Intellectual Property (IP), and whether or not to seek legal protection for a new idea, is one of the most complex and daunting decisions of an inventor's career. While legal protection is still the more trusted and traditional route, many inventors are now choosing to devote their resources towards innovating their original design and building a strong brand, rather than on protecting any one idea.

So what does this mean for the security of the designs - and does that security still matter? Just how important is IP to today's inventor? We asked some designers and lawyers to share their professional - and controversial - thoughts. Here's what they had to say.  

John Coldham and George Sevier
Director and Principal Associate
Gowling WLG

Patenting the cyclonic vacuum cleaner eventually paved the way for James Dyson to set up his own company.

If it's worth copying, it's worth protecting. 

If what you have designed or invented is good enough that someone will decide to copy it, then it is worth the investment of putting IP protection in place so that you can stop the copying, or at least take a slice of the profits they make out of commercialising your invention. This is pretty easy to say, but in practice inventors don't know which of their inventions are going to fly or flop, and by the time someone else has adopted the same idea, it is often too late to put protection in place. 

Before he set up Dyson Limited, James Dyson invented a cyclonic vacuum and got patents covering his invention. He licensed it to Amway, but the licence was terminated after they claimed the vacuum did not work. Amway went on to sell a machine which used the invention without his permission, so he sued them for patent infringement and breach of confidence, agreed a pay-out and went on to set up his own company producing the first Dyson branded vacuum cleaners. If it weren't for IP protection, Amway may have gone on to corner the market. As it is, James Dyson is at the helm of a billion pound turnover company.

Having IP protection gives you something to license, or maybe even to provide security for a loan to fund your next invention.

Coldham and Sevier, Gowling WLG

IP protects what is new. Patents need to be new and inventive to be valid, designs can be protected to the extent that they are new and have individual character, and trademarks might not be protectable if they are too similar to earlier registrations. This encourages innovation, but if you don't file soon enough, you will miss your opportunity to get a monopoly.

Getting protection need not cost a lot. The cost of registering a UK registered designs has dropped to £50, or as little as £2.50 per design if a number are filed together. It might be that you also already own unregistered rights, and there is no need to pay for registered rights at all. What matters, is that you get the right protection in place at the right time and can prove that you own it.

In other words, IP is massively important, but inventors often only appreciate just how important IP can be after it is too late. If you have a good idea, make sure you take good advice early on, and you will reap the rewards.  It needn't cost very much to take a look at your IP protection and ensure it protects your investment.

Alex Shim Smilansky
Startup Cofounder

Mayku's Kickstarter funded desktop vacuum former, the Formbox.

As an inventor, protecting your ideas is as important as ever, however the way that you protect them is changing. 

The internet has brought about an unprecedented level of freedom of information. Knowledge is no longer in the hands of the few, and the way we think about ownership in all fields is shifting. The open source movement has challenged the idea that a patent is the cornerstone of a successful product business. New forms of IP are emerging like Creative Commons. 

But more than anything - if you want to get a product off the ground, as well as building a business you need to build a community. 

So today what's more important than the integrity of your patent is the integrity of your mission and your ability to start a movement around it.

Peter Arrowsmith
Patent Attorney
Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys

Where intellectual contribution adds significant value it is important for the business to attempt to articulate a strategy for its protection and exploitation. Otherwise, the IP may be copied by others and the unique aspects of the business may be eroded. 

In the absence of suitable protection for IP it may be difficult to justify an investment.

Peter Arrowsmith, CIPA

The objective in seeking protection for intellectual property is not necessarily to be litigious and sue anyone, but to build value that can attract investors and collaborators. Investors continue to value IP protection highly when considering investment decisions. In the absence of suitable protection for intellectual property it may be difficult to justify an investment since a unique selling point could otherwise be easily copied. Any commercial investor will always look for an effective patent strategy that protects the unique offering of the start-up in key markets. 

Patrick Kendall
Designer and inventor
The Spring Oven

Patrick Kendal with The Spring Oven, his popular bakeware product that is soon to be manufactured and distributed.

You hear all kind of stern warnings about making sure that you invest in patenting to legally protect your idea. This worried me quite a lot when I first started developing my Spring Oven, until I looked into the matter.

Firstly, it is important to note that copyright law is automatic to the designer. This is significant because, as I for one never realised, the power of copyright law for some legal issues is strong in court and many high profile cases have been protected on those grounds (see: Rogers v. Koons). So don't underestimate the power of copyright.

With the speed the design industry is moving I feel that the patent process has grown outdated for smaller companies.

Patrick Kendal, Designer

Secondly, filing for a patent is a long and expensive process and can take beyond a year. With the speed the design industry is moving I feel that the patent process has grown outdated for smaller companies that thrive through their adaptability to new trends and innovations.

One aspect of intellectual property I would highly recommend is trademarking. Modern inventors need to not depend on the success of their last product but rather produce a solid brand that is recognised for great products. Protecting your name and brand is in my opinion much more important to the modern day designer and will help provide a platform for future projects.


Find out more and apply to Design Council Spark: The Home Innovation Challenge.


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