THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

24 July 2018

Meet Martha Silcott, breaking taboos, one period at a time

Each year 1.4 billion tampons are flushed, ending up in the sewer system, causing flooding and pollution. Water companies spend 88 million pounds per year getting all the un-flushable items out of the sewers. What can be done to solve this problem? Martha Silcott is on a mission to find a sanitary solution for this sanitary problem with her corn starch, biodegradable fab little bags...

Tell us a little more about FabLittleBag?

FabLittleBags are biodegradable opaque, sealable sanitary disposal bags that prevent aquatic pollution and actually make disposal feel good!

What inspired the creation of the product? Did you have a ‘Eureka’ moment that convinced you that this was a good idea?

Sitting on the toilet thinking “there must be a better way of doing this” as I performed the LooRoll Wrap with reams of toilet roll for the umpteenth time… Recalling the times when round at friends houses and there was no bin in the downstairs loo so I resorted to doing the Handbag Smuggle. I got cross that there was not a better solution out there, I researched it expecting to find one, I didn’t so I decided to invent one myself. I did loads of research in the British Library, researching the market, the companies involved, the blockages caused by flushing etc. My Eureka moment was when I finally figured out the design of FabLittleBag; its unique one-handed opening and that it had to seal – I ran around the house gathering bits of sandwich bags, sellotape, staplers etc. and made a Blue Peter version.

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Martha Silcott, founder of FabLittleBag

What steps did you take to protect the IP in your design?

I learned a lot about IP form the British Library sessions and their intro to an organisation called Ideas 21 – so I had a free session with an IP lawyer to establish if it was a starter or not – and it went from there, applying for my patent in 2006.

Did you use the resources and training available through the Business & IP Centre to research and launch the business? 

Yes, general market research; access to huge data resources at no cost, if you were to buy the info yourself each one costs thousands of pounds! IP information, a basic course on social media later on, all very useful along the journey.

Tell us more about how are you working with the British Library to bring FabLittleBag to more users?

We are currently trialling FabLittleBag in two toilet blocks, these are ones which have a very high level of blockages causing cost to the Library and inconvenience to users. The Library has a lot of through traffic and we know that approx. 60% of UK women flush their tampons and with other habits and cultures passing through blockages are a real challenge for the Library loos! So our gorgeous new dispensers are installed in these blocks and we have already had direct email contact from a few users telling us how fab they think FabLittleBag is! We are offering all British Library users who email us a free sample pack of FabLittleBags to try, so don’t be shy!

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The best disposal solution. Period

What is the vision for the future of the company? Where will FabLittleBag be five and 10 years from now?

We have BIG plans! We already have customers from lots of countries all over the world but we want to ensure that any Binner that dislikes doing the Loo Roll Wrap and wants to feel more in control and calm at point of disposal have FabLittleBags in their life and that we convert as many Flushers out there as possible into Binners – frankly whether they use FabLittleBags or not, we just want to stop the flushing of non-flushables and so prevent blockages and aquatic pollution at source.

One of our Missions is to #screwthetaboo and break down the ridiculous taboo that still exists around periods in 2017! Involving men and boys is important in this journey as they are involved even if it is not them having periods! Replacing feelings of awkwardness and anxiety around disposal of sanitary products is a core mission of ours, helping women to feel more relaxed and calm as they know that even if there is only two bits of loo roll there, or there is no bin, because they have FabLittleBag, they will be able to disposal of the product easily and without stress. We also want to support our chosen key charity (WellBeing of Women) and to expand our charitable impact as we grow, also helping to support smaller local charities and some abroad where the issues of menstruation has huge negative impacts of girls and women’s lives.

So five years' time to be a normal ‘must have’ in the handbags and bathrooms up and down the UK, Europe, USA, etc. and other countries where disposables are still the most common form of managing ones period (therefore disposal solutions are especially needed). 10 years time to be so successful that our charitable foundation Fab Friends, is making a huge positive impact on menstrual health and practical management for millions of women across the globe.

FabLittleBags will continue to be trialed at the British Library to help prevent the negative impacts of flushing sanitary products.

10 July 2018

Liz Earle MBE: live up to your brand principles which stand the test of time

Liz Earle is a household name. A wellbeing entrepreneur, TV presenter and the number one bestselling author of over 35 books on a range of health, beauty and wellbeing topics, she is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Liz Earle Wellbeing magazine and founder of Liz Earle Fair and Fine, an award-winning range Fairtrade gold botanical jewellery.

What you may not have known is that when starting a career in wellbeing, if Liz needed to carry out research she would always come to the British Library. 30 years later, we’re welcoming her back to share the business story behind her success with the next generation of entrepreneurs at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Feelgood Founders.

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Liz Earle, founder of Liz Earle Wellbeing. Credit: Georgia Glynn Smith

Can you tell us more about Liz Earle Wellbeing?

It’s the hub for all my written and online work in the world of wellbeing. Liz Earle Wellbeing itself is a high-quality magazine focused on food and living well. It’s based on over 30 years of award-winning advice, experience and research and is packed with tried and trusted recipes and inspirational ideas and ways to bring out the very best in you!

Alongside the magazine, I’ve recently launched the Wellness with Liz Earle podcasts, with downloads hitting 150,000. Recent guests have included the hilarious Kathy Lette, the brilliant Hemsley sisters and the gardener, TV presenter and writer Sarah Raven. 

 

What new business habits have you introduced since starting your career in wellbeing?

One relatively new habit I’ve introduced is social media engagement - it’s easy to forget how relatively new social media is, Instagram was only launched in 2010 so it wasn’t around when I was building my beauty brand. I confess I was nervous about putting myself in the spotlight, but now I absolutely love having my own voice, especially on Instagram as it’s a lovely community. Customers just love to connect with actual founders and not faceless brands. Authenticity is such an asset.

