Protecting your products

Intellectual Property (IP) is a common subject on business management courses but for designers and engineers, IP education is far from comprehensive. Robert Games, MD of Albright IP explains why IP should be at the forefront of designers’ minds.

Ideally you should always be thinking about IP as you go about your work, especially when you realise that you have a product or design that is worth developing. Once you’ve had your ‘eureka’ moment you should limit who you talk to about your idea, use confidentiality agreements and undertake some basic internet searches to see if any similar products are already on the market. Searching the free patent databases may help you to develop the idea, but may also uncover competitor patents that could pose a risk to your project.

The IP disclosure rules mean that if you publicly disclose your design you won’t be able to get a valid patent and your options for protection will be extremely limited. Next, talk to an IP attorney about how to best protect your idea. Remember, IP protection can be applied for while you are still finalising your product and before the final design is completed.

Build value

More than protection, IP can help you secure funding to develop your design or idea. While the innovative design and functionality of your product will make it desirable and marketable, the IP makes it valuable.

If you protect the work you do by registering your brand as a Trademark, your designs through Registered Designs and your technical developments as patents, then you’re creating a value proposition in your product and business.

In the UK, trademarks can be protected indefinitely; designs can be protected through registration for up to 25 years and patents offer protection for up to 20 years. This IP value could last for the lifetime of the business, or certainly the lifetime of the product that you’re trying to promote. Through the Patent Box tax relief system, a patent can also give you significant corporation tax savings.

Why patent attorneys?

The legal process of obtaining patents is relatively complex and it is essential to get it right first time. If your first attempt at a patent application falls short, you have essentially disclosed your product to the competition without protection.

Patent applications need to include plenty of descriptive wording at the beginning that can be drawn upon later for amendments. You may want to split your application into two applications to cover different aspects of the invention, which may open-up different commercial opportunities. A patent attorney will be experienced at crafting the patent wording and will have a good idea of what may come in handy later.

Designers and inventors will of course understand the technical complexities of their own products and innovations, however, they may not be best placed to phrase these technical features in the kind of language expected by patent examiners. Being too close to a project can colour the way you write and often the starting point may not be where you expected.

Patent offices apply rigid and highly specific rules to decide whether an application is allowable, and it can be difficult to foresee and understand their objections if you are not familiar with these rules. An experienced patent attorney will know what to expect and will be able to draft your application with the examination in mind, giving you the best possible chance of obtaining a granted patent.

Put simply, if you get a good idea, talk to a patent and trademark attorney to discuss how you should approach your IP. Most attorneys will provide an initial consultation for free, which could help steer you in the right direction. Remember, IP is a long-term investment, which should create and maintain value in your business, reduce trading risk, increase profitability and help to secure the future of your business.