Companies all over the world are gaining competitive advantage through innovation.Governments, businesses, and design schools are increasingly focusing on educating people about how to be more innovative, how to use different techniques and processes – such as design-thinking – to find new products, services. But how and why should you protect these new products or services or even methodologies? What does it mean to have ‘IP Protection’ in place, or if you apply for a patent? Do these really make any difference to your business?
Yes. It makes a difference. But not always in a way you think or expect. In some cases, yes it helps you to ‘fight’ to protect your innovation, product or brand. In other cases, it serves to help you understand how to build your business and IP strategy.
“As long as you have clear goals, plans, and strategies, you can adjust things and keep going. Set your values not your prices. Focus on your customers. Think of the problems you want to solve for them and build your business around that.”
Adjust Your Focus
It’s not easy to run a business, to innovate and survive. I should know. Most of the time it feels like you have bigger problems to worry about than your IP strategy. We all hope that no-one copies our product or feature, or steals our ideas, but that’s wishful thinking. Sometimes companies and people will do these things to survive, but sometimes it’s just bad luck that other people had the same idea at the same time.
But don’t focus on this. As long as you have clear goals, plans, and strategies, you can adjust things and keep going. Set your values not your prices. Focus on your customers. Think of the problems you want to solve for them and build your business around that.
‘Good innovations solve problems that formerly had only inadequate solutions - or no solution’. This is what we have done. We spent years building relationships and understanding our customers’ pain points.
Working with Patent Attorneys
After a year of working together, my business advisor, Liam Hickey, mentioned that there were some aspects and technologies that could be patentable. But how could we afford to find out? You can apply for a grant, offered by the UK Intellectual Property Office.
That’s what we did and my application was successful.We met with Patent Attorneys from a top European Patent law firm, Gill Jennings & Every LLP. They were very helpful and supportive, as we went through the whole business and technology we have developed, and are working on for the future. A few weeks later we received an IP audit report.If you have access to patent attorneys, I’d really recommend consulting them.
For those who want to better understand their IP, but who perhaps do not have a grant for an IP audit from the UK Intellectual Property Office, firms such as Gill Jennings & Every LLP should still be able to help. For example, Gill Jennings & Every LLP has developed a portfolio of IP consultancy products called “ConsultIP”, which is aimed at helping its clients understand and develop their IP strategy – including bespoke innovation capture sessions and IP audits.
Here’s some of what I learned from the IP audit:
- Money: if you want to monetise an invention, e.g. license the rights to it, or control your competitors’ ability to use the technology, a patent may be right for you.
- Time: A UK patent may be granted within 12 to 24 months, but – depending on the technology and country of filing – it can take five to seven years, sometimes even longer. While there are usually mechanisms to accelerate the process if required, this slow pace allows for careful exploration of the market – there’s no point spending time and money building a patent portfolio if your invention is likely to be superseded in just a few years.
- Strategy: Developing an effective patent strategy is all about making the consideration of patents integral to your overall business plan from the outset. Once you’ve established the role of inventions in growing your business, you need to put reliable processes in place to map the discovery and protection of inventions against your business plan. What is your budget? Which inventions will you need to deploy when and where? Or, indeed, which inventions might you be able to keep a trade secret. Who decides and is that a robust process? Is there a process for managing your IP to ensure that you are not wasting time and money on rights that may no longer be relevant? Also consider international expansion plans and ensure that any patent filing program you initiate includes the option to protect your inventions overseas.
- Exit: Adequately protecting inventions safeguards value – inadequate protection has been known to wipe as much as 70% off a valuation by a potential investor or acquirer. If you are thinking about selling your business in a few years’ time, you need to be prepared.
"Innovating requires identifying the problems that matter and moving through them systematically to deliver elegant solutions." Larry Keeley, The Ten Types of Innovation"
Know your customers jobs to be done
Don’t forget, even if you cannot afford an IP audit, or you don’t have time, you can still protect yourself. But, more importantly, take the time to understand your customers’ pain points and what they need from you, and build products around that.