29 April 2022
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
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
12 May 2021
Every quarter, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups chooses a cohort of high-growth businesses to take part in our 10 week programme designed to help business owners re-evaluate their business across areas such as marketing, products and services and business model.
We caught up again with Sian, founder and director of luxury wallpaper business Sian Zeng to see firsthand the impact of the programme on her business. You can read about the first half of her Innovating for Growth journey in the first installment of her diary. Having finished the programme, Sian can now reflect back on what she has discovered and the improvements she has already been able to put into action.
'Since our first post, we’ve now finished the Innovating for Growth Course. And in that time, my team and I have already made so many changes to how we organize ourselves, what we prioritize and how we present our brand.
Before joining the programme, one of my biggest goals was to find out how accurate our financial figures were; our inventory system often failed us and without an accurate stock figure, it was difficult to gain a real insight into how much profit we were making! Up until recently, I’d been keeping our books myself, which was another pressure on my workload and time I could be using elsewhere.
During the course, I was lucky to have two one-to-one Financial Planning Sessions with Suzie Campbell from The White Space Collective. In these sessions, we discussed the issues I was facing with bookkeeping, how I could improve our inventory system, our wholesale profit margins and worked through our cashflow forecast so that we can make an informed decision on which projects to invest in and people to hire going forward.
On the book keeping side, Suzie referred me to a company that was very well suited to our ecommerce business and was able to give advice on installing a good inventory system. We’ve now switched to an accountant that can fulfill our business needs.
As a creative business owner, I’m always tempted by so many projects I could invest in or hiring more help, but seeing the cashflow forecast with Suzie and the advice she gave me, I’m now a lot more strategic when making these decisions. I now know what to prioritize and when to stop an investment if isn’t working.
When it came to my session with Oliver Henderson, I already had several questions I wanted to ask him specific to my sector. Oliver has great research skills and found valuable market information for me to work with.
During my one-to-one with Dave Vann from ABA Design, I came to realize that some of our branding wasn’t translating effectively on our website. Even though our site is very functional and visually compelling, it lacks the storytelling element our brand is known for as a whole. Dave helped me tease out some of the stories I could share on my site, which is something that I hadn’t thought about before.
Next up, I had a marketing session with Izzie Sully from ABA Design. Using Trello, we went through my marketing plan and it was really helpful to visualise and create it in this way. One of the priorities we discussed was developing a CRM system to help create bespoke customer journeys specific to my business. I have now implemented it for our trade customers and have already seen a massive improvement in how we interact with this audience. We feel so much more organized with a system in place.
Both Dean Wilson and Ophelia Spowers from Fluxx were extremely helpful. I enjoyed speaking to Dean because he often questioned my assumptions. I assumed I needed stock of all my patterns in the new magnetic wallpaper material which we would be launching soon. This would have been a very large financial commitment. He was suggesting perhaps if customers were happy to wait for stock in the past then I might be able to print on demand rather than pay everything upfront. This also means I don’t have to wait until all collections are printed before I start launching this material.
We also discussed that we should have more regular and personal communication with our trade partners going forward, to build those relationships and explore how we can work better going forward. It was suggested that I start arranging catch-up calls with our partners and Ophelia was kind enough to draft a list of questions I could ask during these meetings.
I had a session with Robert Foster from Red Ochre at the very beginning of my course and it was there that we set out a series of goals to guide me through this course and beyond. I was happy to see how much I’ve already tackled. We have agreed on a new set of objectives for the next few months for myself and my team, and I am excited to see where else we are able to simplify and streamline our business.
Overall, the Innovating For Growth Programme has made such a big difference to my business. I feel I understand it on a deeper level and know which systems I need to put in place to not only grow faster but ensure I do more of what I love - painting, designing and creating. I’m very grateful to all the experts for the valuable advice and the British Library staff for organising everything so smoothly, especially during these difficult times.
If you are thinking of signing up for this course, I can’t recommend it enough!'
To find out more about Innovating for Growth and to apply for our next cohort, visit bl.uk/grow.
