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

29 April 2022

Spotlight On... our IP experts!

To mark World IP Day this week, we're shining a spotlight on the intellectual property experts of the Business & IP Centre in London to learn about their favourite inventors, weird and wonderful IP queries they've helped to solve, and more.

Neil Infield, Business and IP Centre Manager

Portrait photo of Neil, wearing a suit on yellow background

If you come into the Business & IP Centre at the British Library you'll see Neil's friendly face! He's there to guide you through the complex material we have. Since joining the British Library 17 years ago, Neil has become an expert on trade marks and has supported thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs develop their IP. Let's hear more from Neil now.

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"I met with someone who wanted us to arrange a meeting with the head of Transport for London. His invention would remove air from underground tunnels, which would remove air friction from the tube trains. This would massively reduce energy consumption on the underground system. We didn’t resolve the issue of how passengers would breathe on the trains."

What form of IP should every business have?

"I’m a bit biased as I deliver the workshop on Trade Marks. But on the basis that if you are successful, you will definitely have competitors, you need to be able to differentiate yourself from them. And owning a distinctive registered trade mark is the way to do it."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"I guess the biggest name to go into the public domain will be Micky Mouse next year (2023). But it will be only the original version of Micky (think Steam Boat Willy) will be coming out of copyright. You can find out who came out this year on Wikipedia 

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"I think I will go for inventors I have actually met, but I can’t get below three people!

  1. Mark Sheahan, our Inventor in Residence at the Business & IP Centre for over 15 years. He has helped hundreds of inventors through his free, one to one advice clinics.
  2. Ian Harrison, who I met at my first British Invention Show in 2006. His Milli Grip adjustable spanner is sheer genius. And I am the happy owner of both the original and updated versions. You can see Ian demonstrate the spanner here.
    Like many great inventions it hasn’t had the success it deserves. It is currently available through Monument Tools.
  3. An equally brilliant invention is the Kikka Digga developed by Nick Skaliotis. I first met Nick demonstrating his tool at a local agricultural show at Plumpton College. In conversation while buying an early version of the Kikka Digga, I discovered he had already been helped by the Business & IP Centre. Again this product is still waiting to mainstream, but if you read this review on Amazon you (like me) will wonder why every keen gardener doesn’t yet own one."

Seema Rampersad, Senior Research and Service Manager

Photo of Seema in a public setting

Seema has been with the Business & IP Centre for 9 years and has built a reputation as one of our top notch presenters and speed-mentors. She has worked as an information professional for over 25 years, most of this time has been as a business librarian in the corporate sector. 

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"We frequently get asked for patents from the 19th century which are not available to find easily or free on the internet. We usually must research some aspects of the query using our specialist resources and even patent indices to find the patent number, year and actual patent with drawings. Some of the 19th century inventions are baffling but also interesting such as one on a physiognotrace for drawing portraits. There was one international government department from another country who were extremely pleased when I provided them with a culturally significant patent which they had previously spent about 10 years trying to trace. I found it in about 10 minutes using our patent resources!"

What form of IP should every business have?

"Trade marks and copyright are forms of IP that most companies have for trading and doing business. As a member of staff who uses a lot of digital content as well as a consumer of content in everyday life, I am reminded of copyright very often. Copyright for creative works is an automatic right but I still would recommend that you are explicit that the right belongs to you and your business to ensure that your copyright is protected and not infringed. I also recommend that you do your due diligence and research copyright owned but others in the onset of your startup to avoid infringing the rights of others."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"The book Winnie the Pooh came out of copyright in 2022 and there are various artist pieces of works in music, sound and films that are out of copyright which I am less familiar with. However, music like Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' and songs like 'Long Road to Tipperary', 'Til we meet again' and 'Pack up your troubles in an old kit bag' are still being sung freely nowadays with Eliza Doolitte doing a remake of the latter in 2010. 

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"I am an avid Apple Inc fan from my iMac, iPhone, Apple Music and I still aspire to get an Applewatch one day. These items have truly revolutionised the way I work, socialise, relax and consume content. I particularly like that Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer (CDO) at Apple, is from my neck of the woods in London. His journey to greatness is truly remarkable as an industrial designer. I also thank Apple for making me more connected in my personal and professional life with these innovations. Not to mention our amazing successful customers who inspire us with their motivations and business ideas in the Business & IP Centre."

