Friday, 21 December 2007

Paul White - Leeds Inventors Group 28/11/07

Leeds Inventors Group 28/11/07 Guest speaker Paul White of “Ideas North West”

Paul gave the group an interesting talk on the development of Blackburn Inventors Group – one of the longest-established groups in the country.

The group actually receives funding from Blackburn & Darwen councils – the only group which has managed to achieve this. As a result they are able to assist inventors in the local area with up to 50% of their costs – patenting, prototyping etc

Paul himself has previously worked in design in private industry and has been involved in patenting so he’s familiar with what is involved and the potential pitfalls. In 2001 he got a group of inventors together to form a self-help group. A lot of these inventors already had experience of patenting. Initially there was a suggestion of looking at an inventions promotion company to see if that might be a route to market for their products. They found it impossible to find a decent one and decided to do it themselves.

Since then the group – now known as “Ideas North West” – has formed a separate entity – “Ideas North West Ltd.” (controlled by a committee of members from “Ideas North West”) which can employ outsiders briefly for a fee to help members of the group. The group has developed successful partnerships with business support organisations in both the public and private sector, universities, and specific groups such as IP specialists.

The group has a track record of successful inventions and Paul went on to describe some of these, including a flexible finger splint and an aid for people with arthritis to enable them to put in and remove plugs. Paul said that he is constantly driving the point home to the council that this is economic activity driven by invention.

Paul’s talk certainly showed the potential for development within an inventors group – providing they have contacts at a senior level in the local organisation.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Chris Herbert - Leeds Inventors Group 17/10/07

Leeds Inventors Group 17-10-07. Chris Herbert of Medipex – “Innovation in Healthcare”

Medipex was set up in 2002 by six regional health trusts and is a not-for-profit organisation. It is the NHS “hub” for Yorkshire & Humberside. There are nine hubs throughout the UK. Medipex works with both Yorkshire Forward and regional health organisations to try to ensure that the NHS gets the benefit of any innovative ideas which its staff come up with in the course of their work. There have been many examples in the past of ideas for which those who developed them gained little reward – and often ideas have been given away to outside companies. MRI scanners were developed within the NHS but the NHS saw little profit from them.

Medipex licence spin-outs and ensure that non-commercial but valuable ideas are disseminated throughout the NHS. Over the last two years the hubs nationally have set up 54 licence deals and 4 spin-outs and are negotiating a further 80 projects with partners. Other trusts have to pay to use their services but can then leave development work to Medipex.

Chris described some of the products which have been developed through the hubs, from a probe for more accurate detection of cervical cancer, to a calibrating panoramic X-ray machine, to a mechanised drip stand.

An annual innovation competition is now run for NHS staff to recognise the innovative ideas being developed within the NHS. The financial split between NHS and inventor for any ideas which are taken up is often 50-50. Although it is mostly internal ideas that are dealt with, the NHS National Innovation Centre which is linked to the hubs, does deal with outside inventors.

Medipex was named Young Business of the Year in 2007. Further information can be found on the Ennovations website

Friday, 28 September 2007

Mark Saunders - Leeds Inventors Group 19/9/2007

Mark Saunders of Yorkshire Forward came to talk to the group about the “Grant for Research & Development” He began by explaining the role of Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency which is largely responsible for the regional economic strategy. Business growth is obviously important and innovation is a big part of this.

Mark said that there is quite a lot of funding and support available for new ventures – to such an extent that it can all be quite bewildering. What is important is to ensure that you go for a grant / support that fits what you are doing rather than trying to force your idea into an existing grant.

The Grant for Research & Development was set up in 1987 by the DTI to encourage R&D as it was felt that as a country we don’t spend enough on it. Yorkshire and Humberside spend about a third of the national average. The grant is available for SMEs and individuals planning to start a business. The business must involve something which is technologically innovative – something which is new and just as importantly, you must be able to show that there is a market for it. You also need a strong argument as to why you believe you should be given financial support from this source as oppose to any other.

If your bid is successful, in most cases the money is not paid up-front. You spend your money first and then claim that amount back from the grant. It is match-funded ie Yorkshire Forward normally supply around 50% of the funding with the other 50% coming from yourself. Mark went through the features of a successful application – including innovation, presentation, management skills and commercial potential.

Feedback is given on all unsuccessful applications and Mark pointed out that Yorkshire Forward are keen to give support through the application process. More details of Mark’s presentation can be found via this link:-

Monday, 13 August 2007

Steve Ascough - Leeds Inventors Group 20/6/07

Inventing in the real world: A reality check” Steve Ascough of Smart Innovation at the inventors group June 07
Steve, a member of the inventors group himself, shared his experiences of successfully getting a product to market and protecting it.

