Innovation and enterprise blog

34 posts categorized "Inventions"

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. 

20 April 2022

Inventors of the Month: John Waddington and Anthony Pratt

If you were to hear the names, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlet, the board game Cluedo, might immediately come to mind. And for good reason too. The game is a part of so many of our childhoods.

It’s almost eighty years since the idea for what we now know as Cluedo was first pitched to Waddington games by Anthony Pratt, musician and factory worker at the time. Yet, would you think of it as a Leeds innovation?

Illustration of Cluedo board game from trade mark GB50000000001364562
Illustration of Cluedo board game from trade mark GB50000000001364562

The story goes that he was inspired with his wife, Elva Pratt, to create a board game based on some of the live murder mystery games played in country houses that were popular at the time. The Leeds games company saw the potential of the idea right away and did a deal with Pratt.

The eponymous company was founded by John Waddington in Leeds. Its brand has been a household name in Britain for much of the 20th Century. If you could time travel back to any post war decade and take a peek into any games cupboard in any home in Britain, you’d likely find at least one Waddingtons’ game. Probably more. A household name is not an over statement.

So this was certainly a magnificent opportunity for both games inventor and manufacturer. Waddingtons was becoming a local Leeds institution and their reach would be pivotal to the success of Pratt’s invention.

But what was really the key to making Cluedo such a household name around the world? The answer is in three rather forgettable words, intellectual property rights. Here we see Cluedo’s widespread success and the collaboration between Anthony Pratt and Waddingtons as a fascinating case study in intellectual property (IP) and why these rights are so important.

We’ll see how and what lessons we can learn for a new generation of games inventors (and anyone else).

Monopoly right?

Waddingtons built their early success on another game, which also just happened to become a household name. The new American game, Monopoly. They had the exclusive licence from US maker and rights holder, Parker Brothers, to make and sell in the UK. A very savvy move as it turned out, as the favour was swapped with Parker Brothers eventually obtaining the licence for Cluedo (or Clue as it was rebranded in the US).

So the first lesson here is that being a licensor (the owner of the IP rights) and the licensee can (and should) work in both party’s interests.

It certainly worked for Waddingtons, as Monopoly’s success put them in a strong position to develop more games. Cluedo (and Anthony Pratt’s idea) came at just the right time in the company’s growth potential.

But what of the inventor; how would Pratt protect his idea?

Patently obvious answer

Interestingly, Pratt patented the idea for Cluedo back in 1944. Though if you search for any patent called Cluedo, you won’t find it (for reasons to be explained).

Pratt’s patent specification GB586817, Improvements in Board Games, is a fascinating patent. You can view the original here. A patent is a particular type of IP protection for inventions and/or processes. It is usually technical or mechanical in nature, so it’s interesting to read how a game could be considered as such.

Illustration of cards and weapons from patent GB_586817_A
Illustration of cards and weapons from patent GB_586817_A

Here’s an extract from Pratt’s original patent, outlining the process in playing Cluedo. Anyone who’s played it may well understand the selected extracts;

A board game comprises a board divided into areas representing rooms of a house connected by small squares… ten differently coloured movable pieces representing persons, nine tokens each representing a weapon, and a pack of cards having three suits, one suit containing nine cards which correspond with nine of the rooms… The object of the game is to identify a hidden combination of three cards, one from each suit, as a result of information accumulated during play.

The patent for what we know as Cluedo was granted (meaning finally approved by the Patent Office) in 1947.

This gave Pratt, ownership and rights over the game and the ability to sell or licence the process behind the game to any games maker. Owning the patent also provided him a way to oppose any unauthorised copying.

It raises the question, can you still patent a board game today?

Patents and games

The bar is much higher today to be able to patent a board game. That’s because the same criteria apply, that is the games’ process, or method have to be non-obvious and never been done before. It’s actually more difficult to come up with a really new games process that is truly an innovative step.

It’s also the more costly of the IP rights and takes the most time. There are other IP options, the same ones that Waddingtons also used.

Illustration of Cluedo board from patent GB_586817_A
Illustration of Cluedo board from patent GB_586817_A

Copyrighting a game

Copyright is an automatic and unregistered right, meaning the creator owns it as soon as it’s created. Putting a copyright sign, naming the owner and year of creation on the game is a simple and legally recognised way of asserting your IP rights.

Copyright applies to all artistic and written creations. It includes visual elements, wording and designs incorporated into the whole board game, and all can be considered copyright. If, there was ever any copying of a games look or distinctive elements, the creator can seek redress as an infringement of their copyright.

One other IP right called registered design, can sometimes be used. Especially if there is an element of the game that is three dimensional, such as player tokens.

The other very important IP right in relation to games is the trade mark. You can find more information about IP and board games by reading our Industry Guide.