10 August 2020
Meet Sol Ramos, co-founder of London Basketball Nation and Start-ups in London Libraries participant
There were a strange couple of months in 2020 where team sports were essentially non-existent. As they are slowly creeping back to normality, we wanted to celebrate one of the sports businesses who took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme. Here we speak to Sol, co-founder of London Basketball Nation to find out more about her business, how it came into being and her advice for anyone else thinking about starting their own business.
‘We are London Basketball Nation Ltd. We organise basketball tournaments and events related to the sport.
The business came into being after years of unsuccessful attempts to find where to play amateur basketball in London. We started in 2018 with the experience of being unsatisfied customers who could face a challenge. The CEO of the company (and my husband) is the coach of an amateur basketball team. I spent some of my weekends at basketball courts watching games but also listening to almost everyone involved in the activity complaining about the poor quality of the service they were getting. They were paying to do something they loved during the scarce free time they had, and they were having a terrible time! This concern was shared not just by players but by staff working for existing organisations.
What first started as a chat about how bad things were, ended up in more serious talks about how much better things could be, and we took the matter in our own hands. Having experience in the amateur sports sector and a multidisciplinary team on board was really helpful. We got the support of two experienced officials that have been giving valuable insight from day one.
I have a background in Management and I get easily bored. I was motivated by the challenge but also by the potential results. Seeing people doing what they love and making that possible is very satisfying. As someone who has several hobbies herself, I can also identify with our customers.
There was little to no information available online about related services so we conducted some research, talking to other teams and players about what they wanted. They were all looking for the same: good venues, but above all, sensible people behind the activity. We thought of offering an “all-inclusive” format (fixture, staff, venue, etc) – from the players’ perspective, they then just had to be there and do what they do best.
We set up a company (just in case “it worked”) in March 2019 and organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give us a chance and we ended up organising a 7-month tournament for adult men (18+) afterwards. We are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division. We celebrated our first year as a company in March 2019.
I found out about the SiLL project thanks to a British Library newsletter around September 2019 and registered for the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop that was taking place in December. My SME Champion, Loretta, got in touch with me to know a bit more about the business and I shyly accepted a meeting. She talked me through the Business & IP Centre services for new businesses. I was amazed by the number of resources and support given to entrepreneurs.
SiLL helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. It provided us with key insights and added value to our service. This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK, as well as networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that it can be not just overwhelming, but also misleading. The SiLL project served as a guide.
I would have loved to have known about the project from day one as I think it would have saved me tonnes of time and work.
Coronavirus has, of course, been a huge challenge. With people not being able to gather in groups and the basketball courts being closed, we have been forced to stop our operations during this period. It really is just me and my husband running the business alongside other jobs right now, and so we have had a real split focus over the past months.
However, it has given us some space to focus on our brand and the digital aspect of the business. My husband is a web developer and he was able to dedicate time to work on the website and to bring more functionalities on board. We are also currently working on LBN Courts, a portal to find and rate outdoor basketball courts. We think this will help players to get back in shape - both physically and mentally - whilst encouraging people to make the of their local facilities (and that way, diminishing the use of public transport). The portal will not only show the location of courts, but it will allow players to rate their features, and to organise training groups - always according to the latest government advice of course.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of the Greenwich business community. Loretta’s insights and support are invaluable. She is a connector, she puts together ideas to create new things, and people to make them come to life. She is always happy to have a one-to-one to talk about the progress of the business, and she makes sure I keep up to date by sending training and promotion opportunities. Not to mention she has such good energy! I am deeply thankful for her support.
I have learnt so much from starting up my own business – the main one being that everything takes at least double the time and the money than you expected/calculated, especially admin work! Reaching people is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re new in the game.
However, it has also given me lots of advice that I would p[ass onto anyone else thinking about starting their own business:
- Do your research: know the market, the customers and the competence.
- Someone has already done it: maybe not exactly what you are thinking about doing, but someone has already walked the steps to set up a business. Someone has already made the mistakes and reached success. Use it and share it.
