In through the outfield blog

27 posts categorized "Business"

19 May 2011

The BBC's "Britain's next big thing" TV series

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I've been watching the BBC TV series Britain's next big thing. It's about inventors and designers trying to get their ideas accepted as products by retailers.

The retailers are Liberty, the arts and crafts department store in London; Boots, the chemist retailer with thousands of outlets; and Habitat, a smallish home furnishings chain.

I enjoy programmes which show the real business world, and how tough it is. Naivety has no place -- making a realistic business plan, which should include analysing your strengths and weaknesses, is vital. Lots of good things came out of the interviews where pitches were made for potential products, including the "price point" problem -- a store might say that a product will only sell at a certain price, which might be below the actual cost to the designer.

Theo Paphitis, who is well known from Dragons' Den, is the presenter, and is himself heavily involved in retail. I liked his ordering boxes to be taken away in a warehouse to show how much of the money paid for a product has to be paid out in rent, business rates, to staff, etc. Little, typically, is left at the end as profit.

I also liked his saying that many people who are hoping that their ideas will be accepted don't know the product, don't know the market, and won't listen to feedback.

As usual I looked for published patent documents among the many people profiled.

There was for example Una Tucker of Brockley, London with her handheld massage device, the Massage device set, illustrated here.

Massage device set 

There was Shamus Husheer's DuoFertility, his method of recording tiny differences in a woman's body temperature so that she is alerted to the right time to try to get pregnant. He and his product impressed the Boots buyers greatly. His company is Cambridge Temperature Concepts, founded by Cambridge academics like himself. His Temperature sensor structure patent application looks relevant.

And then there's Russ Leith of Bedfordshire with his "gravitational geometrical incline clamping" device, if I heard it right, which is a one-legged "ledge" that sits in a corner. His A shelf or stand device was applied for as a patent in 2001 (it now has UK and US patents), but not one has, he says, been sold. Here is the main drawing showing the concept.

Russ Leith ledge invention 

There's one final episode next Tuesday. At present UK residents can watch the first six episodes on iplayer (until the 31 May). They should be watched in sequence as people keep turning up in later episodes with news of their progressing in getting their product accepted (or not). 

05 May 2011

BBC's The Apprentice: Tom Pellereau, inventor

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Series 7 of the BBC's The Apprentice starts on 10 May and will include an inventor, Tom Pellereau, as one of the candidates.

This show's mixture of business and, to be frank, entertainment has been very popular. Each week one is eliminated by Lord Sugar until the last one standing gets to work with him. Usually one or two of the weekly challenges involve inventing a product, so it is apt that an inventor is one of the candidates. As far as I am aware it is the first time that has happened.

I learnt from a newspaper article that one of the candidates claimed to have invented the first curved nail file. A little research showed that this was Tom Pellereau, 31, from London.

I have traced three published inventions by him, all by Thomas Pellereau.

In 2004 when living in Alresford, Hampshire he applied for his Curved manicure or pedicure device. The document claims that previous attempts at curved nail files damage the nail or only permit one side of the file to be used. The drawing does not at first seem to tell us much:

Nail file patent drawing 
The drawing shows a side view, of course. As the amount of curvature varies, the user instinctively uses the most appropriate part of it for any part of the nail.  Pellereau adds that it is aesthetically pleasing and easy to hold. A granted British patent exists for it.

In 2006 he applied for a Container with flexible helical member. Here is the main drawing.

Container with flexible helical member patent drawing 

The patent description states "There is provided a container, suitable for use with a linear non- planar object, comprising a flexible helical member for partially or substantially surrounding the object, the helical member having at least one connection means at least [to] one of its ends." So that's clear. This means that it can be curled over a rounded object, and a keyring for example can be fastened to the helix. The description is interesting if, for me at least, hard to follow.

Then in 2007 he and Matthew Driver applied for A nursing bottle assembly and a reusable liner therefor. Here is the main drawing.

Nursing bottle patent drawing 
The "ribs" (2) are a container which can collapse in a predictable fashion along its long axis. It is enclosed within a rigid outer casing. The idea of a (disposable) collapsible inner container was not new (they prevent the babies from ingesting air), but the patent document points out problems with previous attempts, and claims to have solved them.

The Daily Mail has an article showing photos of the candidates with some comments by or on each of them. Pellereau normally wears spectacles, but says that "underneath these glasses is a core of steel". I wish them all the best of luck. 

03 December 2010

The UK's Independent Review of IP and Growth

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The British Government has launched an Independent Review of IP and Growth, which will report on recommendations in April 2011. The Review has its own website.

Its remit is to see how the IP system can promote growth in the economy, particularly in entrepreneurship. Barriers to growth are to be identified, with suggestions for overcoming them, with a particular focus on "new business models appropriate to the digital age".

Ian Hargreaves, a professor of digital economy from Cardiff, will chair the Review. An expert panel will be appointed to help him. In December a consultation document will be published which will ask for comments, and meetings with interested parties will take place from January. There will be a blog, and even a Twitter account. The emphasis on the site is that the Review will be both independent and open-minded.

30 November 2010

IP Healthcheck

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The UK Intellectual Property Office has launched an IP Healthcheck page. It is free but you have to register.

Many companies are poorly informed about the intellectual property owned by the company. They may know about the patents, registered designs and registered trade marks they have, or perhaps they do not have any. Are they aware of the automatic rights they have such as copyright, design right, unregistered trade marks and trade secrets ? The idea is to get companies to answer questions so that they become more aware of the intellectual property they actually possess. 

A confidential report is sent back once the questions are answered. Inevitably this cannot be sophisticated, but at least it is a start for companies that simply don't know where to start. The knowledge of what they have can be used to gain a commercial advantage or to get financing, for example.

