Could 2021 be a year of inventions? After all, necessity is said to be the mother of invention and that was certainly the case when so many of Britain’s greatest engineering companies came together to develop new ventilators to help the NHS during the Covid crisis.
While 2020 was hell for many – others seized the opportunity (brought on perhaps by the time released through furlough or redundancy) to develop what had been just glimmers of ideas.
But while an idea for a product or service might be clever, or even unique – that’s just the start. What other legal considerations must a would-be inventor take into account?
We asked Concept-IP to talk us through the issues.
Concept IP, based in Cheltenham and Wotton-under-Edge, was founded in 2019 by Danny Butler, who was previously been Head of IP at Airbus UK and Florian Bazant-Hegemark who had worked with one of Europe’s largest IP firms for a decade. The firm also works with a number of consultants who can handle matters outside of its own technical areas (for example chemistry).
Since the company launched it has seen a steam stream of enquiries. One of its clients, BrainBerry Ltd, is a start-up that developed a dementia scoring tool (similar to a computer game) and found that its regular use measurably slows down cognitive decline. Another one of its clients, Turbulence Solutions, found a way to dampen effects from turbulences on aircraft, which has the potential to revolutionise air travel – and immeasurably improve the working lives of cabin crew. No more sickbags in small aircraft.
So – what should inventors bear in mind when they’re developing their ideas?
According to Florian, the first commandment of patenting is: Thou shalt not disclose your idea to the public before patenting.
“A recent example in the news has been the Emson/Hozelock dispute (relating to self-retracting garden hoses) where an inventor had tested a garden hose prototype in his front yard before patenting – causing them difficulties later. And be wary of internet advice talking about grace periods: Grace periods do not exist in that form for patents in the UK.”
Patents should be regarded as a business tool, he adds. If used in the right way, patents can offer immense value. There is a great HMRC tax incentive (the UK Patent Box) rewarding patenting efforts once a patented technology makes profit.
“However, a patent must be filed before publishing an invention, and the patent filing starts the clock for procedural costs,” Florian continues. “My suggestion would be to work from a business plan: set out why the patent is important, how long and where the patent will be required and what budget is required to sustain the patent. It makes a great difference if you wish to run a family-owned business in the UK, or if you wish to grow your company internationally and/or de-risk your business for investors. It is a good policy to regularly review and adapt an IP portfolio to ensure it stays relevant to your business plans.”
The lockdown has had a clear impact for some companies on bringing their ideas to life, with some companies delaying their plans (seeking to register intellectual property can be costly), but Florian also says that it seems many people have used their time well to come up with new ideas, which is really encouraging.
“Firstly, there are ideas directly related to virus management – sanitisers, masks, deployable screens etc. We might be seeing an increase in tele-conferencing and online security, tele-retail packaging, but also novel sports gear and exercise equipment. Secondly, there are general (non-Covid-related) ideas that seem to have been progressed during lockdown. It is difficult to tell if these ideas would not have seen the light of day at all, but it does feel as if some developments were brought forward by a few years. One example is Laurie Evans, an under-graduate engineer at West Bromwich-based Ash & Lacy, who are known for innovative construction systems in the building sector. Despite the lockdown, Laurie developed a revolutionary piece of equipment that is now being patented.
But before an inventor really starts, Florian advises seeking help and advice from professionals and the local business support groups such as local enterprise partnerships and growth hubs.
“Don’t be shy to approach design consultancies, as they can give you an indication of costs and stages during product development,” he adds.