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What business advice can you offer for budding entrepreneurs?

One of my motto’s is “if it has to be now, it has to be no”. I like to be able to at least sleep on a business decision and make sure I still feel the same way about something the following day.

 

You’ve said that you have used the British Library for your business research. Are there any major milestones you’d recommend aspiring businesses always check into before they leap?

I’d say always do thorough research on any area you are looking at working in!  You need to really do your research and know your subject – and not just via the school of Google. I have a saying that it takes 30 years to build trust and 30 seconds to destroy it and I think this is never more true than in the fast-paced world we live in today. I’ve instilled in all my team a commitment to be very careful about everything they write, post and create to maintain the trust our customers have in the Liz Earle Wellbeing brand. For example, always go back to the source when quoting any study, don’t just reply on newspaper or online headlines, which so-often misinterpret the data.

 

If you were an ambitious entrepreneur attending the 'Feelgood Founders' event, what question would you ask yourself? 

What is the key to brand loyalty? To which I would say, it’s living up to your brand principles – which have to stand the test of time and not get diluted by Committee.  Brand founders are perfectly placed to protect the core essence of what their brand is about. They are the ultimate brand guardians and the only truly authentic and genuine voice customers want to listen to.

 

Liz will be appearing at the upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Feelgood Founders event on July 10, alongside Mark Constantine OBE, Co-founder of Lush, Simon Duffy MBE, Founder of Bulldog Skincare for Men and Sherille Riley, Founder of Nails and Brows Mayfair Boutique. You’ll hear the stories behind some of the best-known health and beauty brands and also have the opportunity to ask our expert panel your burning questions and make connections over drinks and canapés at the networking reception after the event (which is included in the ticket price). Tickets cost just £10 and are available here.

02 July 2018

From Under Dog to Top Dog in the Male Skincare Industry

Bulldog Skincare for Men launched eleven years ago, and is currently driving the market for male skincare growth in the UK. Way back in 2008 we welcomed the founders to the British Library stage to talk about the brand that was changing the face of the male skincare industry with its natural ingredients and bold, simple designs. In those days Bulldog, at less than twelve months old, was a mere pup!

However, ten years on and the brand’s 40-strong range is now available in 24 countries with a product sold every seven seconds globally. We’re thrilled to be welcoming Simon Duffy to our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Feelgood Founders on July 10, and caught up with him before the event to talk about how Bulldog became every man’s best friend. 

Bulldog was launched in 2007, now eleven years ago, but what inspired the creation of the business? 

We launched nationwide in the UK in 2007 with Sainsbury’s. I originally had the idea for Bulldog Skincare for Men in November 2005 whilst I was shopping for natural skincare products for my wife. I was buying some of her favourite products when I noticed that there were no straightforward skincare options for men which contained natural ingredients. This kick-started the R&D process, which flowed into fundraising, and culminated with our first retailer launch.

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Simon Duffy, Co-founder of Bulldog


What are the key changes in the sector since you've been established and how has the business changed to respond to that?

The 2013 European Ban on animal testing in cosmetics was a great moment for everyone who is interested in ‘Cruelty Free’. We have kept to the ‘Cruelty Free’ standards right from the very beginning. It’s a fundamental part of how we think about formulation.

Today, the focus on sustainability is more important than ever. This is also an area where we want Bulldog to continue to push boundaries. 

For example, we have never used plastic microbeads which is unusual in the industry. More recently Bulldog became the first men’s skincare brand to use plastic tubes derived from sugarcane rather than fossil fuels.

Recently we launched a new razor which uses much less plastic than conventional options and overall is trying to be much more environmentally responsible. The handle of this new razor is made from a bamboo rather than plastic, and the packaging is created using recycled card stack and environmentally soy inks. Overall there is much less plastic being used in both the primary products and in the outer packaging.

In a crowded market how have you been so successful in making your products and brand stand out?

When you don’t have the enormous budgets of the massive companies you compete with, you must believe that your products can do the talking for you. We have always set out to make amazing products and I believe word-of-mouth has helped to grow our sales.

From a branding perspective we very purposefully intended to stand out in a crowded market. Before Bulldog, the men’s skincare aisle was a sea of blacks, blues and greys. All these products were marketed with complicated skincare jargon. Our simple white packaging was chosen to be different; and our straightforward language was intended as an antidote to the unnecessary complexity we saw elsewhere.

From a formulation perspective, Bulldog also stands out as something different from the norm. There are controversial ingredients we won’t use, and instead we prioritise natural ingredients and essential oils.

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A selection of original Bulldog products


We know that all Bulldog products are suitable for vegans, are free from micro beads and use
sustainable packaging. How important is it you to create an ethically sound product and has that always been the case?

It’s fundamental. This has been our stance since day 1 and it won’t change.

If you were an ambitious entrepreneur attending the 'Feelgood Founders' event what question would you ask yourself? 

I'd ask what is the best way to make a brand famous?

What key piece of advice would you share with an aspiring health & wellness owner to give their business the best chance of success?

Collaboration really is key. Figure out what you’re good at and then build a team, both internally and externally, to support you in areas where you know you’re not as strong.

 

Simon will be appearing at the upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Feelgood Founders event on July 10, alongside Liz Earle MBE, Mark Constantine OBE, Co-founder of Lush and Sherille Riley, Founder of Nails and Brows Mayfair Boutique. You’ll hear the stories behind some of the best-known health and beauty brands and also have the opportunity to ask our expert panel your burning questions and make connections over drinks and canapés at the networking reception after the event (which is included in the ticket price). Tickets cost just £10 and are available here.