- Be organised and have a plan: Having a plan, even a vague one, and keeping records of things you want and what you are doing to get them is really helpful. It’ll keep you focused, and with time it’ll give you information to analyse and understand what happened and why, and identify what can be improved.
- Be responsive: reply to everything (emails, calls, social media messages, etc) as soon as possible.
- Do not assume anything. It is better to talk about things rather than thinking they are a certain way. Ask for confirmation, repeat things, write down dates and meeting notes.
- You can’t make everyone like you or what you do, and there’s no point in trying to do it. Focus on providing a good service and listen to feedback, let your actions speak louder than words.
- You can’t control everything. Deal with it.
- You can do much more than you think.
- Just start!’
If you’re interested in joining the online Start-ups in London Libraries webinars and workshops, you can find all of the information at bl.uk/SiLL.
08 July 2020
Ahmad is the founder of Baracat Bros, an app company that builds games with hidden educational value. He took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme and is part of our SiLL community in Greenwich. We spoke to him about his business and his Start-ups in London Libraries journey.
Tell us about your business. Why did you start it up?
We believe games offer a unique channel to deliver educational messages and foster learning because of their interactive and engaging nature. Yet, many of the popular mobile games are designed for entertainment purposes and the educational games on the market lack engagement and the fun factor. We wanted to address that. We try to create edu-games, which are fun, engaging and educational.
We rely on academic research in the Science of Learning field, which uses cognitive-science research on how students learn, and uses that knowledge to offer practical actions to improve teaching, to guide the design of our games.
From a personal perspective, we believe that working in a corporate environment is not for everyone and, for us, starting up a business was a viable option to gain more freedom over which problems we wanted to solve and how to approach them.
How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?
I attended 3 sessions as part of the programme and it helped me gain the needed confidence to set up my business. The workshops also really helped to equip the attendees - I came out of the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning.
What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?
Meeting like-minded people who were trying to build their own businesses. It was eye-opening to see the diversity of their backgrounds as well as their business ideas.
Loretta [our Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Business Champion] is building a business community for people who want to pursue their own businesses and need the practical knowledge and the support network to do so successfully. I really believe that such communities are invaluable for anyone building their own business.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?
Make sure to invest time in building a circle of like-minded people, it really helps when things get tough and you need people to share your experiences with.
I really can’t stress enough having a support network that understand what it takes to start a business and how to navigate the space. I would highly recommend going to the Start-ups in London Libraries’ workshops as they will equip them with a support network and practical advice on how to start a business in the UK.
I would also highly recommend preparing oneself psychologically and mentally that building a business takes time and that there are usually no shortcuts to getting it to be profitable other than putting in the hard work.
What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?
When you are starting a business, the main way to think about it is how you are solving valuable problems for customers - the main way to figure out such problems is to actively talk to customers and potential customers. Once a valuable problem is identified, it becomes relatively easy to iterate on a potential solution.
What’s next for you and your business?
A few days ago, Foodology, a game Baracat Bros' created in 2 weeks to help people learn about food, was featured on ProductHunt (the go-to platform for launching new products)
16 June 2020
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
10 June 2020
Last year, Salma Attan decided it was time to turn her hobby into her livelihood and started her beekeeping business Bushwood Bees. She maintains hives on the roof of the East London Mosque, making honey and other bee-based products from her local source. On top of this, Salma offers paid beekeeping courses to beginners and provides guidance to experienced beekeepers. Here she discusses what convinced her to make that transition to business-owner, where the Start-ups in London Libraries' workshops fit into her journey and how she is dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on her business.
Both myself and my husband had been hobbysist beekeepers for 10 years. It got to where our hobby had expanded to the point that it felt like so much more than that. I had been appointed Essex Bee Health Officer, I had been teaching and mentoring new beekeepers as well as raising healthy local colonies of bees through our local Epping Forest Beekeepers Association.