The links on the left hand side of the page are very useful as they list many sources of further help such as advisors and libraries that specialise in intellectual property. There are also links to business support publications such as non-disclosure agreements (also called confidentiality agreements).

In my experience a lack of awareness of contracts and non-disclosure agreements is often the biggest problems for start-ups who simply don't know where to start. Rather than talking to other companies and making verbal agreements I suggest that they first start asking for help on strategy from advisors. For example, here in London the British Library offers free one-hour Business & IP information clinics, where staff talk on a "one to one" basis to those planning to start up a business.

18 March 2009

Consultation on fees by UK IPO

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The UK Intellectual Property Office is consulting about fees for obtaining trade marks and, to some extent, patents, and other matters. For example a reduced fee if applicants file electronically and eanbling trade mark applicants to ask for help by telephone while filling in the application form.

More details are given in the consultation which also explains about how to respond. Anyone can comment, with the deadline being the 1 June.

06 January 2009

The IEEE Spectrum Patents Scorecard

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There have been quite a few attempts to measure patent strength or productivity for countries or companies. One I hadn't seen before is the 2008 IEEE Spectrum Patents Scorecard.

It takes American patents granted in 2007 and ranks the top 20 companies within 17 technology areas for their "overall patent power", using formulae explained at the bottom of the table. It's always interesting to see new ideas in measuring patents.

Rather confusingly, the page opens with the table for the aerospace category and you have to click on other sectors to see their own top twenty. Having a lot of patents isn't crucial to get a good score (have a look at the pharmaceuticals sector, where a small British company is second). 

The site has an interesting article, Patent prowess, discussing some highlights from the data, which was analysed by 1790Analytics.

17 December 2007

Duncan Bannatyne of Dragons' Den

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I've just finished reading Duncan Bannatyne's autobiography, Anyone can do it. It makes the world of business seem very easy: just a few calculations on the back of an envelope, apparently.

Duncan is known to many as the Scottish dragon on Dragons' Den. Inventors or entrepreneurs deliver sales pitches asking for money in return for a share of the equity in the business. I'd noticed how he is a man of few words, obviously good at maths (unlike, sadly, some of those doing the asking), and skeptical about many inventions. At least, he does seem prone to bury head in hands when hearing some pitches, bragging perhaps about huge sales projections.

His own background is in services. Instead of the risks of a new product, his career has been in replicating high quality services, which involve dealing with people, where payment was by direct debit, and, preferably,  where there were government guarantees. OK, so ice cream selling doesn't fully fit this model, but the next ventures did: care homes, day care nurseries, and fitness clubs. There were government grants for the first two. He likes a 33% return annually on his investment, and watches the pennies.

I loved his stories about the series. There was cardboard beach furniture, where he asked what happened when it rains. He was told by the inventor (with a look of hatred, he states) that he was stupid, people don't go to the beach in the rain. He persisted: what happened when a child came out of the sea and sat in one of the chairs ? The reply was to keep the child under discipline. As so often, the inventor assumed that the product would only be used in perfect conditions.

She had spent Ā£60,000 on intellectual property rights. I believe that this is the Portable article of furniture invention, where lightweight items collapse down to fit in a bag. Here is the main drawing.

First page clipping image

Then there was the Baby Dream Machine, published as a Rocking Device (to nod babies off to sleep), where the 50% of the company that Duncan was offered for Ā£200,000 turned out to be 8% of the royalties, as most of the equity had been sold off. Here is the main drawing.

First page clipping image

I often ask inventors in talks if they ever watch the programme. About half do: to the other half I say, this is the kind of hard questioning that backers will use. Why should anyone risk their money for a poorly worked out idea ? Think about the motives of the person sitting opposite you.

All in all, a great read.

19 November 2007

The UK's official trade mark database

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As of today, there is a new look to, and new features in, the (free) official British database of registered trade marks. It contains both national marks and those international marks (Community, and Madrid Agreement Protocol) which apply to the UK.

Besides incorporating the former beta search option, it includes some other useful features. I will describe them in order as you move down the search page (much the best thing to do, to avoid error messages). Helpful advice is given in the right hand margin.

Searches will be assumed to be for words alone (and not images such as an owl or mountain) unless this is altered in the box at the top of the search page. Images, or images and words, can be selected.

Next you select any words wanted. The search will default to the maximum found, "contains string", unless altered. Hence a search for "teruni" will find Manchester United. This was the beta feature.

Next you select the images, a new feature. This is based on the Vienna Classification. You click open three successive boxes to drill down to a specific class. Hence mountains would be found by asking category 06, Landscapes, and then 01, to make 06.01. A further image class can be requested.

Next the Nice Class can be requested. This is the area of activity in goods or services. The Classification link in the left hand margin offers an excellent, in-house tool for identifying possible classes.

Finally you can limit the search by filing date or by status (registered, applied for and so on). Only registered, applied for and recently lapsed applications will be present.

The hit lists are presented in an attractive manner, with any images present appearing even if a word search was requested. A search for Paramount as a word together with Vienna class 06.01 gave me 19 results, some looking rather unusual. A useful feature is that you can add specific marks to a "picking list" for later study. I would encourage running different searches (by spelling, or by criteria requested) to build up a list, rather than a too hasty one-off search.

All this makes quite a useful package. It is important, though, that users are aware of what is lacking. The Companies House database should also be searched to look for similar marks among registered company names. A search for proprietors (owners of marks) will give, as explained, only those in the UK system. And inevitably, there will be bugs in the system.

Lots of information on trade marks is given by the UK Intellectual Property Office.