 

08 June 2018

Exploring the archives… and finding commercial treasures

Because I spent many years in business focused on developing new products I’m always looking for inspiration. New products, creative ideas and services rarely appear out of nowhere, instead we come up with them because we see something that gets us thinking in a different way. Equally, some research back in time often bring s out ideas which you can make fresh and exciting.

 

Harry Potter: A History of Magic

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A recent exhibition at the British Library focused on a history of magic, themed around the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book by JK Rowling. The artefacts they uncovered pay tribute to Rowling’s careful research as much as her fertile imagination. There were instructions on how to cultivate Mandrakes or make the Philosopher’s Stone, manuals on how to read tea-leaves or palms detailed enough to be a textbook in Divination and how to get the very best bezoar stones (from a goat). Although she obviously decided against the advice on fending off basilisks (keep a weasel in your pocket), opting instead for the more elegant Godric Gryffindor’s sword.

The archives of the British Library are not just useful when you’ve got a PhD thesis to write. Instead they offer a treasure-trove of materials, ideas, illustrations and texts that any creative entrepreneur would give their eye-teeth to use for inspiration. Think of Rococo Chocolates, whose signature packaging comes from an 18th century catalogue of chocolate mouldings. Theatre company Undercurrent created a sell-out theatre production Calculating Kindness which was inspired by material from the Library's contemporary scientific archives.

Meanwhile fashion designers wanting to focus on the current interest in kimonos might want to explore the Library’s Japanese collection, which contains original kimono patterns from before the twentieth century. I have a book which offers advice to young ‘memsahibs’ heading out to British India, the details in it almost make creating fiction unnecessary.

We think of copyright as providing protection. But at the moment when it expires (in the UK, 70 years after the death of its creator, to give you a very rough idea – you should always check each item individually for any exceptions but there are experts on hand in the Business & IP Centre to do just that), it opens up a whole new world of inspiration and product possibilities which could be a goldmine for businesses.

 

A little exercise for your business

Here is an image from the British Library’s archives. It’s a beautiful illustration of a llama.

Llama

How could you use it as inspiration in your own business? Stop reading right now and write down 5 ideas. Right now. I dare you. Thinking out of the box around unusual items often brings us new ideas, whether directly connected or not, so it’s a useful exercise to do regularly.

Here are a few ideas: Ex libris (stickers proclaiming a book is yours) designs for a stationery business; using old illustrations for a new ABC or storybook; a design for fabrics/upholstery; branding for your llama picnics (there is such a business, I want to go…) and the decor for a Peruvian restaurant or range of ‘superfood’ products from Peru. A t-shirt design; a video game where you get allocated certain animals and have to look after them; a wool or clothing or home furnishing company specialising in llama and alpaca fibres; a travel company specialising in South America… I think you get the picture.

 

Workshop

I’m running a workshop in June where we will be looking at business plans for people in the creative industries. And I think it is just these creative entrepreneurs who could make it part of their strategies to draw on the archives to create new and outstanding ideas, products and services. There are millions of amazing items just waiting for your business to find them and turn them into new bestsellers. Come along and explore: https://www.bl.uk/events/business-plans-for-creatives-june-2018

 

Melissa Addey on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

 

*Melissa Addey spent fifteen years developing new products at Sainsbury’s Head Office and then went on to mentor over 500 entrepreneurs as part of a government grants programme. Now a fulltime author, studying for a PhD in Creative Writing, she has written six books including fiction and non-fiction. www.melissaaddey.com

19 May 2018

Royal Wedding designer inspiration: quirky and creative merchandise you may actually want to buy (and keep)

Millions of people around the world had their hearts and imaginations captivated by the sheer scale and exuberance of the Royal Wedding. When an actress quits Hollywood to marry a prince, surely this is truly the stuff fairy tales are made of?

Naturally, there are a lot of businesses that have tried to tap into what is shaping up to be the wedding of the year. Merchandise galore fuels the spending spree: but despite the multitude of memorabilia available to fans worldwide, it can be incredibly hard to find original and quirky merchandise to commemorate the occasion. You know, something you might actually want to buy.

With Prince Harry and Meghan-mania in full swing, we've asked three businesses that scaled up through our Innovating for Growth programme to share what they have done to mark the Royal Wedding. And how they got the inspiration for their incredibly creative alternative souvenir ranges: from quirky socks to collectibles raising funds for The Windsor Homeless Project.

 

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So Over It Commemorative Plate by Modern Chintz, available at We built This City

 

Alice, founder of revolutionary souvenir shop We Built This City championing creativity in London's Carnaby Street: As soon as the engagement was announced, we spotted a fantastic opportunity to position We Built This City as the home of alternative Royal Wedding souvenirs with every purchase also supporting London's creatives. 

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Our unique collection has been curated with both tourists and Londoners in mind, especially those throwing a party this weekend and who have a sense of humour around all the media madness! 

For those a little overwhelmed by the hype, we're selling commemorative plates 'mistakenly' featuring Meghan marrying Ed Sheeran, Lydia Leith's now famous Sick Bags and 'No Bank Holiday' Notes.

 

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Royal Wedding Sick Bag by Lydia Leith, available at We built This City

Alongside the more humorous pieces, our artists have created a really fresh and contemporary set of souvenirs that celebrate the youthful and fun nature of Harry and Meghan. And for our customers throwing parties on the day of the wedding, we're offering Royal Wedding themed biscuits, chocolate, tea, Royal Bingo and of course a Queen's Head Jelly Mould!