Protecting the name of the game

The appeal to the game Cluedo is in the name, Cluedo. That may sound like stating the obvious but the creation and use of the name is another very important ingredient in a game’s success. The original name for Pratt’s game was Murder! But the one of Waddington’s company executives, Norman Watson, who ran with the idea promptly changed the name to Cluedo. Which was an apparent play on a Latin word ludo, meaning ‘I play’. A clever games title and eventually a brilliant, valuable trade mark.

Here is a wonderful marriage of concept and process (the patent) with the branding and name (the trade mark), topped with a visually appealing board design and unforgettable player names (the copyright). All of these forms of IP protection acts as bricks in a defensive wall of 'idea protection'.

But if you own the trade mark, in practice you pretty much own the game.

Cluedo today

Our Leeds story goes global, as Waddingtons was purchased by American games giant, Hasbro in 1994. And so, Hasbro obtained all the IP rights to Cluedo. We can see that the registered trade mark for Cluedo is still active today. As well as the trade mark for the board game.

Hasbro have taken Cluedo into new directions. Interestingly, the design of the board game, with its various rooms and names is also now a trade mark. The company is using all means of protection to extend the life of the game and retain IP rights over it. It’s a way to safeguard the investment in its purchase. Is it hardly surprising when we see what a timeless success Cluedo has become?

In recent times there have been many Cluedo spin offs, including novelty versions of the game for the Simpsons and TV comedy Big Bang Theory. Back in the 1980s there were even computer game versions and film as well as a TV show in the 1990s.

It all goes to show how a great games idea, playing on our love of old fashioned parlour games, mixed with Agatha Christie style characters can create something as novel as a board game, lifting a name like Cluedo, to the status of iconic.

So who dunnit?

It was a Leeds inventor and games maker that brought hours of fun to families, down generations, around the world.

Jeremy O'Hare, Business & IP Centre IP expert

05 May 2021

Inventor of the Month: Lucean Arthur Headen, 1879-1957

Introducing our latest blog feature: Inventor of the Month! In our first edition, our IP expert, Jeremy O'Hare explores the fascinating life of Lucean Arthur Headen.

'For someone to be both an inventor and an entrepreneur is a unique thing. To be someone who overcomes racial prejudice and become a pioneer in his field is truly exceptional.

I discovered the story of Lucean Headen while answering an enquiry for an historian and author, Dr Jill D. Snider, who has written a recent biography about this extraordinary man. Jill had used our historical collections of patents in order to track Headen’s achievements in engineering.

Lucean Headen, an African American, born in 1879 in North Carolina, was to become an important figure in manufacturing and engineering in Camberley, Surrey before and after the Second World War.

Passport Photo of Lucean Headen

How then, did Headen travel from a segregated USA to England in the early 20th Century and prosper in what was an extraordinary life journey and adventure for his time?

The answer is, invention. Quite a few of them in fact.

Headen, was born into the generation after the American Civil War where racial inequalities and prejudice were the norm. He belonged to a family of artisans, who had learned their trades while enslaved.  His father was exceptional in his own right as an entrepreneur and owner of a sawmill  and his family had acquired strong connections with other African American entrepreneurs.

The social networks his family built were what Headen needed to get ahead, and they became vital to his securing future opportunities. They included contacts through the Northern Presbyterian church, a network that would continue to be a place of social as well as spiritual support for Headen. But also a wider circle of investors, both black and white, who saw promise in Headen’s early inventions.

His first two patents, in fact related to cars as he established a car manufacturing business producing car bodies and engines. But it was the promise of overseas opportunities that saw him travel to the UK. He made his first trip toward the end of the First World War, to demonstrate to the British Admiralty an optical device referred to as the “Headen system of mirror camouflage,” used to make small patrol craft invisible to German submarines.

This of course helped to get him known in inventing circles. However, with the war soon to end he didn’t receive the opportunity to fully develop his idea, though his talent was commended.

Illustration from patent GB381588A Improvements in or relating to vaporizers for internal combustion engines
Illustration from patent GB381588A Improvements in or relating to vaporizers for internal combustion engines

After some time back in the USA, Headen returned to the UK in 1931 not with patents for the military, but for the car industry.

Again, the trip was because of an opportunity. England had a petrol problem; there wasn’t enough of it, and it was too expensive. Something that wasn’t a problem in the US at the time. So Headen had developed a converter kit that allowed petrol engines to burn heavy oils instead of petrol. This was a big advantage for England at the time because heavy oils were more plentiful and cheaper.

The invention certainly created a stir and was demonstrated at the Royal Motor Club. Off the back of its early interest, Headen formed a company in 1932, first in London, then relocated to Camberley, the place that would become his home. Having formed a partnership with another entrepreneur, George Hamilton, and later Camberley builder James Richard McLean Keil, this gave Headen the local network and connections to get his invention to market.