Now that my children were older, the idea of starting up a business seemed more realistic. I also seemed to have more and more friends, family and neighbours knocking on my door wanting a few jars of honey and asking why I don’t sell online or have a shop! So there was certainly the demand, but was this enough to risk a start-up business? I didn’t think so. Honey was not going to pay the bills! However, the question naturally came up: why not use my skills for myself? And get a wage out of it? I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather than importing, so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more of a motivation than anything else.
In the early stages of asking myself “Is this really such a good idea?”, I took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops which made me realise that, actually, it was. The plan was sound, I had the beekeeping skills to execute the practical aspects of my idea and with the SiLL workshops I could focus on the practicalities of starting up a business.
The one area I seemed to have zero skills was technology! This is where Sarah [the Waltham Forest Business Champion] was a great help. She was happy to meet and give me plenty of ideas on how to get started. Sarah also let me know about where to get further free help to improve my use of social media in terms of business promotion – this is something I’m still learning but less anxious about. Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise. After talking to Sarah, I settled on the name Bushwood Bees and registered my business under this name, an exciting first step after all the ooing and umming!
I set up my 'Beekeeping Experience Days' on both Eventbrite and Airbnb. I also agreed dates with the East London Mosque about hosting my Beginner Beekeeping Courses and listed them on Eventbrite. The website with the online shop was also set up and although it did take considerable time, eventually all my courses/experiences and website went live.
I also decided to give some free beekeeping talks in order to promote Bushwood Bees and all that was on offer. We worked with the council to arrange a schedule of workshops and talks, including family/child friendly workshops every day of the May half term at a different Waltham Forest Library.
Then came along COVID-19 and everything had to be cancelled. All the talks and workshops, the courses and experience days suddenly came to a halt. I did wonder if this was possibly the worst year to start a business! But this was clearly something I had no control over so no point complaining. It was a case of concentrating on what we could do in the business. Fortunately, as bees are livestock, the lockdown rules meant I was obliged, and indeed encouraged, to continue beekeeping. This meant I was able to take orders for rearing and selling colonies of locally produced honeybees. This has not been to the same capacity as it would have - had the courses been running, obviously the bulk of new customers would have come from those we would have been teaching this year - but I can't complain.
The other silver lining of the lockdown rules is the number of new honey customers I have gained. With regular grocery shopping becoming so difficult, it seems many people were looking online and locally for buying produce. After a few mentions on Facebook our lovely local community realised there was local quality honey on their doorstep. As the Ucraft have an Ekwid shop attached, customers could order and pay online and then collect from my doorstep during their daily walk or grocery shop. I was able to provide a completely contactless service and many of these customers helped to spread the word about Bushwood Bees.
Some of the talks we had planned have moved online, including one that was meant to be in Leytonstone Library. This seemed to work well and raised awareness of the business. We've also put up videos of myself and my husband beekeeping and sharing little tips and tricks for the beekeeping community. As my husband is also a beekeeper we are in the very fortunate position to be able to film each other beekeeping without breaking lockdown rules. This has also allowed us to continue offering support through our local beekeeping association and we have had further sales through this voluntary role.
In terms of my advice for anyone thinking of starting a business, make sure you have the support of your family! I could not have taken the first steps without the support of my husband. Think through your idea carefully and realistically. Then go for it.
I've also learnt that things do not always run smoothly! I expected things to go wrong (and they did sometimes) but told myself it’s all part of the journey and an opportunity to improve.
And hasn't 2020 been an example of that?! It has been an unprecedented year and a completely different turn of events in terms of my business plan. Planning is one thing, reality is something else altogether! But we have a lot of hope for 2021.
04 May 2020
Missing our collections and the lovely members of the team who can help you navigate your way through them? Following on from the book recommendations from our BIPC entrepreneurs for World Book Night last week, we also asked our BIPC team for any suggestions of books, podcasts or online content which you may want to explore during this period. Here are their suggestions of what to get stuck into:
Meron, Business and IP Reference Specialist
In terms of books, She Means Business by Carrie Green is great – it’s insightful, gets you into a 'success' mindset and has amazing 'actions' at the end of every chapter.
For podcasts, I really like Start-up Stories by Andrew Warner. You get to hear the stories of many amazing entrepreneurs, through all the ups and downs. It’s very useful for visualising how you can overcome struggles yourself.
