need to worry about making their purchase because you will stand by it. If it isn't up to scratch you will replace it immediately and investigate what went wrong. 

Building a business is like building a relationship. The person you are doing this with needs to know that you are committed to the relationship. Convince your potential buyer of that by being genuine and doing what you say 'every time' will cause a line to form at your door. A line of fans rather than just customers. Fans who will buy from you time and time again. Create a brand & the rest will follow.

  

 

So, on this inaugural British IP Day, spare some time to think about any untapped assets and creative skills in your business which could be optimised. The Business & IP Centre is here to help you. Stay up to date with new dates for workshops and webinars helping address these and other issues by signing up for our e-newsletter.

British IP Day has been established by the Alliance for Intellectual Property to celebrate the huge contribution that IP makes to the UK.

Written by Clare Harris

19 May 2016

Kikka Digga - Business & IP Centre Success Story

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Kikka-Digga logoOn Saturday I visited Plumpton College near Lewes, for their annual open day. On display amongst the new-born lambs, Sussex wines, tractors and chainsaws was a stand for Kikka Digga. With my curiosity for all things new, I sauntered over and chatted to the demonstrator Nick Skaliotis. It turned out this was the very first public outing for the his new invention, which he claimed would make digging gardens significantly easier.

Mid-way through our conversation I asked if Nick had patented his invention, he looked more closely at me and said, "I know you". It turned out he has been a regular in the Business & IP Centre at the British Library. In addition to getting help with his patent from our wonderful Inventor in Residence Mark Shehean. He also attended several of our workshops including lean start-up webinar, social media for business and trade marks.

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After hearing Nick’s story I just had to buy his product to see if it really did live up to his claims. Also, I hoped it would help me to avoid the lower back-pain I now get every time I dig over my vegetable patch.

As soon as I got home I took the two pieces of metal out of package and installed them onto my fork. This was as simple as the instructions indicated with just two items to clamp onto my fork.

As you can see from my photos below, I was able to dig over a small section of my very weedy heavy clay soil quickly and easily using Kikka Digga. And, even better, I had no twinges in my lower back afterwards. So I am definitely sold on the product.

I also like the name Kikka Digga, for being simple and memorable. And it has even more k’s than the legendary Kodak brand. George Eastman said about the letter k, “it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter.” I am also glad to see that Nick has registered the name at the UK Intellectual Property Office.

Kikka Digga trademark

You can see a demonstration of the invention in action on YouTube. And keep up to date with Nick’s progress on Facebook or Twitter.

I can’t wait to see how the gardeners of Great Britain take to this wonderful invention.

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Kikka Digga newly assembled on my fork in seconds

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My first few digs into my heavy clay soil are surprisingly easy

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Misty is as impressed as I am by the speed and ease in digging up the plot.

 

By Neil Infield in the Business & IP Centre London team

20 July 2015

Top 5 Intellectual Property Mistakes Made by Small Businesses

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Intellectual Property (IP) law can be a minefield, particularly for start-ups and SMEs that either don’t have the necessary experience or resources. As a partner to the Business & IP Centre and at our firm of patent and trademark attorneys, London IP, we work with small businesses to sort out IP problems that could have been avoided if the right steps had been taken at the right time. So, to help you avoid any problems with IP we have put together a list of our top five IP mistakes (and how to avoid them).

1. Being scared of IP and ignoring it

 There is a myth that IP is an expensive business, and no doubt it can be. However, really you can spend as much as you want to. The UK official fees for registered designs are £60, for trademarks fees start at £170 and for patents £230. Indeed, the official fees to obtain a registered design that covers the whole of the EU are only EUR350!

If you use a patent or trademark attorney to help you then you will need to pay their fees as well, but compared to the cost of many other business expenses such as rents and business rates IP isn’t all that expensive. For example, the cost to get a UK patent granted could be anywhere in the region of £1500 to £4000 spread over five years or so. For a potential twenty year monopoly, and a halving of corporation tax (through the patent box tax scheme), that may be a very worthwhile investment.

Also, it’s worth knowing that IP law is actually quite generous in that it gives you free IP rights that you don’t have to do anything to obtain other than create something that is worthy of being deemed to be protected. The most well-known of these rights is copyright, but there are others.

For example, any designs you create may be automatically protected for three years by EU unregistered design right, and for up to 15 years by UK unregistered design right.