Headen and his company would become central in the local business community, and he emerged as a leading industrialist for his time in the region.

More patents were soon to follow, each developing his automotive innovations, but it was the onset of war that proved to be of such importance for Headen’s contribution to the war effort.

His engines were instrumental in British agriculture and logistics because tractors and lorry operators were able to switch to oil, therefore allowing scarce petrol for military use. His engine gasket also increased the efficiency of oil-burning engines and reduced the maintenance required.

It was clear that Headen had grown to love England and indeed had remarried here and adopted a son. He never gave up his US citizenship but was very much considered a local, and even served in the Home Guard. It’s true to say that he had created opportunities as an African American here in the UK that were so much more difficult for him in the US at the time.

But it would be wrong to see Lucean Headen as either American or British. He was bigger than that, a man who would never allow his race, background or lack of higher education hold him back, Headen succeeded with talent, determination and an instinct to chase an opportunity wherever it led him.

Illustration from patent CA376999A ‘Ice formation preventing apparatus for aircrafts
Illustration from patent CA376999A ‘Ice formation preventing apparatus for aircrafts

To use a cliché, the ‘sky’s the limit’, would even be a little limiting, as Headen was also a pioneer aviator, among the first African-Americans to fly. He added to his automotive achievements with aeronautical inventions. One of these, an anti-icing technique for planes, has been cited as an early patent for later developments by Curtiss Wright, GM Grumman Aerospace, Boeing and Rolls Royce right up to a recent thermal patent method to de-ice turbine blades in 2018.

His inventive and personal legacy continues to inspire to today. Lucean Headen is a man whose time for recognition has come.'

24 April 2021

A week in the life of Edward Draper, founder of Ortheia

Edward Draper is an alumna of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and a founder of Ortheia Ltd, a start-up company in the early stages of development of new medical technologies. He leads on commercialising novel products in collaboration with UK-based Universities and other technology-based SMEs, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. The current flagship product they are developing is a new biomaterial that, when implanted into the body, does two things: helps bones to heal, and fights infection without the need for antibiotics. This is especially important at a time when there is a world-wide increase in resistance to antibiotics.

Edward leads the small but talented team of three that make up Ortheia, which has only been trading for three years. He has a lot of experience of R&D in the MedTech sector and has worked in Universities such as Imperial College and UCL, as well as leading innovation teams in industry. He has led on the technical aspects of product launches in the UK and across the globe and has his name on many patents. The whole Ortheia team share his passion for the challenges of getting new MedTech innovations into the clinics and onto the markets across the world.

Today the team are all working from their homes in different parts of the country because of the COVID19 Lockdown. We spoke to Edward to find out more about what a typical week looks like for him. 

Monday

Welcome to my Lockdown Lair. It’s an ex-bedroom that I have converted into an office/workshop (I am an inveterate maker). Most of my work is collaborative and is about making sure all the aspects of the work are progressing, despite the restrictions imposed by COVID19. Today I had three major tasks.

First, I am working with my three fellow directors on our Business Risk Register, which may sound a little boring, but in fact it makes us can go through all aspects of the business in quite a lot of detail. This is so important right now because we know from the statistics that Companies at the stage we are in now are most likely to fail. Going through the Business Risks will not guarantee us success, but it is more likely we can spot things early before they go wrong. The meeting was done by the inevitable video call sharing documents over three hours. It was tiring but productive. We are about a quarter of the way through the Register.

Second was the final tasks needed before filing our next patent. This involves chasing up our collaborators for the necessary paperwork and finalising the Figures we need to add.

Third and final, there was some consultancy work I am doing with an exciting Oxford-based company who want to launch new 3D-printed metal implants and I am helping them get regulatory approval here the UK and in the USA. The current work was deciding how best to explain the quite complicated case to the Regulatory Authorities.

Edward holding Ortheia's biomaterial-min

Tuesday

We are leading a large project with University of Cambridge and two other SMEs on a grant funded by Innovate UK. Today was the monthly meeting so it was yet another videoconference. The product we are developing looks a bit like granulated sugar (you can see it in the image above), but it is technically quite advanced. This is our flagship product design to speed up bone healing and damping down infection. Today’s meeting was to go through where we were with the manufacture and the lab testing. This needed some preparation time before the meeting and then quite some time in the meeting picking the best option to go forward. I also did some more work on the patent.

Wednesday

I have been elbow deep in Excel. I had two quite critical tasks that I needed to progress quite urgently. The lab results from Cambridge looked as if we’d had a ‘bad cell’ day and I was looking at how the data compare with previous work. It is quite common that data need to be scrutinised in detail like this. We exchanged a lot of emails and we did come to an agreement as to what to do next (wait for the next lot of data that should arrive in a week or so). Once that was settled, I was back in Excel looking at the biomaterials formulations to make sure we have the specifications right. Last part of the day was spent trying to find slots in peoples’ diaries before the end of the week so I can help resolve any issues before they become problems.