 

 

To celebrate in-store, we've also commissioned an artist duo Crispin Finn to create a Royal Wedding themed storefront. Their installation is called 'Together Forever' and is a nod to the royal nuptials as well as to the strength of our creative community. This has been a great PR driver for us and has been captured by the 15 international TV crews who've come to interview us since we launched the collection. 

Alice also stocks other fellow Innovating for Growth businesses' souvenirs in her Carnaby Street shop: Chattyfeet's quirky royal sock range and Victoria Eggs' beautiful British designs.

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ChattyFeet's Kate Middle-Toe in front of Victoria Eggs' Royal Wedding Canvas Bag

 

 

Gil, co-founder of funky and fun ChattyFeet socks guaranteed to put a smile on your face: Here at ChattyFeet, we’re really excited about the royal wedding and decided to go on a special sock tour around London! Kate Middle-Toe and the Sock Queen were discussing whether wearing ChattyFeet to the wedding will be allowed. We certainly hope that people won’t have to sacrifice their creativity for the sake of royal etiquette…

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A royal cuppa with the Sock Queen and Kate Middle-Toe

Many people got in touch with us via email, Instagram and Twitter asking whether Meghan socks are coming next. We’re considering this very seriously and created a long list of pros and cons that we’re still debating as we speak…

 

 

Victoria, founder of Victoria Eggs playful homeware and gifts inspired by a love of all things British: We are very excited to have launched a range of commemorative gifts to celebrate the Royal Wedding, all of which are proudly made in Britain.

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Victoria wearing the Royal Wedding Apron

The design features beautifully illustrated rose garlands, wedding bells and Windsor Castle, along with the names of the happy couple, date and location. The collection of gifts includes a mug, tea towel, apron and canvas bag, all attractively packaged to create perfect Royal Wedding souvenirs.

When starting the design I wanted to create something that that was traditional with a modern twist: I began by drawing Windsor castle, a Queen’s Guard and Union Jack, and included roses which are the national flower of England. The finishing touch was placing four church bells ringing out over the celebration of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding below! 

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More of Victoria Eggs' Royal Wedding range available at Harrods

If you're in London, take a trip down to Harrods where you can find Victoria's beautiful souvenirs. If not, check out the online shop guaranteed to brighten up your day with a great selection of elegant yet fun British-made home wares.

 

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up like Alice, Gil or Victoria? If so, Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more and apply now!

ERDF

 

Ewa Domaradzka, Commercial Marketing Manager 

 

09 May 2018

Unleash Your Imagination With A Creative WordPress Blog

10289836_10152031295746437_1063345659468432057_nThe digital landscape is driven by an attention economy: whoever can hold the attention and capture the excitement of website visitors will benefit most. Blogging is the ultimate way to create a space online that is entirely yours. Our partners at UK2 have created this handy Guide to creating a WordPress blog to help you get started with a platform that is flexible enough to capture your creativity.

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In an always-on digital space, creativity and imagination is rewarded. An aesthetically pleasing, fully functional blog is a terrific place to let your innovation run rampant. Luckily for us, WordPress is just the tool!

Why Choose WordPress?

How your content is presented is just as important as the words you write. Before you get started on your blogging adventure, consider these important points:

1. First Impressions Are Everything

Website visitors have very little patience when it comes to page load. They want appealing, professional websites in seconds, if not, they will move to the next flashing light. This means that you need a blog that looks great and performs well. Speed is important in an on-demand world. Once you have WordPress installed, you can choose to build your own website from scratch or purchase a template for a one-off fee. Remember that online readers have very short attention spans. But WordPress has thousands of suitable, ready-made templates for you to choose from, each one optimised for speed and functionality. Take a look at some of our favourite templates here.

2. Get Social!

Once your creative blog is ready for action, social media is the perfect way to get the word out. As a social creature it would be remiss of you if you failed to tap into the ocean of connectivity provided by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. WordPress understands this necessary avenue and makes it easy to connect to social media platforms with one easy click. Easy social sharing buttons make it simple for website visitors to create posts and share your brilliant content.

3. Updating Your Blog: Complete Control

There is nothing more frustrating than not having control over your own websites. Creativity is stifled by restrictions or limited options. WordPress makes sure that the power is in your hands, so you can make changes or update anytime and from anywhere. With a user-friendly backend system, WordPress lets your imagination go wild with colours, fonts, themes and layouts. You have total power to create!

4. Endless Possibilities

WordPress is “open source”, which means that the source code is available for anyone to see and contribute to. Because of this, the options for your new blog are endless. Brilliant techies around the world have been testing and creating amazing little plugins for your website called “widgets”. These terrific little bundles of code instantly add new abilities to your website. For example, if you want your website visitors to be able to sign up for your amazing newsletter, a widget can help you accomplish it.

5. Room To Grow

You are excited and ambitious about your new blog, which means it probably won’t be a secret for long. If down the road you decide that you need to expand to meet your readers’ demands, WordPress can help you with a few clicks! You can easily add an online shop or a multi-page website. You can even offer a booking service for website visitors to book appointments. With WordPress, the options are endless.

WordPress is easy to use and has the flexibility and power you need to create a successful blog. The only real question left is: what are you waiting for?

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Enjoy a special British Library discount voucher with 50% OFF all UK2 products: BRITISHLIBRARY50 

26 April 2018

IP Corner: Happy World Intellectual Property Day!

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April 26th 2018 is World Intellectual Property Day. “What?” I can hear you asking, why should there be a special day to celebrate Intellectual Property? Well, stop for a minute and take a look around you and I can guarantee that, whether you realise it or not, you will be surrounded by Intellectual Property.

Like the book you are reading (e-book or otherwise!), the iPod or MP3 player you are using to listen to music, the music itself, even the clothes you are wearing, every product or service we use in our day to day lives is the result of innovation. These innovations may be big improvements in function, or small changes in design that alter the way a product looks, either way these improvements will generally be protected by Intellectual Property (IP).