The Influencer Podcast is also very good. It is shorter, which I like, and Julie Solomon covers some great topics that would help any entrepreneur at any stage.
Lola, Subject Librarian in the Business & IP Centre
Testing business ideas: a field guide for rapid experimentation by David J. Bland/Alex Osterwalder. This book explains how systematically testing business ideas dramatically reduces the risk and increases the likelihood of success for any new venture or business project. The visuals/designs make the book fun to read and easy to understand.
Plus, you can find more information on business ideas at https://startups.co.uk/business-ideas/.
Crafts have surged during this period and as a result Crafts Magazine has selected a range of craft-related podcasts to inspire and inform you.
And then if you discover an undiscovered talent that could be the basis of a business, the winner of the Best Start-Up Inspiration Book Award at the 2019 Business Book Awards, The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business: How to Turn Your Talent into a Career by Harriet Kelsall takes you through the very first steps of defining creative and financial success to ultimately establishing a rewarding start-up.
Neil, Manager of Business & IP Centre
A couple of oldies but goodies that I recommend are:
- Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick
- What would Google do? by Jeff Jarvis
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- Soul Trader by Rasheed Ongalaru
- The Name of the Beast by Neil Taylor
Loretta, Start-ups in London Libraries Champion, Greenwich
In terms of business podcasts that I recommend for people to listen to I would suggest:
- Hustle – I have to admit to a vested interest here, as I host this myself with my co-host Farah, but we aim to focus on exploring the business journeys, trials and wins of underrepresented entrepreneurs.
- Championing Women’s Voices hosted by June Sarpong
- Nick Bradley’s Scale Up Your Business
- Lead to win with Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller
I also think Andyshvc (a startup investment coach) is great to follow on Instagram.
Nigel, Research and Business Dev Manager
Two that are worth mentioning, particularly at this moment in time are:
- Value proposition design by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Gregory Bernarda, Alan Smith - a very useful approach to assessing changing needs and priorities at a time of massive disruption and developing products and services that meet these needs. Also an effective process for assessing and revising existing business developments. Feels very topical!
- Lean customer development: building products your customers will buy by Cindy Alvarez – this showcases really practical approaches to engaging with customers to find out how their needs and experiences are changing.
Gloria, National Network Co-ordinator Apprentice
There's a book I recently read She's Back by Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan. It's aimed at women who had taken a break in their career (mostly because of motherhood, but also for those who took a break later in life for any other reason). It’s very uplifting and has plenty of resources and practical tips.
Mark, Start-ups in London Libraries Champion, Lewisham
In terms of books – everyone should read Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I would also recommend following the Financial Times and Bloomberg on Instagram.
Alex, BIPC Sheffield
There are some good podcasts coming from Courier at the moment, especially in reaction to the current situation.
Remi, Business Programmes Manager
I have so many recommendations:
- Profit First by Mike Michalowicz – I think this is a must read for any business. It will have you thinking about finance and operating your business with an exit plan from day dot.
- Any book by by Seth Godin – he makes all businesses think a little further outside of the box.
- The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick – a book on how to talk to customers and figure if your business is a good idea when everyone else is lying to you. For me, this is an absolute must-read before investing into your business.
In terms of podcasts, I like Founders Clinic by Andy Ayim and Nana Parry – a podcast where underrepresented entrepreneurs openly and honestly discuss their companies.
Vanesa, Innovating for Growth Project Manager
I recently watched a Netflix TV series called Self Made about Madam C. J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in America. She was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. She was also a black lady which back in the 1900s in the US adds even more merit to what she achieved. It's still so topical, it even covers the struggles for women to get funding! I found it very inspirational, so if you were looking for something to watch these days, I strongly recommend it.
Clare, Strategic Partnerships Manager
Some of our BIPC Ambassadors have been involved in some great content. For example, Paul Lindley's book, Little Wins is very apt for current times. Plus, our Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie Deane was interviewed for the BBC podcast The Disruptors. Her discussion with Kamal Ahmed and Rohan Silva really was a great piece - she was on top brutally honest form!