Edward reviewing laboratory data

Thursday

We have several months left in the current Innovate UK grant. This has been fabulous and has allowed us to really test out the early formulations of the biomaterials. However, at the end of the grant we will still have a long way to go before we will be investment ready. This means we must plan the next grant in detail. Today we were mapping the technology development out to clinical launch and beyond. To attract the next round of grant funding we have to package up the next few years work in a way that will be attractive to the viewers. So it was another long video call with the three of us sharing big virtual whiteboards. It was very productive, but we still have much further to go before we have an application that is strong enough. Fortunately for us we have some time. The next suitable grant call from Innovate UK will be announced in a few months.

I also had a call with an Academic in the University of Sheffield about an academic project we are planning together to help us understand the underlying phenomena associated with some work we have done in the past on early joint disease and healing cartilage. It is good to keep it progressing. Today also saw my take 30 minutes off to dash to my GP’s surgery for the first of my COVID19 vaccinations; a miraculous technology that hopefully sees the world getting out of this ongoing craziness.

Friday

This was a day in which I was being pulled into different directions. We had a call with our Patent Attorney about the final stages of preparing the new patent; we were very nearly there. I just needed to chase up comments from our Collaborators on the patent wording and sort out some Figures. It is not unreasonable to think that we will file in the next month or so. Then a sharp pivot in attention. The consultancy work I am doing needs for me to define what is known to the Regulators as a ‘predicate device’. It needs a detailed search through the FDA’s database, which are all online, and find a product that is currently being sold that is like my client’s. I have come up with a choice of three, which I will work on next week.

I finished the day preparing for next week’s business planning. We have adopted a graphical approach to the five years, and I need to prepare to facilitate the big meeting next week, Yet another video call with a complex ‘Orbit’ on a virtual whiteboard. This afternoon’s efforts were handwritten notes on an A3 copy. I am looking forward to working through this with the team next week.

15 September 2020

A week in the life of… Peter Hill, founder of Petvictus

This month's blog follows Peter Hill, who in 2018 appeared on BBC's Dragons' Den and won an offer of investment for his inventions, Pedaldish: The Lunchbox for Pets and Katfone: The Ultrasonic Whistle for Cats. Peter used BIPC Birmingham to get advice on registering his trade mark. Since then, Peter has gradually reduced his day job hours and this week he's got a big decision to make...

Peter Hill in a factory with Pedaldish

As well as the product side of my business, I’ve developed a series of lectures, team games and skills workshops to guide people through the core skills needed to start a new business. This summer, I have a decision to make: do I sell my inventions and focus on public speaking? This is the week I made my decision.

Monday 10.00. Wake up. As a night owl, I’m rarely asleep before 01.00. A product order came through, last week, for 210 Pedaldishes and 500 Katfones. I said I’d ship the order this week, without having double checked that I’ve got the stock ready, and the clock’s ticking. I might have to spend today assembling Pedaldishes from parts, to make up the order.

13.00. The warehouse guys are being amazing. We’re just six products short, so with a quick bit of assembly and a quality check, the shipment is ready to go.

16.00. I email the warehouse the shipping documents and confirm with the customer the order will be with them on Thursday.

17.00. I log off the computer feeling I’ve forgotten something. I haven’t, but being a one-man band, I’m always asking myself whether I’ve missed anything.

19.00. The weather is getting hotter. I go for a country walk and make plans for next weekend. Coronavirus restrictions have lifted in Wales and I’ve made plans to go camping.

Daily score: Usefulness: 75%, Enjoyment: 30%

Tuesday 11.00. I still have a part-time job at the local council. My trade is as a community worker. This is less glamourous than being an inventor and entrepreneur but it has a guaranteed income, and is much more interesting than handling stock shipments. I’m now working from home; Skype is my only means of interaction with my colleagues. It’s a rubbish substitute for real contact.

Daily score : Usefulness: 50% Enjoyment: 60%

Wednesday 16.00. The Library of Birmingham's BIPC has asked if I’d be interested in doing some more business presentations. The most enjoyable parts of my business have been conducting lectures, team games and skills workshops.  Since winning investment on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, I’ve been in demand as the most minor level celebrity you can imagine. I spend today designing a new business team game around eggs. The teams have to buy materials to protect an egg, which is then thrown out of the window. The team who protect their egg, and spend the least amount of money win; this is great for teaching planning and budget management, but I need to think about health and safety.

Daily score: Usefulness: 65% Enjoyment 70%

Thursday 15.30. I get confirmation the shipment, I sent on Monday, has arrived. I quickly cut and paste an invoice and email it. My thoughts turn to the weekend ahead and my greatest passion: the outdoors.