Jeremy O'Hare, Information Expert

Photo of Jeremy on white background

Next up we have Jeremy, who has worked at the British Library in a number of roles since 2006. His background is in business information and was previously a Relationship Manager for our scale-up programme, Innovating for Growth Scale-ups. If you've attended some of our webinars, you may recognise him from his intellectual property workshops and one to one clinics.

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"Without revealing too much as a lot of people I see require confidentiality, I have worked with performing artists such as dancers and musicians who compose, choreograph and create pieces that become a live art installation. So the IP creation with multiple creators and collaborators (as well as producers) can become very complex but absolutely fascinating. It also demonstrates how IP is in so many different endeavours and is not just about inventions and brands."

What form of IP should every business have?

"I think every business should have at least one trade secret. And I’m saying that in a broad way, such as what is the process to do things that’s better or cheaper than anyone else? Do you have a special network that provides an advantage or have you innovated something so new and unique with value that you can build a business off it? Whatever it is that you wouldn’t want to lose that helps your business should be named and valued."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"Most of George Orwell’s work is out of copyright from last year, so expect a whole range of work coming out based on his work. There’s already an Animal Farm game. Watch out for adaptations of his established works on stage, film and literature. It’s interesting to note that some of his recently discovered work, may be still subject to copyright restrictions which is why copyright can be a little confusing at times."

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"I love looking at the history of patents and how certain inventions have come to create the world we live in. I do think the invention of the first jet engine invented by Frank Whittle, paved the way for the world we know today (GB347206 Improvements relating to the propulsion of aircraft and other vehicles). We can travel to destinations once the preserve of only a few, form closer business relationships, bring long separated families back together and to form new relationships! The world is so much smaller because distance is not an obstacle. It’s just now the price of an air fare!"

Steven Campion, Subject Librarian (Business and IP)

Photo of Steven on a natural background

Steven works alongside Business & IP Centre colleagues as the curator of the IP collection. He has worked at the library for 9 years and can often be found in the reading room helping researchers access our world-leading collection of historical IP documentation.

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"I quite enjoy a ‘what is this thing’ enquiry. It’s amazing how often a mystery object will have a patent number somewhere on it."

What form of IP should every business have?

"Always protect a strong business name or logo with a trade mark. Plenty of information on our web pages on how to do this – or pop into your local BIPC for advice."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"Micky Mouse – but only the version as depicted in Steamboat Willie, as the short film will enter the public domain in January 2024. Later iterations of the character will still be in copyright, and Disney have many trade marks on the character (and many, many, lawyers), but I’m interested to see what happens."

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"My favourite inventor is Melitta Bentz who invented the coffee filter (and with it the coffee connoisseur’s favourite – pour over coffee) in 1908.

Before Bentz, coffee was usually brewed by pouring ground coffee into hot water and then waiting for the grounds to settle to the bottom. Sieves and cloth bags were available but they either let too many coffee grounds through, or would be so narrow that the coffee would be cold by the time it was filtered. Bentz’s solution was simple yet brilliant – a perforated brass cup lined with a piece of blotting paper from her son's exercise book.

Bentz became one of the first female German patentees and would go on to found the still hugely successful Melitta company. We have a Melitta brand pour over coffee set in our house and every time I see it I am reminded that we all have the potential to have an idea that can not only make our own lives better, but perhaps also change the world a little for the better as well.

…My favourite invention however is Lego. My bank balance is testament to this."

 

Got an IP query of your own? Head to our website to learn more about how we can support you and get in touch with our IP experts now!

25 April 2022

Ten Things I wish I knew about Intellectual Property when I was younger

Every generation of young people wants to change the world. And they do, in some way.

Right now in someone’s studio flat, or halls of residence or on a gap year adventure is the next founder of a tech giant, a publishing phenomenon or an inventing genius. Of that, there is no doubt. But some may not get the success or recognition they deserve for their originality, creativity or inventiveness. The one thing that can often make or break an entrepreneur or business venture is getting their intellectual property right, first time.

This year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day is IP and youth: innovating for a better future.

Here is a list of the most common mistakes that I’ve come across in helping thousands of entrepreneurs, creatives and inventors. I’m a little older now having helped so many but I hope what you read here will make all of us that much wiser not matter how young we are.