That said, unregistered design rights are not as strong as registered rights as unregistered rights (other than the ‘passing off’ right for unregistered trademarks) are only infringed by copying, whereas registered rights provide an exclusive right meaning that they can be infringed even if the original work has not been copied.

Thus, it must be recommended that you register your IP rights if possible.

2. Being fooled by scam invoices

The publishing of applicant and inventor names and addresses is essential to the transparency of the IP system as the public needs to know who owns a particular IP right.

Unfortunately, all this information can also be used by criminals, so if you do choose to register any IP rights then it is almost certain that you will receive one or more very official-looking letters from rogue companies that try to scam applicants for patents, trademarks and registered designs.

These scams can simply be an invoice that appears to be from a ‘patent office’ or a ‘register’. The amounts of money requested vary, but are sometimes quite significant.

The UK Government seems to be generally powerless to stop most these scams as they are often run from overseas

Beware.

3. Not registering IP at the right time

There is nothing more disheartening than a client describing what sounds to be a marvellous invention with a view to protecting it with a patent and the client commenting ‘it’s selling really well’.

To obtain valid patent protection in most of the world a patent application must be filed before any non-confidential disclosure of an invention.

So before you file a patent application for your invention you can’t sell it, put on a crowd-funding website, use it in public, etc., etc.

You can of course talk to third parties in confidence without jeopardizing your chances of obtaining valid patent protection. You may wish to use confidentiality agreements with third parties just so it is clear that everyone understood that the discussions were confidential.

As an aside it is worth noting that all correspondence with patent attorneys is inherently confidential both under common law and their code of professional conduct, so using confidentiality agreements with patent attorneys is quite unnecessary.

It’s not just patents though; many countries of the world require registered design applications to be filed before any non-confidential disclosure of a design in order to grant valid protection.

Furthermore the trademark system in many ways operates on a first-to-file basis so trademark applications should be filed as early as possible to safeguard future use of the mark and to minimize the chances of expensive and protracted disputes with owners of later-filed conflicting trademarks.

Many trademark disputes would never have occurred if a relevant trademark had been registered when use of the mark started.

In summary, IP should be considered at the very outset of any new venture to try to make sure that patent, trademark and design applications are filed at the appropriate time.

4. Ignoring infringement issues

It should be appreciated that IP is double-edged sword and along with protecting your own IP rights you need to careful not to infringe existing IP.

As mentioned above, registered IP rights provide the owner with the exclusive right to use the IP in the territories covered. This means that you may believe that what you are doing is original but you could be infringing an existing right.

This is the case even if what you are doing is in fact original as registered IP rights can be broader in scope than the thing that they were created to protect.

For example trademark registrations give the owner the right to stop use of identical and similar marks, and registered designs protect against designs with the same ‘overall impression’.

Often we see clients obsess about protecting ‘their’ idea with a patent, and ignoring the fact that someone else might have thought of it before (perish the thought!).

So before spending money on branding, prototyping and tooling, try to make sure that whatever it is that you are developing isn’t going to infringe.

If it does infringe and you can’t obtain a license, then unless the IP can somehow be worked around you may need to completely reconsider your project.

5. Not understanding IP ownership issues with commissioned works

If you pay someone to build you a house then you own the house once the work is complete.

IP doesn’t work like that unless the ‘builder’ is legally an employee, so problems regularly arise with commissioned works, where the person doing the work is paid money for a project, but is not an employee.

For example, if you commission someone to design a logo or a product, or to write something for your website then (unless there is an agreement in place to the contrary) the person that does the work will own all of the IP rights when the work is done.

Because this is so counterintuitive a lot of disputes about the ownership of intellectual property arise. Indeed, if the law on this were to be changed a lot of IP lawyers would be out of a job!

It is therefore very important to have a clear agreement at the outset of any commissioning process about who will own all the IP once the work is completed and to ensure that, if desired, any IP rights created are legally transferred to the commissioning party.

 

David Warrilow, Patent & Trademark Attorney London IP, on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

05 June 2015

The importance of trade marks for your small business

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At the British Library’s Business & IP Centre we regularly work with start-up and growth businesses with a focus on all things design. I recently attended ‘I Knit Fandango' at the Royal Horticultural Halls, Westminster, London, which is a huge knitting festival and market bursting with lots of beautiful yarns, fabulous fibre and amazing patterns. The vast majority of the exhibitors were small businesses. Most produced the yarn and designed the patterns they sold themselves.

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I enjoyed talking to the exhibitors about knitting, a great passion of mine, and about their use of social media and intellectual property for their small businesses. However, I was surprised at the number of exhibitors who didn’t think intellectual property was relevant to them.