18.00. One of the great things about being in business, is that you network and hear about new ideas and products. This February, I found out about a product called Tent Box. It’s a solid frame pop-up tent which fits onto a roof-rack. With one fitted on top of my car I now have an instant place to sleep in isolation, even if the campsites are not open.

22.00. The car is packed and my kayak strapped down on the roof.

A view over a north Wales tidal estuary

Daily score: Usefulness: 40% Enjoyment 40%

Friday 6.00. I discover there is a 6am, as well as a 6pm! I’ll tell someone when I’m more awake; for now the beaches, rivers and hills of North Wales are calling.

14.00. I park on a pathway on the edge of a deserted tidal estuary, Snowden in the distance. Checking the tide times, I can see how far the water will come tonight. As long as I park up at high tide, I’ll have 12 hours without the risk of being carried away. Having been in self-isolation since March, I’m finally in true isolation. My phone is turned off. And my thoughts switch on.

16.00. I’m walking along a deserted sandy beach. I invented my last business team building game here, maybe I’ll find inspiration again. After walking in the surf for two miles, passing one person, I’ve come up with an idea for my egg dropping team building game; what if I tell the participants, the week before, what the game is? The really astute ones can go online and look up the best ways to protect an egg and maybe even practice. This will show how valuable prior knowledge and experience is when approaching a business task. I begin to wonder if I sent an invoice for the last order of Pedaldishes and Katfones? My inspiration, like the sun, is falling.

20.00. I’m sat by a river with a coffee made in the local pub. Dyslexia means that I rarely read books, but since the invention of Audible.com, I can listen to the world’s finest literature. Today, I’m listening to the autobiography of comedian Eddie Izzard. I gave up hosting my own stand-up comedy show to invent products. Maybe I should combine the two and focus just on business presentation.

23.30. With the high tide come and gone, I pop open my roof top tent, modified since purchase with every gadget and comfort, and drift asleep on the four-inch memory foam mattress to the sound of the waves.

Daily score: Usefulness: 35% Enjoyment 85%

Saturday 8.30. Worried that I might be breaking some obscure by-law, I wake up quickly, compress down my tent and watch the rising sun. Today I can walk, kayak and swim, with my phone switched off and no one to speak to.

18.00. With a day spent on the beach and trekking into the hills, I wonder if I should focus my efforts on being a business speaker 100%; it feels like the right direction.

21.00. I may have miscalculated the tide. With the water rising I’m in danger of being flooded. Always have a plan B: I can retreat to higher ground. The tide licks the car wheels, and finding them not to its taste, retreats. Time to relax again and watch the sky turn every shade of blue to black.

Peter Hill with his kayak on a river

Daily score: Usefulness: 5% Enjoyment: 90%

Sunday 16.00 With the risk of rain forecast, I make my way home, via a night-stay in Shropshire at my parents’ house. I walk through the pine woods and cross the place where I first thought up the name Katfone. A wholesaler has emailed me an offer to buy the brand, and the remaining stock. My designer wants to run with Pedaldish. Maybe it’s time to move on.

Daily score: Usefulness: 20% Enjoyment 70%

Monday 11.00. I drive to the River Severn outside Shrewsbury and kayak 12 miles, downstream. I always imagined, when I didn’t have to work full-time, that I would spend my Monday mornings on the river. In the last four years, I’ve managed it three times.

21.00. I’m back home. I have a name for my new venture as a business presenter: Peter the Speaker. I’ve bought the .com and drafted a logo. Now all I have to do is agree to sell Katfone and walk away. I’ll leave it until tomorrow or maybe the day after…

Daily score: Usefulness: 20% Enjoyment 80%

06 August 2020

The beer lover’s guide to the perfect IP brew

Since Babylonian times, humans have been in search of the perfect beer brew. The brewing business today is a testament to the originality and passionate dedication of its forebears.

Each generation has created beers that have inspired the next while building a major industry.

Beer and commerce are an easy blend but what’s the one key secret to brewing success? Earning from your brewing creations by protecting the Intellectual Property that made them.

If you have developed a novel invention to brewing, a unique brand or a secret brew that gets people at the bar talking, then Intellectual Property is something you should invest in to reap the rewards you deserve.

Here are four different forms of intellectual property every new brewer should consider.

Brewing breakthroughs with technology

The sheer size and volume (literally) of the brewing industry means that it’s constantly innovating. So it’s not surprising that there’s some pretty clever technical innovation happening around the brewing and bottling process too.

If you’re a keen inventor, find out what some of the big problems that need ‘fixing’ in brewing today and ask ‘could you engineer a solution’?

If so, you’ll soon encounter the remarkable world of patents. A patent is an exclusive right granted to the maker of invention. It is a form of Intellectual Property that protects technical innovations. The innovation is eventually made public in exchange for the owner having a monopoly on the idea for a period of time (usually 20 years).

