When to patent your business idea to ensure the greatest returns

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Designer Stefan Knox, who has taken hundreds of products to market, advises on when to patent your idea and the steps to ensure you generate the greatest returns.

You've had a great idea for a new product. You've chatted it over with friends and family and they love your idea too. So you decide to protect it with a patent. STOP! You are falling into the first trap of new product design!

Sadly this is a problem I see too often. The idea which is being protected is not the strongest or the best it could be and, most importantly, it is not the one with the most commercial potential that could bring the greatest return.
 
The first thing any inventor needs to ensure is that their product idea is designed to be a marketable product, as you can make anything - but only marketable products will sell!
 
The best form of product protection is having the best commercial product in the first place.
Start by thinking about your new product idea. Why would your user want the product in the first place? Is there a gap in the market and can you exploit it?
 
If your product does not have a unique selling point, a 'USP;, then it is a fashion item and can only really compete with existing products on style or user experience.
 
You need to try and make your product become a 'need' item. Think of this as turning a 'would like' into a 'must have'. This will span from great design.
 
The product should make the user want to use it. Just looking at it should make them love it and want to reach out and use it. When they use it, it must delight them. There must be something hidden in the design that only reveals itself when used. This will drive word of mouth promotion, which is the best promotion there is. The product, or service, is what starts a brand, not the other way round.
 
Find the best channels
Not everyone will want your product, so you must strongly appeal to a specific market. You must step into the shoes of your target customer to decide how best to deliver your product. Research, research, research! Where do they shop? How would they hear about your product? Once you establish which channels your product must be sold through you can think about your costs.
 
The right price
The world is driven by businesses making profits and profits must exist within your own venture, otherwise it is just a hobby project done for love.
 
Once you have defined your product's USP, you must establish a realistic retail price for your product. Don't be greedy, but don't be too conservative either. There are several hurdles to jump over to get a product into your customer’s hands and each hurdle takes it out of you in the form of a cost For example, this may include retail margin, shipping and operations.
 
Work backwards to find the cost price you need to make your product viable.
 
Reaching your customers
It is no good having a great USP and the right price if your target market cannot access the product. To do this, they must first learn about it and then know where they need to go to get hold of it. Design from the outset will help you achieve this, as your design will provide the platform for branding and promotion, which in turn will dictate the retail outlets your target market would visit to find your product or service.
 
Now is the time to protect!
So the secret is to get your idea to market first, making sure it's the best product, at the best price and available through the best channels. This should be the first from of product protection.
 
Once you have answered these questions you will know if you truly have a unique and commercially viable product. If you do, then now is the time to protect the idea - at the end of this process, not at the beginning!
 
If your product is in the market and you have answered these questions correctly, then how can a competitor knock you out? They can only share some of your market and in doing so will help to grow it, which will help you in return. Your second form of protection therefore is in the intellectual property rights your product can obtain. Combined together, in that order and you will find it an easier, more enjoyable and far more profitable route to market.
 
Stefan Knox is founder of Bang Creations
 

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When to patent your business idea

This article may be appropriate for ideas which are NOT suitable for patent protection, but if your idea is suitable for patent protection, then the advice is just plain wrong.  If you put your new idea on the market before filing a patent application, it will render it impossible to obtain valid patent protection later in the UK and EU and most other jurisdictions.

It IS possible to obtain registered trade marks for brands after they have been launched, and registered design protection for the visiual appearance of products for a limited period after a public launch in UK/EU.  It is not possible to obtain valid patent protection for inventions which have been previously publicly disclosed here.

So the question to ask first is whether your idea may be suitable for patent protection or whether other forms of intellectual property protection may be more appopriate.  If you think the idea may be suitable for patent protection, then talk to a professional patent attorney BEFORE you go public.  Most patent attorney firms will offer new clients an introductory meeting, without charge, to discuss whether or not a new idea is patentable and to explain what costs & procedures are involved. Give one a call.  And take a look at the information available on the UKIPO website http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/patent/p-about.htm  

 

 

PATENTING

I agree that you should file a patent application at the right time; but filing early gives you a "Priority Date", which "date stamps" your "idea" at the UK IPO.

Often, your invention is just an idea, and although filing starts a metaphorical clock ticking, in that at 12 months from the date of filing, you have to decide which countries of the world you want patent protection in, with quite high official fees needing to be paid, you will have obtained that "date stamp", and therefore protected your invention.

You thus file early, to beat the opposition; and file late, to delay the onset of the 12 months "finding high fees" stage of the patenting process.

The other reason for filing early, is that, in order to do effective research, you need to ask questions, and these gve more meaningfull answers if they mention details of the invention.   However, you are advised to get anyone providing answers, to sign a non-disclosure agreement beforehand.

Dr Brian Wybrow

C.Sci, C.CHEM, MRSC; Ph.D. (Lond.)

Patent Consultant, Chartered Scientist, Chartered Chemist, & Engineer.

www.patently-creative.co.uk; www.creative-patenting.co.uk, www.wybrow-innovations.co.uk

Peter Quintana's picture

When to patent your business idea

 I agree with the comment above. This advice is wrong, and the UK patent office will reject an application if the product has been taken to market. The time to patent is during the design stage and before the product has been manufactured. Also, talking about your ideas, even to family and friends, ought to be done under NDA if you have in mind to file for a patent, otherwise you may compromise your right to prior art.  

When to patent - clarification

I work with Stefan at Bang Creations.

I believe there is a misunderstanding here so allow me to clarify.

The first key point that Stefan is making is that you should only seek to patent something with commercial value.  That is to say that you have undertaken sufficient market research to satisfy yourself that you can sell enough to make sufficient money to make the project worthwhile.  Therefore, in our view proving an ideas commercial value prior to spending money on intellectual property makes sense.

The second key point, and where I think the miscommunication may lie, is that the best protection for your idea is invariably being the first to market with a truly marketable idea.  We are not saying that you should take your idea to market first and then seek to protect it.  For one reason, as one of my colleagues above has pointed out, an idea in the public domain can obviously no longer be patented.

It is important to realise that what, when and how to protect your idea is ultimately a personal equation and decision and is largely a balance between cost and risk.

For the less cautious, less risk averse and more entrepreneurial types amongst us and for those on a tight budget, leaving protection, notably patents, until later in the development process and just prior to launch may make sense.

However, for the more risk conscious who are worried about being beaten to it, those who want to feel able to discuss their idea freely with a reduced risk of plagiarism and for those who can afford to risk having to file subsequent patents should the idea develop/change significantly, filing sooner rather than later will probably be preferable.

At the end of the day, our advice is to focus on commercial value, talk IP early with an IP professional, know your options and protect if and when you, as an individual or business, are ready. 

 

Alan Ward - Commercial Director, Bang Creations 

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