Intellectual Property, or IP, relates to creations of the mind such as inventions, music, poetry, paintings, books and designs etc., as well as the signs and symbols used by businesses to indicate the origin of their goods or services.

On a basic level, having a trade mark allows your customers to find you. Whether they are using the internet or social media or just walking the high street they can quickly identify who they are dealing with when looking for particular products or services.  Having your trade mark on your website and any social media channels will allow customers to recognise and identify your brand with your products. As the reputation of your business grows so will the value of your trade mark.

Choosing a trade mark

How do you choose a trade mark? Well, that is very much a personal choice, but it is worth remembering that trade marks don’t have to be complicated. Take the image below:

Nike

It is instantly recognisable as the Nike tick or swoosh and is also recognisable regardless of the country the product is sold in; no words are necessary.

As rumour has it, the word ‘Kodak’ was devised by George Eastman and his mother mainly because the letter ‘K’ was Eastman’s favourite letter. Coined words, as they are known, have the advantage of being easy to protect due to their distinctiveness, but they may also need greater efforts to imprint them on the minds of consumers.

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Creating a trade mark is no easy task and it is not helped by the fact that there are really no hard and fast rules as to what makes a successful trade mark. However there are some things you should bear in mind:

  • Firstly, your trade mark has to meet all the legal requirements for trade mark registration in whatever jurisdiction you are intending to register it in.
  • Secondly, your trade mark must be distinctive enough to be protectable and registrable with the relevant intellectual property office.

If you are using a text mark you might want to remember the following;

  • Your trade mark should be easy to read and pronounce in all languages relevant to your market.
  • Your trade mark should not have any adverse meaning in slang (in English or any other foreign language if you intend to trade abroad).
  • Your trade mark should not create any confusion as to the nature of your product.

You can work with freelance designers or design companies to create your trade mark, but you need to ensure that all the intellectual property rights to the trade mark are assigned to you as otherwise they will remain with the person/company who created the mark, regardless of whether or not you paid for the service.

Register your trade mark

Once your trade mark is designed you will need to register it.  I should say here that you don’t have to register your trade mark but having a registered mark gives you the right to sue anyone who infringes it and to prevent competitors from using/registering an identical or confusingly similar mark.  For an unregistered trade mark you would have to rely on the common law of ‘passing off’ for protection and that can prove extremely difficult.

Registering a UK trade mark costs a minimum of £170 if you register online or £200 if you register on paper. Fees are not refundable and do not guarantee registration of your trade mark, so before you register you might want to:

1. Search to see if the trade mark you want to use is already in use

Although it is not requirement to filing an application, in the Business & IP Centre we would encourage you to search the free trade mark databases to see if any marks have already been registered that are similar to your mark.  A list of the free search databases can be found and accessed via our website.

If someone else is using a similar trade mark to yours check whether it is being used in the same class of goods or services as yours. There are 45 classes of goods and services and it is possible for proprietors to have the same trade mark, provided they have registered their mark in different classes.  An example would be “Polo” mints and “Polo” the Volkswagen car.

2. Think about it long term

Think about where you want your business to be in twelve months or in five years’ time. A trade mark lasts for ten years, and can be renewed every 10 years, so actually has the potential to last forever. When registering your mark you should take this into account, and include in your registration, all the classes that you intend to trade in within the following five years. Why five years if the trade mark lasts for ten? Well, if you do not start trading in all of the classes in which your mark is registered within five years of registration, opponents can apply to the Intellectual Property Office to have your trade mark revoked in the unused classes.

3. Don’t do it alone

Understanding how to protect your intellectual property can sometimes be a minefield.  However, there are ways you can access free or low cost assistance to guide you through the process. If you need some help searching databases to see if your logo or a similar one already exists then come to the Business & IP Centre where our Information Specialists will be more than happy to guide you through the free trade mark search databases. We also offer a number of intellectual property and business workshops. Including:

For advice regarding the fees or the process of registration your should contact the Intellectual Property Office or for legal advice book yourself a free 30-minute advice session with a trade mark attorney in your local area via the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys website. 

Is it worth it?

Many of the exhibitors I spoke with at ‘I Knit Fandango’ hadn’t thought of protecting their brands and one exhibitor even asked “Is it worth it?”. It is worth remembering that your trade mark or brand will be the most valuable piece of intellectual property you will have. This is because we, as consumers, buy into brands as these assure us of a certain level of quality or of service. When we find a brand we like we tend to stay loyal to it and it is the goodwill a company builds up under its brand that gives it its value.

