Intellectual Property Matters
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.
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.
- 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, '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'.