26 April 2020
The world is waiting for a breakthrough. Global attention is on the discovery and manufacture of an effective vaccine against Covid-19. Today is also World Intellectual Property day, so right now, all intellectual property (IP) related to treatments and vaccines is of intense interest.
And this is where it gets interesting and complicated.
There are some big questions about what existing and emerging IP can be deployed to create a vaccine to help solve the Covid-19 crisis and how that is done within the existing laws protecting IP.
Though one thing about finding a solution is clear, there is no single government or company that has all the know-how or answers. Some form of working collaboration between government, research institutions and private industry will be required. And this may even need to be international.
So agreements around IP rights will be key to how a vaccine is developed.
Out of all the five forms of Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, design right, copyright, trade secrets) recognised around the world, developments in patents and trade secrets are taking centre stage.
So why patents?
A patent is granted by a government authority (we’ll see why this is important) to an inventor giving them the right for a limited time (usually 20 years) to prevent others from making, using or selling the invention. Patents must meet two important criteria; it must be an innovative step on what has gone before and not disclosed.
Many vaccines are made up of multiple patents because a vaccine itself is a biological preparation containing differing ingredients. How those different ingredients are composed is the innovation and therefore where the patents sit.
As a form of intellectual property, patents can be sold or licensed to others to the benefit of the owner. Patent rights can also be waived if the inventor so chooses.
Could these rights then be waived in the interests of speedily creating a vaccine? And would companies do this voluntarily? The big issue for them is the cost incurred in developing those patents licenced for use in a vaccine and this may prove to be too great a disincentive.
Governments may also look at their options.
Governments and IP
One extreme scenario are compulsory licences. Because patents are a state granted right, governments under exceptional circumstances can, if they choose, assert rights over ownership and manufacture to third parties.
In fact a number of countries are actively pursuing this route. Among them Germany, Canada, Chile and Israel. Other provisions are covered under UK law for the use of patented inventions for services to the Crown. The question is whether this provision will need to be called upon.
And what company would even want to be named as having their IP requisitioned?
It would also be assumed that such exceptional intervention would involve some compensation to patent holders.
So might companies and research institutions voluntarily share information?
This is where another form of IP is crucial in the hunt for a vaccine against Covid-19; trade secrets. This IP is as simple as it sounds. Companies in the course of their activities may acquire know-how that gives them a competitive advantage. This know-how is so important that knowledge of it is protected and bound by confidentiality to those working with it.
Companies and research institutions working in drug and vaccine discovery work with multiple forms of trade secrets.
Patents alone won’t resolve the challenge of creating a vaccine, there need to be trade secrets such as gene sequencing, manufacturing methodology and a whole host of other forms of data required in vaccine development that may even include business modeling and pricing.
Therefore companies and institutions will have knowledge that will need to be voluntarily revealed in any form of collaboration and I'd expect under specific conditions of agreement.
And some are moving in this direction.
Collaboration is Key
Recent discussion of creating a patent pool of shared patents to help in the fight against Covid-19 has gained some traction. The Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada has initiated the call for a medicines patent pool available for free or licensed on reasonable terms, as well as the sharing of other data. This has been endorsed by the WHO.
So much is happening in the fight against Covid-19 that a complete list of current collaborations across the world has been produced and can be found on the Milken Institute who are compiling all the current treatments and vaccines in the pipeline.
Another organisation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) is an ‘innovative global partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil society organisations’. This overseeing body is co-ordinating funding and deploying it. CEPI has helped fund the recent Oxford University vaccine.
They are also collaborating with GlaxoSmithKline who own the patent to an important adjuvant to enhance the effectiveness of any vaccine.
CEPI is an example of how public, individual, research institutions and the private sector are coalescing and co-ordinating their responses to Covid-19. The fruits of this provide some cause for optimism for finding a workable vaccination that benefits all contributors.It’s an indication of where we may be heading in terms of how IP is shared in such unusual times.
‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’ couldn’t be truer in our urgent need to find a vaccine against Covid-19. And the way will require a significant collaboration of IP, public and private interest. Something the world will hope for more of this World IP Day.
Jeremy O’Hare is an Information Expert in Intellectual Property at the British Library.
02 March 2020
We asked Briffa, a boutique IP law firm based at the Business Design Centre in Islington, who are specialist IP lawyers and Business & IP Centre delivery partners, to unravel the confusion and complexities around IP…
IP is like spaghetti. A big tangled mess. We frequently hear people say things like “I want to trade mark my idea!” (you can’t) or “how do I patent my business model?” (you can’t) or “I paid you to design something, so surely I own the copyright!?” (not necessarily). It’s only when we untangle the spaghetti and get to grips with the individual rights that sit underneath that umbrella term that we can hope to discover how intellectual property can be used to protect the fruits of our creative labour. So here are a few basics to get started:
What is intellectual property?
Intellectual Property, or IP, is an umbrella term we use to describe a collection of rights which, broadly speaking, allow people to control the use of their creations. The common thread that runs through all IP rights is that their value derives, in part at least, from the ability of the IP owner to exercise monopoly control over what they have created. Or, to put it another way, to stop someone else from using their stuff.
What are the main IP rights?
The four main statutory IP rights are:
- Copyright - which allows the creators of literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other creative works to prevent third parties from copying or otherwise using their works without authorisation
- Trade marks - which allow the owners of brand assets such as names, logos, slogans and jingles to prevent competitors from using those brand assets without authorisation
- Design rights - which allow product designers to prevent others from using their designs without authorisation
- Patents - which allow inventors to prevent others from using their inventions without authorisation.
How do I get these IP rights?
There are two main categories of IP rights, registrable and unregistrable. As the name suggests, registrable IP rights are rights that require registration in order to secure protection. Conversely, registration is neither necessary nor possible in the case of unregistrable rights. Instead, those rights simply arise automatically.
What are the registrable rights?
The main registrable rights are:
- Trade marks
- Registered designs.
In the case of these three rights, protection normally starts from the date the application is filed (not the date the registration process is completed, which in the case of trade marks might be a number of months after the application is filed and in the case of patents might be a number of years after the application is filed). Patent protection normally lasts for 20 years and renewal payments must normally be made annually to maintain the patent.
Trade mark protection lasts forever provided that renewal payments are made every 10 years.
Registered design rights last for a maximum of 25 years and renewal payments must be made every five years.
What are the unregistrable rights?
The main two unregistrable rights are copyright and design rights. In the case of UK unregistered rights (copyright and UK unregistered design rights) protection arises automatically from the moment of creation, usually in favour of the creator. Copyright usually lasts until 70 years after the death of the creator of the work (though the term of protection is shorter for some categories of work). UK unregistered design rights last for 15 years from the date the design is created or 10 years from the date the design is first made public, whichever occurs first. EU unregistered designs rights last for 3 years from the date the design is first made public in the EU.
Copyright protection ‘usually’ arises in favour of the creator? Huh?
Yes, the default position under English copyright law is that the creator of a work is the first and automatic owner of the copyright in that work. However, there is a major statutory exception to that rule. If the creator of that work is acting in the course of their employment, then copyright rests automatically with the employer and not the employee. In many cases, an employment contract will contain an IP clause confirming that the employer and not the employee will own any IP created or developed by the employee in the course of their employment.
But surely if I pay someone to design my logo I own the copyright, no?
Not necessarily. As above, the default position is that the creator of a work owns the copyright in that work unless they are an employee acting in the course of their employment. So if you pay a freelance artist to design a logo, no, you will not necessarily own the copyright in the logo (even if you have paid them). Depending on the circumstances, you may have an implied right (licence) to use the copyright but an implied licence is not the same as full ownership and if you want to secure full ownership of the copyright in your logo you must have a written copyright assignment signed by the artist.
What about ideas generally? How are those protected?