At the Business & IP Centre we regularly help those who have unknowingly infringed another’s trade mark or who have had their trade marks stolen or used incorrectly. In order to protect your company’s identity – protect your trade mark from the start.

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Maria Lampert, Information Expert at the British Library

Maria has worked in the field of intellectual property since she joined the British Library in January 1993. She is currently the British Library Business & IP Centre’s Intellectual Property Expert, where she delivers 1-2-1 business and IP advice clinics, as well as intellectual property workshops and webinars on regular basis.

 

21 April 2015

Copying – right or wrong?

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Across the Business & IP Centre National Network and at Newcastle Libraries, home of the Business & IP Centre Newcastle, we believe it’s important for everyone to have a think about copying. We want individuals and businesses to know about their rights to use content and creations that are either in the public domain or under an open license - and to learn more about copyright generally. As we say in our intellectual property workshops make sure you “don’t infringe!”

That’s why we are having a bit of an alternative event in Newcastle on 27April. Copying – right or wrong? is a question and answer session with author and activist Cory Doctorow and law lecturer Rebecca Moosavian. Cory Doctorow makes several of his books available for free download on his website (under a Creative Commons license) and Rebecca Moosavian’s research focuses on the appropriateness of applying property rights to culture.

Copy-right or copy-wrong?

We know that to copy something is wrong; it’s been ingrained in us since we were children - and as we grew up copying took the name of ‘plagiarism’. Whether your interests are listening to music, appreciating artwork, watching films or TV series, we know copying a song, a film or a TV show without permission is wrong. Every time we watch a DVD we are told that copying the DVD is piracy. Websites are often closed down because of infringement of copyright – the right given to creators or owners of the intellectual property to control what is done with their works and YouTube videos are removed. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were more talked about for being found guilty by a US court of copying the late Marvin Gaye’s songs than for their musical talent (the court did not make any comments on the latter).

CC BY-NC-SA Chris Messina (cropped)
CC BY-NC-SA Chris Messina (Cropped ; Original picture on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/factoryjoe/6709784133)

And yet, I copy. Yes. You do too. We all copy. As you can imagine, I would never admit to doing anything illegal and I am certainly not accusing you, of committing any crimes either! That must mean there are cases where copying is right, legal and even encouraged. For example, you buy a CD, then copy it onto your computer, then copy all the tracks again on your MP3 player so you can listen to the album on the go. That is perfectly legal - and it has been very clearly so in the UK since the last changes to copyright law came into force in November 2014. So let’s see what the law does allow.

When it is legal to copy

-       Copyright does not last forever - even though new laws can change its duration, copyright has an end – in most cases, count 70 years after the end of the year in which the work’s creator died. What happens to the work after that? It enters the public domain – it belongs to everyone, and anyone can use it, without asking permission.

-       Copyright exceptions - the law recognises that there are cases when we do not need to ask for permission to re-use a work. For example, when we make a copy for private use (like with our CD), or we copy and publish an extract for review purposes, or when creating a parody of a famous picture by copying it and adding something humorous to it.

-       Open licenses - sometimes the copyright owner will publish their work and tell you it is fine for you to copy it without asking for their permission. The most common way to do this is to use Creative Commons licenses – like the ones on the pictures illustrating this post. CC BY-SA on the image below means “this work is licensed under a Creative Commons license; you can use it without asking for permission as long as you credit the author and share it under the same license”.

CC BY SA Nina Paley - Permission (2)
Mimiandeunice.com CC BY-SA Nina Paley

Copying, business and innovation

But let’s get back to business. How does all this apply to you as an entrepreneur? When you create something, you are proud of its originality and inventiveness (and rightly so); you would be horrified if someone copied you. In business, entrepreneurs legitimately want to stop others from copying them: if a competitor copies your unique selling point, then how are you going to differentiate yourself in the market? In the Business & IP Centre Network and the other PATLIB centres you can discuss with an adviser how best to protect your creations against copying. We will tell you all about copyright, but also designs, patents and trade marks.

Some large companies, like Dyson, have an impressive intellectual property strategy to protect their ideas. However, other companies like the one behind the Sriracha sauce has a more lenient strategy and encourages others to use their product name in order to generate free advertising and Elon Musk recently announced that other companies are now welcome to copy and use Tesla’s patented technology. Each company needs to think about what is the right approach for their business.

