Invent something clever and potentially lucrative then protect it via a patent.
This was the time honoured way, and is still usually the only way to safeguard your idea, to stop someone else from benefiting from it.
But things are not all well in Patentland, with many now questioning if it is worth getting a patent.
Last year, the Daily Telegraph printed an article, 08 March 2012 : Inventor fury as patents prove too costly to defend. Michael Wilcox from Pembroke Wales publicly destroyed his patent for an innovative colour printing technology, claiming that large companies would no longer discuss royalties because they did not fear the consequences of taking it for free. He deemed his idea worthless, as several other companies had allegedly copied it and, with £250,000 already invested in developing the technology, he could not afford to protect his patent and design rights.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for people like Mr Wilcox and a concern that innovation could be greatly impeded if his views and experience are typical of his genre. The net outcome, from a collective cynicism like this, could be projects simply being shelved or binned if the feeling is they will just be stolen further down the line.
Conversely, however , if you are a larger concern or a well structured start up, building a provision into your R&D budget for early and continuing protection in the form of a patent is still very much the preferred mechanism. It is one of many considerations you should make early on, similar to building manufacturing into your designs (discussed here).
This makes for long term security (20 years) and a robust and growing revenue stream, depending on the value and market worth of your intellectual property. Also, and let’s not forget this, attracting additional finance to your business can very often hinge on how much protected intellectual property could or already does exist on your business asset register. Remember, as covered in my previous article, the ability to protect the IP of the product is one of the driving factors of justifying optimism in your invention – both for yourself and potential stakeholders.
If you’re not sure how to go about protecting your IP, we’re here to help.
Ok, so we have cases for and against taking out patents – largely dependant on the financial and strategic status of the body considering its IP protection options:
To remind ourselves, the case ‘against’ includes the high cost of taking out and, in particular, defending your patent. Costs which are unfairly stacked against the individual inventor or tightly financed start up.
The case ‘for’ favours the well resourced, well financed organisation sensibly extending their worth and security via a well planned and aggressive policy of protecting everything they invent.
Having invented medical devices in the past on behalf of both small and large organisations that have consequently taken out patent protection for those ideas, I have empathy with both the cases for and against.
I do feel, however, that there must be a re-addressing of the patenting system that includes a more sympathetic and focused cost structure to better support our smaller inventor and SME base. And it should also be harder for the corporate Goliaths to railroad the consequences of patent infringement simply because they can afford to. Is it right that a small business concern has but one alternative when considering IP, to make a deliberate policy to not bother with patents at all? This effectively reduces the time these businesses have before a larger rival can exploit their IP.
Controversial, impractical or already happening? Love to hear your views and share this as an ongoing discussion topic.
If you’re an individual or part of a company struggling with this problem, I would be happy to discuss your options, please get in touch.