Monday, 30 July 2012

“Common problems faced by inventors” Steve Van Dulken Leeds Inventors Group 18th July 2012

Steve has been working as an intellectual property librarian at the British Library, London for around 25 years. Using his vast experience he has written several books on patents and appeared in a number of television programmes relating to inventions. In a wide-ranging discussion he used anecdotes to illustrate a number of areas and situations which inventors commonly experience.

The issue of when to file a patent on a new product and the use of confidentiality / non-disclosure agreements is a frequently pondered question and when Steve addressed this it provoked a variety of responses. He also went through the importance of searching at an early stage and some of the techniques he uses.

One area which many inventors fall down on is the business aspect of their new product. It will only sell if there is a market for it and getting a product to market (either the inventor doing so or by licensing or selling it on) requires some business awareness. Steve suggested that an inventor should think carefully about what they would regard as success – how much do you realistically expect to make from the product? How much would you be willing to sell it for? What is your attitude to risk? Developing any new product involves a degree of risk and the success rate for new products is very small.

He strongly suggested a business plan, which basically makes you think about the pros and cons of the product and the market and what issues may arise – before they actually crop up. Not only does this make you more prepared generally, but it enables you to deal more effectively with other people and organisations you will need to work with in order to get the product to market.

Cash flow is critical – we often think of businesses going bust if they don’t sell enough product. It can also happen because they sell too much  - they spend money on providing the product but payment usually arrives some time later, and it can come too late.

When dealing with others his advice was to describe yourself as a designer rather than an inventor as the latter can have very negative connotations for some and may be less likely to be taken seriously.

Steve emphasised the importance of keeping track of costs and not overspending – including costs of intellectual property. Many inventors and businesses decide that they need a trade mark to protect their name or logo, but is it necessary? If you don’t plan to expand the business significantly would it be worthwhile?

Overall, much to be considered before any inventor starts the process of considering protection or publicising his product.

Steve's blog

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Carl Hopkins, Direct Business Advice Leeds inventors group 20 – 6 - 12

Carl has been running his business, Direct Business Advice, for 10 years. His company helps both new and established businesses to develop and grow.

Through his own experience in this, and other businesses, he understands how easy it can be to become so passionate about your new innovation or idea that you can miss the basics. You need to be able to stand back and think about how you can make the innovation happen, how you can manage it and get it to market. Businesses which succeed are those which plan. Who are your competitors? Do you have a business and marketing plan?

Once you’ve got your new product up and running, it’s all about running a business, and you need to think about having an exit strategy – how and when you intend to leave the business, or pass it on, in future.

Whatever your new product is, you will need a business plan – though Carl pointed out that it’s also important not be become too obsessed with such plans. Initially just putting down your ideas on one sheet of paper to get things going is a good idea – then developing from there. Who will you be selling to? What will you be charging?

One of the main points of a business plan is to try to foresee questions which prospective funders or partners are likely to ask, and this can be quite a challenge. The plan has to be carefully-worded so that you don’t promise too much. Money, of course, is a big part of it all. If you’re looking for investment you’ll need to come up with a financial forecast – usually for 3 years. It’s important to give potential investors the feeling that you know what you’re doing, you’re well-advised and that you have the right team around you. It’s unusual to get all the money you need from one single source, so you need to be aware of what opportunities there may be for funding.

A very important point to understand when you are developing a new product or launching an enterprise is cash flow. Money doesn’t come in at the moment that you complete a job or a deal – it follows later. More often than not, new ideas fail because they run out of cash.

It’s important to think about how things will work – how you will get your product to market, who might be interested in working with you, how you will market it to customers – while also being careful to get your terms and conditions right. Make it part of your procedures to use confidentiality agreements wherever you can and make sure you include intellectual property and the costs of both IP and its insurance in your plans.