Why bother with Intellectual Property?
Thereâ€™s a lot of encouragement at the moment from the UK government for companies to invest in protecting their intellectual property, with schemes such as the Patent Box.
But is it worth it for YOU?
What benefits can intellectual property deliver? And what sort of intellectual property should you be developing?
DIFFERENT KINDS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Registered Intellectual property (IP) includes:
- Patents â€“ cover new inventions for products and processes
- Registered trade marks â€“ cover brands and get up that distinguish your business and its products from another e.g. logos, product names, jingles
- Registered designs â€“ protect the look of a product, such as its appearance, shape or decoration.
There are also unregistered types of IP e.g. copyright, confidential information. This means your IP is protected automatically under UK law without needing to register it anywhere (but
it is helpful to keep records of when it was created and by whom and when). Registered IP is of most interest to companies hoping to protect and make money from their cleverest ideas.
THE HISTORY OF PATENTS AND THEIR INHERENT CONTRADICTIONS
The origins of patents goes back as far as the 15th Century in Europe. The state granted a time-limited monopoly to inventors of new technology as a way of stimulating innovation, as there is a contradiction inherent in invention and holding monopoly rights: a monopoly, without competition, often doesnâ€™t bother to innovate. However, we need monopolies, as inventors wonâ€™t bother to share their inventions from which they get no benefit.
The solution was to grant a limited time period where a new technology or invention could only be used by the inventor; after that period it was shared with society, and couldnâ€™t be owned by anyone ever again â€“ the invention was now freely available (and benefiting) society.
Over time the system developed and in order for an invention to be protected, inventors had to share what their invention was and how it worked, almost like a â€śrecipeâ€ť for the invention, so other people could replicate it after the protected time period had elapsed. This same principle is at the heart of how patents are written today: demonstrating what the new invention is, how it works, and setting out a set of monopoly claims which both protects your new invention and also tells the world how it works!
BENEFITS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Patents are expensive to get in terms of both time and money. Trade marks and designs are much cheaper. So why do companies such as Samsung and Apple spend enormous sums applying for and protecting patents? Because their patents are protecting their inventions.
PROTECT YOUR BEST IDEAS
Patents confer a negative right: they donâ€™t allow you to make your product or use your process, but they enable you to stop somebody else from doing it. This is important when you have developed a really clever new technology or product or drug that you want to sell, potentially after investing huge sums of money in research and development in create it. Patents are the tool to stop a competitor from making a product or using a process which are covered by your patent claims.
PROTECT YOUR BEST IDEAS
Patents confer a negative right: they donâ€™t allow you to make your product or use your process, but they enable you to stop somebody else from doing it.
This is important when you have developed a really clever new technology or product or drug that you want to sell, potentially after investing huge sums of money in research and development in create it.
Patents are the tool to stop a competitor from making a product or using a process which are covered by your patent claims.
UNDERSTAND WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING (AND MAYBE HOW)
It is important before you launch a new product that you make sure you arenâ€™t infringing other peopleâ€™s patents.
It is also useful to see what the competition is up to: your competitorâ€™s patents may often show where their technology is headed and can give helpful information on what they are doing.
THE PATENT BOX
Companies can get relief on their corporation tax through a UK government scheme: the profits of any products made utilising a companyâ€™s patents can be discounted from their tax bill. Whatâ€™s exciting is even if the patent applies to a component, the profit can be taken from the product as a whole.
For full details check out the government website on patents (www.gov.uk/guidance/corporation-tax-the-patent-box) (or talk to a patent attorney).
If you have a patent youâ€™re not using, but someone else wants to use that technology, you can license its use to them.
DISCOURAGE YOUR COMPETITORS
If you patent broadly in a particular area of technology, it discourages your competitors from trying to patent or work there themselves: their inventions could potentially infringe your patent, and can result in lengthy and costly legal battles (if you have the stomach â€“ and the pockets â€“ for it). Large corporations often play quite cynical games with patents but smaller companies can have the benefit of the unique use of a technology if they are the first to file a patent in that area. Increasing insurance for legal costs of fighting patent disputes is available.
A patent or family of patents can encourage investors, enable grant applications or please shareholders.
Patents can enhance the value of the business. For example when a patent on blockbuster drug in the pharmaceutical industry expires, the share price usually falls. This is because the patent enabled the company to charge a premium for the product and that premium (and indeed the market share) will now be eroded by competition.
CASE STUDY: WHY PATENTS ARE USEFUL
A patent may be crucial to the protection of a new easily copied invention. Mandy Haberman designed the Anywayup Cup. It was a child training cup which did not leak when turned upside down. In seeking to get it manufactured, Mandy showed the cup to a manufacturer who then proceeded to copy it. A patent action resulted. The patent was found valid and infringed. This was an important result. The dispute was subsequently settled following the infringer lodging an appeal. Nowadays the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court would provide a cheaper venue for conducting the dispute, than the High Court, where Mandy had to run her case. Also there is an increasing market in IP insurance, which means that if patents are insured as they are granted, then the insurance company will pick up some or all of the legal fees on a subsequent enforcement action.
Want to learn more?
The IET offers "An Engineer's Guide to Product Development, Intellectual Property and Patents", delivered by Lilly Haines-Gadd of Oxford Creativity and Vicki Salmon of IP Assets.
The workshop will give attendees the right information and questions to start making the best use of the intellectual property they already have, and techniques to generate and capture more.
Participants will learn what types of intellectual property are available and how IP could benefit business
When and how to turn good engineering solutions into IP - and match this to your organisational strategy
The TRIZ tools offer:
- Simple but powerful creativity tools to generate many novel and inventive ideas
- Systematic tools to develop robust patents which are hard to circumvent
- Plan for the future of your products and intellectual property
Participants will leave having learned methods for generate clever ideas to generate new products, and how these products can be developed, protected, and the different strategies available to generate a business benefit.
Vicki is a both a patent attorney and solicitor, with over 30 yearsâ€™ experience, particularly in relation to intellectual property, especially litigation and IP in corporate transactions. She is European and British patent attorney, a European Trade Mark and Design Attorney and a Patent Attorney Litigator. A biochemist by training, she has experience in advising clients on a wide range of intellectual property issues and technologies, from obtaining patent, trade mark & design protection, through to commercialisation and enforcement.
Vicki advises on IP strategy, IP due diligence, including ownership and assignment of rights, and enforcement strategies, including seeking non-binding opinions on infringement and validity from the UK IPO. She is included in Managing Intellectual Propertyâ€™s 2016 List of the top 250 global women in IP.
TRIZ teacher, facilitator, 'TRIZ for Dummies' author and MD of Oxford Creativity - a TRIZ company based in Oxford, United Kingdom. www.triz.co.uk