There are also industries that thrive on a type of copying – one that is called “inspiration”. Think about fashion, music, art, etc. It poses some pertinent questions for business owners; how would you react to another business copying you? Would your reaction be different if you were copied by individuals? Do you think people who copy and share your content on social networks without your permission are right, or wrong? This World Intellectual Property Day take the opportunity to get informed and discuss the role of intellectual property to encourage and control innovation and enterprise in your business.

If you are not able to join us in Newcastle for Copying – right or wrong? on 27 April you can still follow the event on Twitter using #CmnsR4ever and let us know in the comments: what do you think? When is it right to copy? When is it wrong? What should be made legal / illegal in terms of copying?

Aude Charillon on behalf of the Business & IP Centre Newcastle

Aude is Library and Information Officer at the Business & IP Centre Newcastle and leads the Commons are Forever project, which aims to empower participants about our rights to use creative works that are free of copyright, and to in turn share what we create with others.

10 April 2015

Fight Intellectual Property Fraud

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At the British Library Business & IP Centre we help small business owners, inventors and entrepreneurs understand their intellectual property and how to protect it. An idea, whether it’s an invention, a brand name or a song can be protected with a patent, trade mark, copyright or registered design.

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However, there are now many intellectual property frauds or scams operating which could jeopardise your business.  We have heard our share of horror stories here in the Business & IP Centre. Just recently the Intellectual Property Office issued a warning about misleading invoices which ask people to pay for services from unofficial sources. If you don’t want to be caught out and fall into this trap you need to know about the four common types of fraud that could potentially harm your business.

The most familiar types of intellectual property fraud you may come across include:

1. Database invoices

These claim you need to pay for your patent, trade mark, or design in order to be included on a database or register. However, once you’ve registered your patent or registered design with the Intellectual Property Office, there is no need for further payment as it’s included in the registration fee.

2. Fake renewal invoices

You may receive what appears to be an alert that your intellectual property is about to expire, demanding money for it to be renewed. Some unscrupulous companies send invoices earlier than the official intellectual property offices do, and while they will usually pass on the actual renewal fee, they will also charge you a grossly inflated handling fee. If your patent or trade mark attorney is administering renewals for you, just ignore the invoices. If you are handling renewals yourself and you receive an apparent renewal demand, go to the intellectual property office website and check when the official renewal date is and how to pay it.

3. Extending your intellectual property to cover other countries

This can be expensive and you should really consider whether you want to do this from the start. Beware of anyone contacting you exaggerating the ease and necessity of protecting your intellectual property in another country you are not trading in as you only have to extend your intellectual property to cover other countries if you intend to do business there.

4. “Invention promotion” scams

These are organisations that advertise for invention ideas and offer to develop them into a commercialised product for you, in exchange for a fee. There are reputable companies that can help you with prototyping, patenting and marketing (such as our partners Thames Productions, Bang Creations, and Ideas21). However, there are other companies that will do very little and charge inflated fees for it. We have met customers in the Centre who have spent five-figure sums for “market research” and “patent search” services that produced limited results compared to what they could have achieved using a business advice centre. Generally, you should be suspicious of any company that suggests you can earn huge amounts of money from an invention concept without putting a lot of effort into the technical development or business planning.

The good news is that the official intellectual property offices around the world are trying to stop fraudulent companies by complaining to marketing regulators like the Advertising Standards Authority here in the UK, and prosecuting them. As a business owner it is important to be aware of existing scams; make sure you read the small-print which can often include a “we are not official” disclaimer, and if you are still unsure contact the Intellectual Property Office or the Business & IP Centre for further assistance.

Philip Eagle on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

20 March 2015

Five tips for understanding intellectual property

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Every business has intellectual property (IP) of some sort. However, when working out how to manage and protect it, it can be hard to know where to start! Below are some of our tips for businesses who want to begin understanding and managing their IP.

1.       Understand the different types of intellectual property

There are many different types of intellectual property protection, covering areas from art to inventions. The main ones are copyright, trademarks, patents, and designs, but know-how and trade secrets are also forms of IP commonly found within businesses. Your business may have more than one of these types, so understanding how they work, how they’re protected and the differences between the different types is essential.

2.       IP audit

Conduct a basic IP audit of your business. What IP do you have, is it protected, and how long does that protection last? Do you licence any of your IP to other people? Is there any associated costs/income? Putting this information together in one document will help you to plan your IP strategy, and keep track of your assets.

