Unfortunately, this story is not unusual. In truth, only 5% of all patents manage to return the investment made in them.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that you neglect to protect your ideas. Not at all. However, I am going to suggest three things you must do BEFORE deciding to make a patent application.
1. Produce some visuals or a rough mock-up of your prototype, or create a demonstration website. At the earliest stage, there is no need to get an expensive prototype made up. Just use your imagination and make use of the existing materials you have available to produce something that helps a person understand the benefits that your product or service offers.
2. Get out and talk to potential customers about what you want to produce or offer. Ideally, many, many customers. This removes the guesswork and will help you find out a lot about the pricing, design packaging and changes to your product that will satisfy your customers. Now you know what your customer REALLY wants and you have something that you can sell.
3. Speak to independent technical advisors such as engineers, programmers, other inventors, suppliers – even Universities and the team at the British Library IP Centre, but NOT patent lawyers at this stage. Ask them how feasible it is to produce and scale your idea. Also ask them how easy it would be to copy your idea. Often, one small change in the look, size or mechanism of an invention is enough for someone to copy your idea WITHOUT infringing the patent. Many ideas that get patented at huge cost are quickly copied with just a slight adjustment to the patent application, making the original patent worthless.
When you’ve covered these steps, think again. Do you still want to go for IP (Intellectual Property) protection? Is your idea worth thousands of pounds and months or years of personal commitment – or would it just be better to get your product to market quickly and start building your business? Securing patents is not the only way to protect an idea. Sometimes a quick route to market is enough.
Finally, if you decide you really need a patent and only remember one thing from reading this post – make sure you get a FIXED FEE agreement with your lawyer. If you pay by the hour it can be one of the quickest ways to burn through £50k. Always set a limit on the amount you’re prepared to spend.
Fortunately, the entrepreneur I met is pursuing a better opportunity with a brand new idea – and you can bet he’ll be protecting it differently this time.
Trademarks? Copyright? Patents? What is intellectual property?
The British Library has produced this useful introduction:
Follow Intellectual Property Expert Steve Van Dulken's blog at The British Library:
Paul Grant is founder of The Funding Game and is running a series of workshops on the topic of raising capital for start-up. The next workshop, 'How to Bootstrap a Start-Up', will be held at the Queen Mary Innovation Centre on Thursday, 26th April 2012 from 1pm-5pm. For discounts and special offers on all Funding Game events subscribe to our mailing list.