Business intelligence

If the potential of your business rests on its intellectual property, a patent could prove invaluable.

If the potential of your business rests on its intellectual property, a patent could prove invaluable.

If the potential of your business rests on its intellectual property, a patent could prove invaluable.

Trevor Baylis knows the importance of protecting a great idea, having come to prominence with his invention of the wind-up radio in the 1990s. ‘If I hadn’t taken out a patent I would have been totally ripped off,’ he says. ‘People won’t pay you for an idea but they will pay you for a piece of paper that says you have an idea.’

Legal Muscle

For Clive Halparin, head of corporate and commercial at GSC Solicitors, the most obvious advantage of having a patent is that it gives you a monopoly on your invention. ‘The commercial benefit is that it will stop anyone else from profiting from your idea and maximise your revenue. If you believe your product will change the market, then it’s something you should take out. Of course, you will never know for sure, but the consequences of not [filing a patent] could be very severe.’

Halperin adds that if would-be inventors put their idea into the public domain before taking out a patent, they lose their right to legal protection. ‘So if you want to spend some time developing your product before taking one out, you may need to enter into a non-disclosure agreement with the people you are discussing the idea with. The process can sometimes be drawn out, but if you get protection it will be backdated to cover you from when your application was first made,’ he says.

However, simply filing a patent doesn’t guarantee protection. If your idea is that good, then a larger company with a much bigger budget to fight legal battles could still copy it. Enforcing a patent can be very costly and time consuming, and you might find that your claim of infringement is found to be invalid.

Neil Summers spent $1 million (£650,000) defending his physiotherapy invention, Leg Magic, in Japan. ‘We decided to go ahead because we sold over a million units. It took two years of legal wrangling and eventually we won. But afterwards, when we realised the product had almost run its lifecycle in that market anyway, we could see that the expense in legal fees wasn’t actually worth it.

‘If something is easy and cheap to make, it may be better to spend your money quickly getting it to market. If your idea is commercially viable, the marketplace will soon tell you. All products have a lifecycle, and if it’s something that’s just a gift, or a novel gadget, the chances are that its lifecycle won’t be very long.’

While Baylis agrees that a patent is by no means a magic shield for an inventor, his own wind-up products having now been widely copied across the world, they can still be incredibly valuable. ‘It offered me protection in the early days from a large corporation suddenly claiming, “Actually, we had that idea all along.”

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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