  1. Knowing how important Intellectual Property actually is.

You don’t know what you don’t know and that’s the point of our first tip. For any new business (or established) not understanding how IP can protect your creations and innovations is a fundamental mistake. There are two sides to IP; one is preventing unauthorised use of what you create and the other is maximising your existing IP as an asset that can acquire value. And if you come to sell your business, a lot of its value potentially resides in your IP. Understanding this and building it into your business strategy will maximise your IP, and therefore, your business impact. But how? That’s the next point.

  1. Getting to know the IP family

Want to patent your idea? Re brand your design? Copyright your invention? Mixing metaphors is one thing but not understanding the different forms of IP and what they do is like being stuck in a maze without an exit. What’s more, knowing a thing you create in your business or a creative pursuit can often be protected by more than one form of Intellectual Property is a great help. I like to call them the IP family. Knowing the difference between them and the job they do will provide clarity, and help you formulate your IP strategy clearly. So, for the record, you patent your invention, register your design and copyright your artistic expression. You trade mark your brand, keep quiet your trade secret and everything else is know-how known only to you. And as we’ll see, timing for all of this is key.

  1. Don’t be late to register or protect your Intellectual Property.

I’ve been an agony Uncle to many downhearted, once enthusiastic, start-ups. What has been the most common problem? ‘I started trading with this amazing brand only to find someone else was using it’. It’s a fundamental mistake. What you think is an amazing name for a product or business is probably so amazing that someone else has got there first. So do your research online but also for the register of existing trade marks in the UK here. Our team in the Business & IP Centre’s around the country can assist you with how to do a basic search. This of course as relevant to all the other forms of IP, so it’s always good to register or protect as soon as you can establish originality.

  1. Don’t overshare and the importance of confidentiality

We’ve all done it. It’s irresistible. We’re so excited and captured by our new business proposition or new gizmo that will change the world that we ‘overshare’. Pub environments are particularly risky. If you do have something of real potential, why tell the world, or just anyone else you know? The other thing I hear often is that ‘so and so stole my idea’. Unfortunately, the idea shouldn’t have been shared in the first place. Knowing what a non-disclosure agreement is and when to use them, is a good first step to securing your idea if you need to share it with interested parties. In fact, when it comes to inventions, anything already known in the world invalidates your application. So, as a rule of thumb, share nothing with no one, unless necessary, and with the right protection in place.

  1. Assuming a good idea is a commercial idea is the easiest mistake.

This is a big one but I have to say it. Lots of people have amazing ideas for inventions or services and create incredible things, but not all of these will be commercially successful. Why? Because there’s no market value to them. The thing you create doesn’t satisfy a big enough demand where people are prepared to pay for it. So a good exercise early on is to ask yourself three questions; what problem am I trying to solve? How big a problem is it really? And does my invention or business provide a good enough solution? Inventors very often fall into this trap. They discover a solution to something without considering the size, and therefore commercial value of the problem. History proves this, as there are piles and piles of granted patents which never made it to market. Anybody care for spray on hair? Electric shoe polishers? But at least we can be reassured that even the biggest and boldest companies can fall into the same trap. Anyone own a Betamax?

  1. Not market testing your new product or service.

With this in mind, it’s just good practice to do prepare a robust business plan that includes some evidence of potential demand for your innovative product or service. Market research and testing are fundamental steps to get right early before properly launching. This helps to safeguard any future investment, both time and resource and IP, that you subsequently put into the business. At the British Library’s Business & IP Centre you can do market research with some of the best researchers and publishers in any given industry. That will help to demonstrate that you’re on the right track (or not).

  1. Not setting an IP budget.

There is a cost to registering some forms of IP, those that are known as registered rights. Specifically, these are patents, trademarks and design. The most costly are patents but you should do all your IP research early and work out what the most cost effective options are balanced with maximum protection (supported by a sound business case). That way you’re on track to make judicious IP decisions that pay off. It’s also very helpful to list IP as a necessary cost alongside other costs such as marketing spend, operational and staffing. Ultimately, if your IP is effective, the asset should pay for itself.