IP rights generally do not protect ideas. They protect the expression of ideas. For example:
- Copyright protects artistic works (i.e. the physical expression or manifestation of an idea such as a photograph of a bridge taken at sunset), but it does not protect the idea or concept behind the artistic work (i.e. the idea of taking a photograph of a bridge at sunset)
- Design rights protect the appearance of products (i.e. the shape and surface decoration on a piece of furniture), but they do not protect the idea or concept behind the appearance of the product (e.g. a rustic style or a modern style of furniture)
- Patents protect inventive products and processes (i.e. a new technical invention for automatically locking a car using a sensor), but they do not protect the idea or concept behind the invention (e.g. the idea of having cars lock automatically upon a sensor going out of range of a vehicle)
- Trade marks protect specific brand identifiers (i.e. a particular word, logo, strapline, colour or shape that customers use to identify the brand), but they do not protect the idea or concept behind the brand identifier (a particular style adopted by a range of brand identifiers).
So there is no way to protect an idea or concept?
The best way to protect an idea or a concept is to keep it confidential and control its disclosure by ensuring that anyone you share the idea or concept with signs a non-disclosure agreement (or NDA) which contractually precludes them from sharing the information publicly or taking the information and using it for their own purpose. A famous example of information which has retained its value by virtue of its confidentiality is the recipe for Coca-Cola. Its value does not derive from the fact that that the recipe is patented, or from any other registration. Its value derives from the fact that it is a very closely guarded trade secret.
What about ‘taking inspiration’ from someone else’s work? Does that infringe their IP?
Big question, short answer. It depends. All IP rights have different legal test for what constitutes infringement and these different legal tests therefore determine the scope of protection afforded to the IP owner. So let’s take a look at two examples: infringement of copyright and infringement of registered design rights.
Infringement of copyright
The test for infringement under English law is whether or not the alleged infringer has copied the ‘whole or a substantial part’ of the original copyright work. If the whole or a substantial part of the actual original work has been copied (e.g. the specific artistic pattern) then there is a likely a case to be made for copyright infringement. If the whole or a substantial part of the original work has not been taken (e.g. the specific pattern has not been copied but only the concept/idea/style of the pattern has been taken) then it is less likely that there is a case to be made for copyright infringement.
Infringement of registered design rights
The test for infringement under English law is whether or not the alleged infringer has created a product which creates ‘the same overall impression’ as the earlier registered design. If it does (e.g. the two pieces of furniture create the same overall impression from the perspective of an informed user e.g. a furniture enthusiast) then there is likely a case to be made for design infringement. If it does not (e.g. the two pieces of furniture are somewhat similar but they do not create the same overall impression such that an informed user e.g. a furniture enthusiast would very easily tell them apart) then it is less likely that there is a case to be made for design infringement.
So I might get into trouble by simply taking inspiration from the world around me? Madness!
Well, the first point to bear in mind is that in these situations the specific facts of the case are crucially important.
With copyright, a court would look at the most creative/important bits of the earlier design. If those bits have been copied, the court might find that the infringement claim is made out (even if those most creative/important bits only make up a minority of the overall earlier design i.e. the test for copyright infringement is more qualitative than quantitative).
Similarly, with design infringement, the court would look at the things like any existing designs, which might be very similar to the earlier design. If there are lots of similar designs out there, the scope of protection of the earlier design will be narrower (i.e. limited to the differences between all the other similar designs); whereas if there are not, and therefore the earlier design is quite unusual/novel, the scope of protection will be broader.
In the final analysis, it is better to be inspired by concepts, themes and/or ideas if possible, and to develop a new creative work based on those concepts, themes and/or ideas. If you start by copying an existing creative work and modifying it here and there in an attempt to put distance between the old work and the new work, you run the risk of incorporating into the new design elements from the old design which will quite obviously be the result of copying rather than coincidence.
My head hurts, what now?
IP is not just like spaghetti, it’s a veritable spaghetti monster with issues too complex for Oprah. My advice: take advice. The British Library’s Business & IP Centre offers a wealth of advice and resources to businesses and individuals who are trying to wrap their head around their IP. Take a look at the website to find out more.
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