Steve has been in the vehicle crash repair business for many years. His own invention is the Crog® a very compact device which fits any car wheel. It enables recovery vehicles to collect any car whose wheels have been stolen without having to worry about wheel types, saving a great deal of time and money. (“to give someone a crog” is an old Yorkshire expression meaning to give someone a lift)

Steve pointed out that there must be a logical process to inventing and it’s very important for the inventor to take as much advice as is possible. There’s no-one worse than the inventor for seeing things through rose-tinted spectacles. Most inventions fail and one statistic is that only around 1 in 1400 inventions become world-beaters. A reality check is needed.

A patent search at an early stage is vital
(Further information on how to go about this can be obtained from Business & Patent Info Services) – this can reveal threats and competitors which the inventor was previously unaware of. Assuming that the searching goes well careful decisions need to be made with regard to protection. Patenting, particularly on an international basis, is expensive. Steve had to decide whether it was worth patenting his product everywhere. He had to consider the risk of rip-offs and whether the likely loss of income from this would be more than the patent costs.

Making sure that there is a market for a new product is vital for any inventor – as Steve said, just because you can patent your product doesn’t guarantee there’ll be a market for it. It’s important to do your homework – don’t just ask your family and friends what they think. Does the product solve a problem? Is it a significant problem? Can it be cost-effective? Is there a market? Is that market big enough? Is the market a niche market or mass market? If this product existed, would you buy it? How much would you be willing to pay? It’s vital that an inventor can answer these questions. In Steve’s words, “if you haven’t got customers, you haven’t got a successful product.”

Costs have to be carefully monitored. Even if production costs are low, anyone who distributes your product will want their margin, and therefore the cost goes up. This must be taken into account – what costs can the market stand? Is it still viable? Overheads such as rent, fuel bills, insurance need to be accounted for – they are all “outgoings” before you start making a profit. Steve found himself about £95,000 out of pocket in the first three years – this was not unexpected but it is quite daunting and needs to be foreseen. His advice was to try to maintain your existing income while you’re developing your product otherwise you could face financial difficulties.

He began by selling his product himself but only sold two dozen sets in the first six months. He realised that he needed help. People don’t come to you – you have to publicise the product. He now has a distributor and two salesmen. Steve pointed out that other people won’t have your enthusiasm for the product – they’ll want to know what’s in it for them. They will need an incentive to help you.

If you intend to approach a funding organisation you’ll need to ask for an amount based on facts & actual quotes. You need to work out how many you need to sell to break even and then make a profit. Don’t approach anyone for funding until you have answers to these questions.

Steve, who set up his company Smart Innovation Ltd to market and sell the Crog hopes his experiences can help other would-be inventors."
Smart Innovation Ltd., email

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Rowena Mead - Leeds Inventors Group 18/7/07

Rowena invented her completely malleable children’s toothbrush after having problems getting her young daughter to clean her teeth. The little girl much preferred chewing the handle, so Rowena came up with the idea of a flexible brush completely covered in bristles.

Having done a search on Google and found nothing similar, she began to think that she may have a good idea worth pursuing. She attended Venturefest in York, a free event for businesses, inventors and entrepreneurs where she met Steve Ascough of Smart Innovation. Having been through the invention process himself and now running his own business, Steve was able to give Rowena useful guidance. He pointed out the advisability of a confidentiality / non-disclosure agreement when talking to companies; and also the importance of carrying out some patent searching.

Rowena carried out an initial search on Espacenet and then came to Business & Patent Information Services for a more detailed search. She then approached Gilholm Harrison, patent attorneys, and filed a patent application and a design registration.

In order to get a bit of publicity for her product, she wrote a press release and sent it round to various newspapers. This resulted in a big article in the York Evening Press. Through a series of questionnaires she was able to get some feedback from the public and it was very encouraging.

Prototyping was difficult – it can be expensive and the number of bristles on the brush meant that it would not be easy to make. Through contacts at the inventors group she was put in touch with PDM International who came up with a 3-D animation to demonstrate the features of the brush to potential partners.

Rowena was aware that she would have to deal with large companies as that is the nature of the toothbrush market. Her research told her that niche products didn’t survive and she was aware that as this was an oral hygiene product clinical trials would be necessary. This could cost £200,000 - therefore she would need the backing of a large company. There are five key players in the market and she had great difficulties getting through to them. The only one whom she felt was accessible was Wisdom, who hold a smaller share of the market. They have been very encouraging and helped her along.

Rowena is hoping that in the not too distant future, her flexible toothbrush will be a common sight in bathrooms round the country.