Intellectual property (IP) is like any other piece of property and the owner of the intellectual Property rights controls what if anything happens to those rights including who can benefit from the work or from the investment the rights holder has made into the creation of the product or service.

So how does this affect you and your business?

Whatever business you are engaged in it is very likely that you are using and probably even creating a large amount of IP and, if you want to get the best possible commercial results from its ownership, you need to think about the steps you need to take to protect, manage and indeed enforce your rights.

  • Protect – register your IP rights where possible.
  • Manage – keep a record of all the IP you have and any IP that you license from third parties. Ensure renewal fees are paid and licenses are up to date.
  • Enforce – as the rights holder it is your responsibility to keep an eye out for any IP infringement and to take action to stop it. If you do not intend to enforce your IP rights then perhaps you need to reconsider whether or not you should register your rights.

So let’s look at each form of IP in turn;

2000px-RegisteredTM.svgThe first piece of registrable IP most businesses will have is a trade mark. Trade marks are used to indicate the origin of goods or services. They may be symbols, words, colours or even a combination of these, the choice is yours, but whatever the makeup of your trade mark it needs to be distinct enough to allow consumers to identify your products or services from those of your competitors.

As well as standard trade marks there are several other types of mark such as Collective marks, used to distinguish the goods and/or services of members of a particular association, or Certification marks, given for compliance with defined standards to anyone who is able to certify that their products meet certain standards e.g. ISO/TC 181 Safety of toys.

Trade marking is not to be approached lightly as your trade mark is likely to be one of your most valuable business assets.

Copyright-symbolNext, Copyright. Most of us when we think of copyright we think of books, music, films etc. but copyright will also exist in your website, the flyers or brochures you may produce for your business, the menus for your restaurant or café. All of these, provided they are your own original work or you have a license to use them if they were created by a third party, will be protectable.

Mark all of your original copyrighted material with the copyright symbol ©, the name of the rights holder and the year of creation, e.g. © British Library 2018.

If you are a designer then registered designs are probably something you should consider as registered designs protect what it is that makes an item attractive or appealing to its intended market. As the holder of the registered rights you will be assured an exclusive right to the design and thereby protection against unauthorised copying of the design by third parties.

PatentedFinally, Patents (this is the biggie!)

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. It provides patent rights holders with protection for their invention for a limited period, usually 20 years, subject to the payment of annual renewal fees. Having a patent for your invention means that your invention cannot be made commercially, or distributed or sold without your written permission. You get to decide who may or may not use the invention for the duration the period of protection. However, once the patent expires, after 20 years or if you stop paying the renewal fees, the invention will no longer be protected and will enter the public domain. Basically, it becomes available for anyone to use as they wish.

Probably lesser known, but just as important IP rights are Know How and Trade Secrets. Know How is the practical knowledge of how to do something, to get something done. This sort of knowledge will not necessarily be included in a patent for example, but will be necessary to finish the product, project or job. For examples of Trade Secrets; think of the Coca Cola recipe or the recipe for Irn Bru. These rights are not registrable and need to be protected using contracts and/or confidentiality agreements.

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This post just touches on the subject of IP really as a way of highlighting World IP Day and anyone thinking of using IP or making any financially crucial or business crucial decisions based on IP should speak to an IP Attorney. The website of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys can help you locate an attorney in you local area via their website at www.cipa.org.uk . Most IP attorneys offer a free 30 minute one to one advice session.

Alternatively, you can visit your local Business and IP Centre (BIPC) for free, impartial, non legal advice. You will find a list of BIPC’s at https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre where you will also find our workshops, webinars and events you might find of interest.

A final comment; innovation through the years has shaped the world we live in, from the simple hand cast nail invented more than 2000 years ago to the invention of the wheel and the wheel and axle concept, from Gutenberg’s printing press to the telephone, the electric lamp to penicillin, all of these innovations have made our lives easier, better and more interesting and, hopefully, the inventors and innovators of our generation will continue the trend.

 

Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert

10 April 2018

IP Corner: Celebrating 400 years of the first British patent

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On 11 March 2017 we reached the 400 anniversary of the granting of British Patent number 1. The anniversary was marked by a major government campaign titled “GREAT for imagination”. The campaign began in June 17 and highlighted some of the most remarkable innovations developed and patented in Great Britain in the 400 years since patent number 1. The featured inventions included beta-blockers, holograms, film processing and many more. We had the pleasure to participate in "GREAT for imagination" this February by taking BBC's The One Show behind the scenes of intellectual property and patents, and of what the Business & IP Centre does to support inventors and entrepreneurs. So what are the landmark events in the history of British patents that spans four centuries?

 

Patent number 1 was granted to Aron Rathburne and Roger Burges and was for engraving maps. The patent lasted for 14 years giving the rights holders the opportunity to train two generations of apprentices in the relevant art.

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Although this patent was the first numbered British patent it was not the earliest patent ever granted. The earliest of all known patent grants was a grant of King Henry III of England (also ruler of the whole of western France) confirming a grant by the Mayor of Bordeaux to a citizen of Bordeaux for the manufacture of “cloths in many divers colours after the manner of the Flemmings”.  The Rathburne/Burges patent is believed to have been chosen for convenience because it was the first entry in a docket book of patent abstracts.

The idea of numbering and printing all British patents from 1617 through to 1852 and from October 1852 onwards came from Bennet Woodcroft, the then (1852) Superintendent of Specifications and Indexes at the Patent Office.  Woodcroft himself was an inventor and, along with very  many others, had long been in favour of patent reform. It has been said that it was these agitators for reform and the opening of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 that brought matters to a head leading to the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852. This was the first Act to be placed on the Statute Book prescribing the procedure for obtaining patents of invention.