My favourite example from a past brewing patent is the story of William Painter. You may not have heard of him but without doubt you will have benefitted greatly from his invention, the ‘Crown Cap’ bottle top. Or in patent speak, ‘a bottle sealing device’.

William Painter was an accomplished inventor with a keen commercial eye. His devised a way to effectively seal a bottle of beer to prevent it from going flat. This involved a sealing disk topped with a metal cap. The advantage too was it could be opened easily. Perhaps you’ll recognise this from the patent image below?

Patent for William Painter's bottle sealing device

We’re still using the same basic technology on bottled beer and soft drinks today.

In 1894, when Painter was granted his patent, there was no shortage of bottle sealing devices but his particular patent (US468258) ensured bottling could be mass produced, increasing supply and meeting demand from a very thirsty public.

Painter himself went on to found the Crown Cork and Seal Company and quickly developed manufacturing technology to enable his patent’s potential to be fully realised. The company was immensely successful and is trading today as Crown Holdings Inc.

The lesson here is that if you find the right problem with the right solution and obtain effective Intellectual Property protection with a well drafted patent, it can be a significant advantage in a highly competitive market place.

Brewing up an awesome beer brand

Beer has personality. It has unique characteristics all to its own particular brew. It has heritage and modern edge with everything in between. Local, global, national. There’s a beer brand to suit every taste.

There are thousands and thousands of them. And a registered trademark for each.

You may have heard of the beer brand Bass. That brand has heritage, and is also UK trademark number UK00000000001 from the 1st January, 1876. The registered trademark is still in force today and no doubt worth more than every penny of the original registration fee!

Bass beer logo

 

The Bass brand also benefitted from what we nowadays call product placement. It’s not too discreetly featured in the French artist Édouard Manet’s famous, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère”.

But beer brands rarely demure.

If we look at a modern brand such as Beavertown, they like so many beer brands, have registered their trademark too. The name is just too recognisable not to.

You can do this too. There’s a database of existing marks to check your own mark is original and to help decide what classifications of trade to choose.

Because it’s not uncommon for beer brands to produce all manner of merchandise and marketing material, so why not maximise the reach of your trademark by applying in a number of different trademark classifications?

With so many beers on offer, the beer brand you want to brew will need to be your unique identifier. Your trademark is, to put it simply, the legally registered name and/or image of your brand. It protects you by preventing others from blatantly copying or ‘trading off’ your good name and reputation. If you find yourself in that unenviable situation (and plenty have), the registered trademark is your comeback to cease and desist unfair imitation.

It also represents the incredible value of your brand. And because your trademark is your intellectual property, you can sell it or licence it to whomever you choose. It’s what will earn your reward in the future for all the thousands of hours of hard brewing.

To discover more about patents or trademarks, visit our website.

Beer that creates a first impression.

To own a registered design is to have rights over the appearance of a functional object that can include colour, shape or even texture. The form is what creates its appeal as a marketable object, instantly recognisable.

As one form of Intellectual Property, registered design is worth considering. Especially if you’re producing a beer product that wants to be distinctive.

For example there are many distinctive shapes of beer bottles that are themselves an identifier for the brand just as much as a trademark is.

And this is not only something for new beer brands striking out to get noticed, registered design is used by older established brewers as well.

Affligem, is a beer brand with an astonishing heritage, coming close to one thousand years of brewing history. But a brand with such pedigree still values other Intellectual Property assets, even if the taste of its brew is so famous.

They too have a registered design on their classic bottle shape.

Affligem beer bottle

If it’s something a thousand year brewer would have, why not consider it as a new brewer?

You can register a design with the Intellectual Property office and the Business & IP Centre runs regular webinars on it. See our upcoming webinar schedule.

The secret bit behind the beer magic.

If you’ve spent hundreds of hours in the quest of brewing perfection, and you think you’ve found it, what’s the best way to protect it from the rival brewer next door?

The answer is disarmingly simple; keep it a secret.

Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping trade secrets in the brewing business. Plenty of brewers rely on it.

A proper definition of a trade secret is a technique, process, formula or method of creating something that has commercial value and is known to only a limited number of persons. It is often kept secret through the use of legal agreements (such as employment contracts) or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Unlike all of the other forms of IP mentioned, this is known as an unregistered right. Meaning you don’t have to register the secret with a governing body. It is yours to keep and the length of time is how long you want the secret to be kept.

A good trade secret is also good for the brand. It helps create a mystery around the product and keeps people guessing to how it was made.

Four cheers for IP

These are four forms of Intellectual Property every beer lover and maker should consider. You can pick and choose which of these works best for you. Maybe all of them. It’s all up to how you innovate, create and ultimately protect your most valuable asset, your own unique IP brew.