  1. Not factoring in infringement costs

First, some bad news. There are no IP police. You will need to be alert to anyone else copying your invention, using your brand or selling a different version of the same product you created. And it’s up to you then to act. Sadly, as your brand grows with your product or service, you should expect copycats. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, except when it takes out your bottom line or ruins your hard earned reputation. Early and tough action on infringement is the best way to shut down any threats and that will almost always involve some legal expertise. So set aside a war chest in your IP defence but be reassured that there is professional help out there. And that’s when IP lawyers are there to fight for your interests. IP lawyers should be members of professional bodies such as CIPA or CITMA. Also be aware of trading standards for some circumstances of infringement.

  1. Not knowing what to ask an IP attorney

Ignorance is never a good thing, especially when trying to solve a complex problem like IP infringement or a new application for protection. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, by any stretch. But at least by having a good solid grounding and understanding of how IP works for you and your business means you can maximise the time and effort of any professional advice you seek. Knowing enough about something to ask really good questions and to evaluate the reply is more power to you and encouragement that your IP budget is paying back. Time is money (especially legal time) so cut out the IP small talk and get to the crux of the IP issue and its possible resolution.

  1. Not starting with your Business & IP Centre or Patlib!

How could I not conclude by inviting anyone with an IP issue or question to get in touch with their local Business & IP Centre or Patlib (patent library) network? You’ll be able to talk with staff who have experience and are able to be a sounding board for you to make informed decisions that support your business. No matter what your age (but especially if you’re young), you deserve to be rewarded for your new and innovative creations! And intellectual property is there to ensure you do just that.  

Meet Nick Hart, founder of Storm Skin

Like many budding entrepreneurs, Nick, the London-based founder of Storm Skin has never been short of ideas, but as a first time entrepreneur, he had always hesitated when it came to launching. We are happy to say that with our help, Nick was able to gain the confidence and tools needed to take the plunge and launch his bicycle cover business. We spoke to him to find out more about his start-up journey.

Head shot of Nick Hart

“Storm Skin was born out of personal frustration. As an urban cyclist with limited space, I have no choice but to store my bike outside. A bike cover is an essential item to prevent your bike rusting and seizing up. However, the only bike covers available to buy were cheap, flimsy and prone to ripping. What’s more, they were poorly fitting and tended to spend more time on my next-door neighbour’s hedge than covering my bike. So, we built a bike cover that worked. 100% waterproof, easy to fit, durable, unrivalled protection from wind, rain and UV. Simple. 

Green Storm Skin bike cover over a bike

My first interaction with the BIPC was at Start-Up Day in 2018 and since then they have played a pivotal role in the development of Storm Skin. The Start-Up Day event inspired me to move beyond daydreaming about running my own business to taking steps to make it happen. Once I had taken the decision to proceed, I booked a one-to-one session with an expert from the BIPC. We discussed the lean start-up methodology, and I was able to learn more about the electronic resources available at the BIPC in the British Library. Over the following months, I regularly visited the library, using Mintel databases to research my consumer and market. 

They also supported me with exploring opportunities to export my product into the EU. This included providing links to resources as well as workshops run by their partner organisation (Enterprise Europe Network). The information the BIPC provided demystified the complex process of exporting, particularly the new rules and regulations post-Brexit. 

Another key area that the BIPC supported with was constructing my IP strategy. I attended a workshop with expert IP lawyers, which provided me with more information on trade mark protection, design registration and patents. Armed with this info I was able to decide the level of protection I needed, whilst remaining within my budget.

Finally, I was also helped with the sourcing of my product. Through their monthly Inventor’s Club I was able to meet Bob and Richard, two product experts and serial entrepreneurs, they explained the basics of sourcing products from target pricing to prototyping. Through Richard, I was also able to meet Katy, who helped me to approach factories with my idea.

The best business advice I was given was that innovation comes in many forms. Incremental innovation is as valid as revolutionary innovation. It is not always necessary to create something completely new. Many great business ideas are improvements on existing products. In my spare time, I like to spend time with my family. I have two children under five, who keep me busy and help give me perspective when I’m having a tough day. 

The book that most influenced me was the FT Business Start-Up guide. This book has a step-by-step checklist for setting up a new business. I found it invaluable, allowing me to break down the process into bite-size tasks. The book also ensured I didn’t miss anything (product protection liability anyone?).”

Is your business idea still a daydream instead of a reality? Visit our workshops and events page to see how we can inspire you to take the next step.