Malcolm is a professional engineer who has worked for Rolls Royce, Lucas and other major companies and with his partners has recently formed a new company. “Brand New Tricks” was set up to encourage people to produce new products.
Malcolm posed the question: Why would you want to patent a product? The obvious answer is that it’s safer to protect your products, but is patenting the right route to take?
Investors do like patents, as they believe it gives them more security and some companies buy up patents in the hope that they can make a profit by selling them on.
However patenting, in his experience, takes an enormous amount of time – and drawing up a patent specification is a skill. One tactic is to assume that if you’ve come up with an idea it’s likely that someone else will have had the same idea – so you need to think about how that idea could be improved.
It’s important to do as much searching as possible in the early stages. Your initial idea may not be new but looking at what others have done can actually give you better ideas.
It’s very important that an inventor learns how to read a patent. Patents are designed to be difficult to read, and you have to be able to argue your case with IPO examiners during the course of an application. In Malcolm’s view – if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, don’t do it. He went on to discuss the structure of a patent specification and its most important features. Some products can be very difficult to describe in words and that makes them more difficult to patent – and potentially more difficult to defend. He described a painful experience of his own when defending a patent in court during which a lawyer grilled him for around an hour about his use of the word “opposite” in the patent.
If someone infringes a patent a cease and desist letter is often enough to put the infringer off. If this doesn’t work and a patent dispute goes to court your costs are likely to rocket. He gave the example of Dyson who spent £3.5 million taking an infringer to court in China. He lost the case. If a competitor can come up with an improvement or variation on your original invention which is different enough they will be able to produce it and possibly patent it.
Malcolm advocated the importance of developing a good prototype – one that works and looks as good as something you’d buy in a shop rather than something you knocked together in your garage. He also gave his views on the common perception that things are cheapest to produce in China. If you’re mass producing in large numbers that can certainly be the case but you have to take into account that the products will take time to travel across the world and when they arrive you’ll need somewhere to store them. You will also have to deal with Customs. And if something goes wrong during production you may well have to travel to China to resolve the issue.
As always you need to be certain that there is a market for your product. Bear in mind that many shops won’t buy direct from producers – they’ll go via a wholesaler. So while there may be millions of shops there may only be a handful of wholesalers.