3.       Check your agreements and licences

IP use is often governed by contracts and licences. If you are commissioning work, is IP covered in your agreements with the contractor? If you licence other people’s IP, do you keep records of the licences? Employment contracts often also include an IP clause, and you may have non-disclosure agreements to cover trade secrets. An overview of your paperwork will help ensure that you haven’t missed anything.

4.       Embed IP within your business strategy

IP doesn’t exist in isolation from the rest of your business. Whilst IP can be a business asset, applying for protection often has associated costs, so it’s good practice to assess your IP strategy as part of your overall business plan, rather than separately.

5.       Seek help!

There are plenty of resources for businesses looking to find out more about intellectual property. Here at the Business & IP Centre we run a number of workshops and webinars covering IP topics. Our next webinar ‘Intellectual Property for Business’, funded by the Intellectual Property Office, is coming up on the 27 March 2015, and will give you a good understanding of the basics.

The Intellectual Property Office also has a number of tools to help businesses, including the ‘IP Health Check’ and ‘IP Equip’.  

For legal advice, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and Institute of Trademark Attorneys are good places to start. We strongly advise you to ask a patent or trade mark attorney before proceeding with using or applying for rights.

Sally Jennings on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

30 January 2015

Intellectual Property Matters

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It is said that 'The meek shall inherit the Earth', but for now it's the inherently rich and shrewd.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) include patent, registered or unregistered trademarks, design rights, copyright, or more commonly a strategic combination of each. Protecting your intangible assets can be as rewarding as protecting your physical property, but it can be a complex and expensive job to secure, maintain and defend them.  Therefore it is important to remember that you may not have to keep your idea or product secret in order to protect it - there are other formal ways to do it.

IP
The key is to get impartial professional advice early on and formulate an IPR strategy. I clearly remember my confused state, of trying to understand all the processes involved (not just on IPR protection, but the inventing business in general). The learning curve was enough to drive me mad, although I do say 'The nearer to insanity I get, the better I invent' - the trick is getting back!

Getting into the nitty-gritty world of how to protect your invention with a patent, with some do's, don'ts and tips on IPR's that I have learnt, sometimes the hard way.

Patenting steps - do's and don'ts

  • To patent something it needs an inventive step, never to be thought of before anywhere in the world ever and something that someone schooled in the art would not have thought of.
  • Do have a professional patent search carried out at the British Library Business & IP Centre. The 'new' part I mentioned earlier is important, before spending significant amounts of time and money on the idea, only to find it has been done before and is protected or is in the public domain already greatly weakening your position.
  • Don't disclose your invention to anyone without protecting any protectable IPR's first or get them to sign a confidentiality agreement.  If not, it may prevent you from obtaining a patent later.
  • Don't write a patent yourself.  It may save money, but it is a false economy. If your idea is a success, you will regret the day you did that. Ifyou intend to licence, sell outright or defend the invention you will look amateurish when the patent is reviewed.  And, more critically, you may have left something important out, or worded something wrong, making it vulnerable (easier to get around).  Remember, a patent can be the most valuable asset a company owns. Poorly written and all could be lost.

Top tips

  • You have twelve months, from filing a patent application, to file foreign applications. At that point, do your homework, to get the broadest country’s protection (on where the product will be sold and manufactured) at the lowest cost possible. You can do this in the Business & IP Centre London or in one of the National Centres. The trick is to know your market, so it may be possible to file in the smallest number of countries to cover most of it (note, you can delay this stage by eighteen months using the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)).
  • If you have kept your invention secret, within the twelve month period from filing the application, you can withdraw the application and re-file, but note, you lose the original priority date and risk that someone filed something similar in that lost period.
  • I tend to keep things secret and file the patent application late.  I do this because if you are still developing the idea, it could be very different after the twelve months, so might need significant changes or a total rewrite.

Using the British Library

As a regular user of the British Library facilities, for research and patents information, in the past and being their first ever 'Inventor in Residence', I offer free one-to-one hour long confidential meetings, called 'ask an expert'.  It is disturbing and frustrating to commonly see, the ownership of great ideas slip through the inventor's fingers, because they made it public before protecting it (frequently with university student projects), or got misdirected and over charged by a so called professional Patent Attorney.

 

Mark Sheahan Med plus res 2014Mark Sheahan, 'Inventor in Residence' for the British Library, President of the 'Institute of Patentees and Inventors', a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Vice Chairman of the 'Round table of Inventors'.