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Not everyone was in favour of patents, one such opponent was Isambard Kingdom Brunel who believed that patents were an unfair hindrance to progress. The system still has its opponents today, but without patents of invention and the subsequent rights the grant gives the rights holders what encouragement would there be for individuals or businesses to spend time and money researching and developing products? 

Not all patents are for major breakthroughs in science or technology. The majority cover the more mundane aspects of life such as a collapsible tea pot patented in 1906 by Frances O’Hara of London or a method of securing lids of boxes of dry goods by Charles Witham in 1902 or even an improved means for spacing railway sleepers patented in Britain by George Hindman of the USA.

Everything we use today has been improved in some way by innovations protected under the intellectual property system.  The mobile phone for example still does what Alexander Graham Bell intended when he patented his first practical telephone, it allows us to speak with another person at a distance, but the idea has been improved upon and improved upon many times over the years so that the mobile telephone of today does that and so much more.

If you were to ask what my personal favourite invention was I would have to say the optical lense.  As someone who is extremely short sighted I would not be able to cope without my glasses! However,  regarding ‘quirky’ patents my favourite has to be GB106461 by an inventor called Albert Bacon Pratt for “Improvements in and relating to small arms”.

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I’m not sure I would volunteer to wear it!

The “Great for imagination” campaign has so far reached over 30 countries and will hopefully have improved the recognition of the UK as a country of innovation especially as many key technological breakthroughs, such as the jet engine, the telegraph and MRI scanners were developed and patented in Britain.

So if you do have an idea for a new product pop along to your nearest Business and IP Centre,  there are 11 in total (see https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/national-network ) where we will be happy to start you off on your patenting journey.

 

Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert

25 March 2018

Jack Dorsey talks Square, cryptocurrencies and the future of the economy

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Photo: Square.

 

What do chinchillas, Kendrick Lamar, machine learning and cryptocurrencies have in common?

We found out that and more when Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of payments firm Square got together with the brilliant Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, founder of social enterprise STEMettes for an evening of empowering conversations at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre.

Jack, who was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri is a self-taught coder, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of another tech giant that will for now remain unnamed, but let’s just say for him there is only one social network, and it doesn’t start with F.

For the benefit of everyone who wasn’t as lucky as us, we have compiled the highlights of a fascinating, in-depth discussion about things as big as the future of the economy and as intimate as the personal journey of an established entrepreneur from a childhood fascination with maps to the lasting impact of disrupting more than one industry, on a global scale.

 

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Jack Dorsey on Square: Our purpose is to build simple tools that empower and enable people to participate in the economy. Photo: British Library.

 

 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Jack, can you tell us what is Square?

Jack Dorsey: Like many companies, Square started with one simple idea and we found the purpose by watching people use it. For us, it began with a piece of glass art that Jim [McKelvey, co-founder of Square, who is also a glass artist] made and tried to sell but couldn’t because he didn’t accept credit cards. So we tried to solve his problem!

What we had in common is we both knew nothing about credit cards, we knew nothing about building hardware, we were both in credit card debt and we both came from St. Louis, Missouri.

What we did know is a thing or two about software, we were both comfortable with taking risks and we were willing to learn or do whatever it takes to make it work. That to me is what entrepreneurship is.

We gave ourselves a month and built a prototype around magnetic stripe technology that plugged into a cell phone jack. Then we started showing it to people and asked if they would use it. Initially a lot of the responses were negative.

But we continued to persist and so noticed the real purpose of what we built was not to accept credit cards, but help individuals make a sale. If they could make a sale and accept a credit card, they could participate in the economy. The economy at the time in the US was moving away from cash and towards plastic: merchants who accepted plastic could sell; those who didn’t were losing more and more. And both groups were treated unfairly by the financial institutions.

Once we built up from the prototype to something we could actually scale, we really focused on what we could do to help our customers achieve their potential and grow. Because if they grow, we grow. This, I think, is an amazing business model: when you have perfect alignment of incentives with your customers.

We then looked at other things to help our customers reach their goals and we eventually managed to build an ecosystem of financial services around that. Not just in the US, but also in Australia, Japan, Canada and the UK.

One more dimension was recently added to our company and we are now providing individuals financial services through an application called Cash. We have seen people use it as their bank account. What we managed to do is serve people who have been excluded by the banks and financial institutions, but we partnered with those very institutions to do so. We don’t want to replace banks, we want to make what they have more accessible.

A word that really represents Square is “access”. We believe that we can provide more access to more people and do so in a fair, simple, transparent and fast way.

 

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Back in black: Jack and Anne-Marie in matching outfits. Great minds think alike? Photo: Square.

 

AMI: How has machine learning, AI and other recent technological developments transformed what Square does and provides as a business?

JD: The easy part was building the reader, the hard part was to overcome the exclusionary nature of the whole industry. In the US, there was one tool to vet identity and authenticity: a credit check. Now, it’s common knowledge that a lot of entrepreneurs don’t have great credit history. Even we were denied a merchant account in the first place!

What we found was that only about 30% of merchants who applied to accept credit card payments made it through. The whole system was exclusionary, based on lack of trust.

To tackle that problem, we had to change our mind set. Our point of departure became trust and the will to include as many people as we can. Also, a credit check seemed like a terrible indicator of one’s ability to accept credit cards, so we used the latest advancements in technology to get more and better data. By doing those two things, the number of Square users who could start processing payments went from 30% to 99%.

We believe that we can provide more access to more people and do so in a fair, simple, transparent and fast way.