Jeremy O'Hare is the Business & IP Centre's Information Expert. You can find more information on intellectual property and the Business & IP Centre's upcoming events, by visit bl.uk/bipc.

03 August 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Mark Sheahan

Mark is the Business & IP Centre’s Inventor in Residence, as well as the President of the Institute of Inventors & Patentees (a registered charity), Managing Director of Compgen Ltd (Licensing) and Proprietor of Plasgen Design (Product Design). He is also Chairman of Morgan Goodwin Ltd (Online Trading Platform) and Ambosco Ltd (IT Development). He’s also a  Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Vice Chairman of the Round Table of Inventors (CTRI). Here’s a bit more information about him and how he can help you at one of his Ask an Expert sessions…

Mark Sheahan

I’m an experienced business owner with a demonstrated history of working in the inventing, business mentoring and licensing industry. My specialities are in business planning, invention, entrepreneurship, manufacturing, plastic injection moulding, packaging closure technology, intellectual property and licensing. 

One of my inventions, SqueezeopenTM, won me the accolade of Inventor of the Year in the UK and the top Grand Prix Award at INPEX in America. The product is an easy open and close plastic container.  

My Ask an Expert sessions are confidential, free one-hour meetings and are aimed at inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. I suggest, to get the best out of the hour that they bring everything they can bring to the meeting, particularly samples, working or not, drawings and patent documentation, if applicable.

I see my role as nurture and clarity and try not to be judgemental in anyway. In fact, I like seeing people as early as possible, even with half-baked ideas/inventions. As, all too often, they take a wrong path and spend time and money unnecessarily. 

My first question in the meeting is normally about the idea/invention itself, as it does not matter how well you do everything else, if it does not work or has a major flaw/s the project is likely to fail. As an engineer, I can generally spot manufacturing problems and advice accordingly. Another area I like to explore with entrepreneurs is whether it is the best solution, being either cheaper or better, ideally both.     

Once I am happy with the idea/invention and only then I will move on to the business side, e.g. intellectual property position and strategy, business model, manufacturing, sales and marketing and, if applicable, licensing. 

It is very easy to get overwhelmed with advice, so you end up not knowing what to do next. I try and give that clarity and re-motivate anyone who comes to see me to take those steps.  

To book a session with me, click here.

16 June 2020

A week in the life of… Rachel Jones, founder of SnapDragon Monitoring

Rachel Jones is founder and Head Dragon at SnapDragon Monitoring in Edinburgh. SnapDragon delivers online brand protection, seller insights and market intelligence to brands around the world. Rachel founded SnapDragon based on her experiences of defending her first creation the Totseat – a washable squashable highchair for babies who lunch – from counterfeits. The British Library's Business & IP Centre played a significant role in the market research undertaken for both businesses. Most recently Rachel was the first Entrepreneur in Residence at BIPC Glasgow, based at the Mitchell Library. SnapDragon is the recent recipient of a Queen’s Award for Innovation 2020.

SnapDragon team

Groundhog Week

It’s the first week of May. My favourite month. Usually. Awoken by insistent birdsong at 4am after yet another sporadic night of what could only be defined as a snoozing. Might as well get up. Husband is dressing, in preparation for 5am call to Singapore. Dog peed, fed enough to tide her over till 6am, a mug of welcome tea and a couple of hours work before breakfast and a rigorous walk. My makeshift ‘office’ is a corner of our sitting room, sandwiched between well-thumbed texts and an ancient sofa of memories. My desk, an extended (vertically) dressing table inherited from my late mother, which previously housed small geological specimens, now with ergonomic investment to help 100+ hour weeks.

We’re in lockdown. The middle? Still the beginning? Either way, the hell persists. One day we were in the office, the next was a work from the home trial. Not one technical hiccup. So we didn’t go back. We’re incredibly lucky. We are healthy, there’s food in the fridge and there is work to do.

But I’m a lousy mother currently and this bothers me. Greatly.

Edinburgh's blossom

A recent catch up call with a close friend, thankfully not on Zoom, has wrenched my jealous heart. Furloughed happily on a lovely salary, painting the house, gardening furiously, enjoying having University-aged offspring at home and imagining retirement. Other friends struggle valiantly on: juggling working and childcare, home schooling and life as single parents, life in a flat, responsibilities for the vulnerable, loathing their living companion/s, not enough money or patience to go round. And those in the middle, silently weeping with responsibility weighing heavily on hearts and mind. At the front line of caring, mending, selling, delivering, collecting, working to keep the economy going. Mouths to feed, and not just their own.

Livelihoods of many many families lying firmly in their laps.

I’m one of the latter. Not brave enough to be a front-line carer, but working day and night to keep a business afloat (and ignoring my family, I’m sorry to say, while I do so). I am horrible to live with. My team of 26, of whom I am inordinately proud, need their salaries, motivation, and sanity and our clients’ businesses need us to keep them profitable. I will not let the virus get the better of me.