One of our fastest growing services in the US is Instant Deposit. Typically, when merchants accept a credit card payment they don’t get access to that money for a week, or at best 2-3 days later. Because of so many ongoing business needs, we realised early on the importance of speeding that process up. And we decided to deliver money to businesses the next business day, something that was a big risk for us: banks would not pay us until several days later.

What do you do when you want to make something happen? You figure out what technology can make it possible. We built that technology and decided to take it one step further by making the payment instant: any time a credit card is taken, you hit a button and that money goes to your account so you can use it.

Today we are launching Instant Deposit in the UK.

It seems quite simple and obvious, and it feels like everyone should have that access, but in fact they don’t because of older approaches in the industry that have not been questioned. Well, we challenged those, took a risk and made it work because we believed it was worth it!

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Square’s Instant Deposit service will help UK businesses tackle cash flow. Sellers can now get the money they’ve made into their account in minutes, 24/7. Credit: Square.

 

AMI: You said you don’t want to replace banks and that you’re relying on their infrastructure. What then do you think is their role in the future?

JD: I am a great admirer of Clayton Christensen’s theory of innovative disruption, set out in his book Jobs to be Done. And so, the way I would like to think about banks is not based on the definition, but on what they are needed for, what their job is. Ultimately, they exist to help people achieve a dream they have.

I do believe that if banks focus on what they are needed for, on what their job is, they will have a significant role in the future. For example, if I need to store my money securely, how can technology today enable a bank to do that for me in a secure, innovative and creative way? If you ask that question, the answer starts sounding a lot like blockchain.

I don’t want to replace banks, because I want to do my job: which is to help people make a sale. We could have stopped at helping people accept credit cards. But we realised that was the wrong job. The right one is making small businesses grow. That revelation broadened the field for us, it meant that as a company we don’t just serve a particular need: we can now go anywhere.

 

AMI: We have a whole fintech industry that is booming, with London being a global hub. Is there something other than Square that you find exciting in terms of fintech and the way technology is being used to solve problems that banks have ignored over time: like digital currency and blockchain?

JD: There’s a real opportunity to enable more people to participate in the economy and to guide them to financial health. People aren’t always going to choose that, but we need to make sure they have all the tools to make an informed decision: just like they would with biological health.

We will all benefit from levelling the playing field. With more participation come more creative ideas.

Blockchain and digital currency is something I’m really excited and optimistic about. To me, the Bitcoin Whitepaper is one of the seminal works in computer science in the last 20 years. However regardless of what you think about Bitcoin and its manifestation today, there’s amazing technology within the blockchain. If you look at the history of computing, all power comes from decentralisation. It removes single points of failure, increases reliability and trust. This technology can be applied to more than just financial transactions and payments, and I think we’re just seeing the start of what possibilities lie ahead.

Personally, I believe that the internet wants and deserves its own currency that is global, that is free, that is electronic, that is convenient, that is as decentralised as the internet is. And I believe that will be Bitcoin.

Due to its smaller surface area, it is less prone to attack. It’s been through a lot and it also has a brand: everyone’s heard of it! At the moment, Bitcoin is mostly seen as a digital asset you can buy and keep as an investment. I don’t think that’s how it’s always going to be used: I believe in its power as an actual currency for the world and the internet. I think it is extremely liberating.

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Blockchain and digital currency, anyone? Credit: British Library.

 

AMI: As a serial entrepreneur, how do you evaluate ideas and decide what to build, but also what failures have you had that you’ve learned from in that process?

JD: I never wanted to grow up to be an entrepreneur, to program, to build a company and certainly not to be a CEO.

As a kid I was fascinated by cities and how they work. I wanted to be able to visualize them, so I was obsessed with maps. When my dad got a computer, I realised I can use it to draw a map: but I had to learn how to do that first. St. Louis [where Jack grew up] had a thriving hacker culture at the time which in general is very open to knowledge-sharing, and so I taught myself to program with the sole purpose of being able to design a map.

When I finally drew one, I became fascinated with the movements of police cars and ambulances I heard on the radio frequencies. By plotting them on my map I could actually see them. And it turned out there is a whole industry around that called dispatch. So I was soon hired by the biggest dispatch company in the world: but only after I found and flagged security flaws in their servers. I then started my own dispatch company, which failed and so I went back to contracting. I did that for years until I started Twitter.

And in a way, Twitter is also based on that same idea behind dispatch: showing where you are, what you are doing and by extension, what you are thinking.

My life has always been about understanding what I don’t know so I can learn and take the next step, and about being open to mistakes along the way. I think that’s the definition of entrepreneurship: you do whatever it takes to make it work! You work hard, and eventually you figure it out.

One of the creative things that we did at Square when we were first pitching investors was to show them a working product. The second thing we did after getting them excited was to enumerate all the ways in which our business could fail.

  1. We know nothing about the credit card industry;
  2. We’re in credit card debt;
  3. We don’t know how to build hardware.

Do whatever it takes to bring your idea into the world. This is what I enjoy and love and get inspired by: building tools to empower people to make them bigger than themselves. That’s the story of Square, and of Twitter as well.

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Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018 at Square HQ in San Francisco, California. Photo: Square.

 

AMI: Risk is important for entrepreneurs. Were you comfortable with it from the very beginning or is this something you’ve built over time?

No, I wasn’t. But I always learned best when I put myself in very uncomfortable situations. I had a speech impediment which really inhibited me from socialising: no one understood what I was saying and that made me very shy. I decided to change that and at a time when I could not imagine something more terrifying than getting in front of people and talking, I forced myself and signed up to a speech and debate class. These classes were like torture… But I embraced them and learned how to do it.