SnapDragon Monitoring fights fakes online. We identify and remove infringing products from online marketplaces, social media sites, and websites. We use intellectual property (IP) to remove the fakes and fakers. Copyright – words and images – trade marks, design rights and patents. It’s cheap and efficient. Four minutes to remove a link from, say, Amazon, with the correct IP to prove originality. Why bother? At best, fake products cause disappointment. Less brilliantly, serious harm. Take brakes or beauty products and you can be scarred for life. Meanwhile those profiting from the sale, fund drugs rings, prostitution, drug trafficking and worse. And the brands being ripped off? All too often suffer in silence. As can their customers.

Fakes are no longer the domain of luxury goods. And with COVID-19, according to Europol, sales of online fakes are already up 400%. The uninitiated, forced into remote shopping, are being too easily scammed and need help. Week two of lockdown saw 50% of our much-loved client base, most of which are SMEs, pause their subscriptions. We couldn’t blame them. Supply chains were stuck in China. Shops were closed. Staff furloughed. Income non-existent. But sales of fakes proliferate, so there’s the moral dilemma of knowing our technology is much needed versus the financial dilemma that we all need to eat. It turns out, there’s really no choice. Half the team is furloughed to stretch the budget. Those part-time, juggling childcare and home schooling, the first to appreciate the option of being so. I vow (silently) to ensure a working from home allowance rewards the committed for future adventures (and paying the bills of course).

Rachel's dog at the bottom of Arthur's Seat

This morning, pre 6am, I meet yet another iteration of the weekly cash flow forecast. I hate Excel but thankfully our FC is amazing and he makes the spreadsheets sing. Today’s priorities are projections, our weekly leadership team meeting, one of the thrice weekly whole team updates (key points from which are circulated by email to everyone); understanding the new funding options being launched today and applying for whatever is appropriate, following up an enquiry about supplier validation for PPE (which has become a core competence suddenly); ensuring bright, sparking new inventors aiming for crowdfunding have considered what intellectual property they should register and recommending the British Library, the Intellectual Property Office and the European Intellectual Property Office as excellent resources.

An office visit is mandatory: to collect the mail and to run the taps (to avoid legionella and ensure compliance with our landlord’s edict). It’ll be nice to have an additional excuse to get out, other than the dog. Will check in with various mentees, not least those gathered as part of my Entrepreneur in Residence-ship at BIPC Glasgow last year. Life for some is not at all easy and it’s really important that entrepreneurs who live alone are not feeling even more isolated than usual. Then there are our Board papers to circulate, although I suspect the Board is rather tired of my updates, and others’ Board papers to digest for the voluntary boards of which I am part, for later in the week. Groundhog Day should still be only a film.

The highlight will be planning, at some point, deliveries to each and every one of the team to celebrate next week’s announcement that SnapDragon is to receive a Queen’s Award for Innovation. We plan a Zoom party with miniature bottles of fizz delivered to all. Tech businesses are very rarely awarded this accolade. The thought of being able to make this award public spurs me on.

The team celebrate a delighted email from an Australian client as to the efficient identification and removal of a frightening number of fakes professing to be his product. Someone has a birthday and is enjoying the cake I had dispatched from the local baker, who has pivoted from corporate to home deliveries. We discuss topics for the weekly Lunch and Learn, and issue covert instructions for an online gathering at 6pm the following week, eluding the rationale.

Somewhere there needs to be time to wave at the long-suffering family, eat, ignore eight feet of clean washing (I measure it vertically), drink tea, brush my teeth and send virtual hug texts to family and friends. I miss the hugs. Mustn’t forget the food run for isolating next door neighbour. Sanity, such that it is, is necessitated by the dog’s need for a vigorous stride up Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh’s extinct volcano) after breakfast, or round the local golf course, thankfully currently free of calls of ‘fore’. The blossom, birdsong and oddly-coconut-smelling gorse provide all to brief opportunities for the odd deep breath. There isn’t an empty minute. At midnight, I stick a ‘thank you’ note on the dustbin for the refuse team, as no one felt up to drawing a rainbow. 

View from Arthur’s Seat

Postscript Second week of June
SnapDragon Monitoring, the proud recipient of the Queen’s Award for Innovation, is on track. Most of the Dragons are back from furlough working, at least from their kitchens, and planning holidays – which lightens my heart. 

The ergonomic investments in the sitting room have proved their weight in gold. The family has nearly forgiven me (the pile of washing has not).

The business is, almost, overwhelmed with work and positivity: those who paused their services came back much quicker than anticipated, so the counterfeiters are no longer winning; there is a stream of new clients to onboard; the team is happy and healthy; we are planning a socially distanced, super-safe and supportive working environment in the office; the tech sprint is ahead of target.

And my spreadsheet is singing. Onwards.

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