Being comfortable with risk is a mindset, and it’s not necessarily one where you think about risk itself, but about identifying and overcoming what makes you uncomfortable.

 

AMI: As a leader in the technology industry, you’re able to set an example and have the power to change the world. For an industry that’s quite new, tech unfortunately amplifies what we also find in the wider society: lack of minority and female representation. What have you done to tackle that?

JD: The majority of our company, Square, reports to only three women. You need to really push that diversity at every level so people are empowered to see what they can achieve.

The only way we are going to build a business of relevance is to have diversity of perspective and background: if we want to serve the world, we have to be the world.

Be open to all backgrounds, enable career development and growth: don’t just rely on the system to train people, invest in them and their ambition. Have leadership that people aspire to be. Give back to the community: it was hugely important for me to have a presence in St. Louis, where I’m from, when we could afford to do that. We now have around 400 people working there.

Reaching out to programmes that identify problems and address them, like STEMettes or Girls Who Code in the US, is another thing that is extremely important. They build confidence and empower people through experiences: one little spark and click can change things.

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Anne-Marie, founder of STEMettes, an organisation that seeks to introduce girls and young women to careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Photo: Robert Ormerod for The New York Times.

Do you think it’s possible to replicate the success of the Silicon Valley ecosystem here in London?

JD: First and foremost, Silicon Valley works because of a particular set of occurrences that are very unique to that area. If we spend too much time to try and replicate that, we can miss the opportunities in the environment and culture that make London great.

What I love about the tech scene here and find unique about London for example is that some of the best machine and deep learning people are here.

The ecosystem develops in the same way open source does: by exchanging knowledge and sharing what you are working on. Now that may or may not resonate with others, but it will move things forward. My advice is to look more deeply at yourself instead of Silicon Valley and be open, in constant conversation.

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Jack went on to answer other questions from the public, and even a few about Twitter. Well, that and horse-sized ducks (yes, this actually happened). If you want to see the full video, which by now no doubt you will, just click here.

 

Ewa Domaradzka, Commercial Marketing Manager 

12 March 2018

Building a Soulful Business with Motherhood Reconstructed

With International Women's Day and Mother's Day all falling within the last week, we've been thinking about women in business a lot.  Over 55% of the Business & IP Centre's users are women, and we are incredibly proud to have supported so many female entrepreneurs to start, protect and grow their businesses in diverse sectors.

On March 12th we're continuing our season of events focussed on women in business with a very special event in partnership with Motherhood Reconstructed and Jessica Huie (MBE, PR Guru, serial entrepreneur and now published author!) entitled How To Build a Soulful Business.

We spoke to Tamu Thomas from Motherhood Reconstructed and asked her to tell us some more about the event. 

 

'How to Build a Soulful Business' is a panel discussion with industry experts that aims to facilitate a conversation enabling women to bring dreams or vision to life by combining strategy with intuitive growth. It is an event for women looking for a way to develop tools that will assist them to create business success without the boorish rhetoric that is often associated with entrepreneurship.

We will be holding space for women to use their intentions to create new a pathway to achieve goals.  How many times have you heard phrases such as, “You just have to push through” or “Get your hustle on?” in dialogue about business?  The space we are creating will lean towards “What does success feel like?” and “What steps do you need to take to cultivate and sustain this feeling?”

This subject matter means a lot to me as I have spent many years stuck in a cycle of drowning out my inner voice, forcing myself in to what ‘they’ said I ‘should’ be doing.  Barging, bumping, forcing my way, doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results.  We know what Albert Einstein said about that, but here it is in case you don’t:

 “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein.

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Tamu Thomas (photo by Nyssa Paige)

After doing some work with one of the panellists and really taking some time to reflect rather than analyse, I realised that my behaviour, my constant going against myself and prioritising the noise of others was rooted in a lack of trust. A lack of trust in myself. Once this lack of trust moved into my consciousness I was able to delve further and realise that I was unable to trust myself because I didn’t feel safe. Imagine that, an adult woman unable to make herself feel safe?  If we don’t feel safe we are stuck in a state of fight or flight because we are frightened!

These conditions make it impossible to thrive.  Surprisingly this realisation was the most positive and illuminating experience I have had since becoming a mother.  I didn’t berate myself, I didn’t think I was foolish, I had a name, an understanding of what was going on underneath the veil of busyness and hustle. 

Taking time to deeply connect with myself and really feel what was going on was one of the most emotionally disruptive experiences I have had. It was like a rebirth and rather than fall into a pattern of gruff negative self-talk, I was overcome with compassion for myself and a sense of relief that I had shifted into a position where I could actually do something to support myself utilising the tools and suggestions from my work with one of the women on the panel for this event.  I had got to a place where I could combine things like my intuition, affirmations, desire mapping and journaling with business acumen. I was ready to leap. Ready to leap back into entrepreneurship but this time with a crystallised sense of purpose, clear intentions and faith in myself.

The beauty of this panel is that these women have been there, done that and are in the position to share practical tips, suggestions and actions based on their experience and qualifications that demystify nebulous terms like “finding my purpose” and “being intentional”. These women are able plant seeds that can help any woman shift from dreaming to doing, from wistfully thinking to inspired action with tools to sustain motivation even in those tricky moments when things feel like they are about to spiral downwards.  Strategies that can be applied regardless of where you are, bring you back to your why and the feeling you want to permeate through you and your business.

We recognise that some women may believe the story they have told themselves about not being entrepreneur material or that they cannot afford to move away from a guaranteed monthly salary. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and the world would not function if everyone worked for themselves, but fear should not be a barrier.  If you have a business or a business idea we implore you to come along and try something new. 

Ready to leap? Click here to join us.