29 March 2006

Liverpool Inventors Club: Website Updates

I have updated the Liverpool Inventors Club website with some details of

- our next meeting at the Central Library on 24 April at 16:00
- our new service providers, venture capitalists Liverpool Inventors, product development consultants PD-M International and law firms DLA Piper and Eversheds; and
- our new email address at info@liverpoolinventors.org.uk.

The club now has a steering committee consisting of inventors Alan Wells and Christopher Edgar, consultant Jonathan Butters, Liverpool John Moores staff Jo Pritchard and Di Burbidge, Ruth Grodner of the Central Library, Michael Sandys of Kirwans and me. The first committee meeting will take place at 15:45 in the Hornby Room of the Library on 24 April. I look forward to meeting everybody who was there last time plus hopefully lots of new faces.

26 March 2006

Hundredth Post: New Inventors Clubs in Liverpool and Sheffield

What better way to celebrate the 100th post of this blog than the launch of two new inventors clubs? Liverpool will launch at Sheffield Central Library tomorrow at 16:00 with a presentation by Peter Raymond OBE and Sheffield on 3 April at 18:00 will a presentation by Miles Rees at Liverpool Central Library.

There will also be the first Manchester meeting of the IP Centre of Excellence on Thursday, 30 March 2006. This Centre will be the staff college for the patent agents, trade mark attorneys, solicitors and other professionals who advise inventors and entrepreneurs in the North. The topic is Freedom of Information. While the talk is most likely to appeal to IP and legal professionals everybody is welcome.

For further information about IP events in the North click "Events" on www.hip.org.uk .

25 March 2006

Baby Dream Machine

I have never been able to watch Dragons' Den. To my mind it borders on voyeurism. Watching four supercilious business people (one of whom came to grief herself) grilling folk who have put their hearts and souls into their business or products reminds me of 18th century gentle folk visiting the poor lunatics in Bedlam. I had the chance to ask Doug Richard why he did it at last month's Venturefest. He admitted that it was "for a hoot".

One of the first pitches (if not the very first) was Graham Whitby's "baby dream machine". Essentially it is an electric rocker. A video clip on Graham's sit actually shows it working. It appears to consist of a set of rollers connected by a belt and powered by an electric motor. The baby is placed in a pram or push chair, the back wheels are placed on the device, the motor is switched on and baby is lulled to sleep. At least that is the theory.

Now Graham and his partner Barry Haigh who invented this contraption didn't get very far on Dragon's Den. The dragons appeared to like the concept but they thought that Graham and Barry were asking too much for their investment. So they sent them off empty handed. But they did not give up. They found support from a local business angel and with the help of Huddersfield Business School Lecturer and marketing consultant, Nadio Granata, and his contacts they are well on the way to a successful re-launch.

One of the milestones on the re-launch was yesterday's "Enterprise Event" at Huddersfield University. This is one of a series of seminars arranged by Nadio around a real business. After drinks and canapes it starts with a presentation by an inventor or entrepreneur. It is followed by cross-examination by a financial journalist and is completed by some pearls of wisdom from an expert panel and one of the professors from the Business School.

Much of the discussion was about price and distribution but I thought that there was a very real issue about IP. I asked Graham about whether his company had any specialist insurance. He said he hadn't but when I told him about Mandy Haberman's battle over the anywayup cup (see her article "Insure or Unsure") I got the impression that he was certainly going to think about it.

Although I have never managed to sit through a whole programme I have met quite a few Dragons' Den contestants - the snowbone man and the interflush to name but two. The thing that impresses me is that they are all sensible folk. I wish them all well. They deserve to be taken seriously.

21 March 2006

"I have yet to see a Confidentiality Agreement that is not flawed"

One lesson that seems to have been drilled into the consciousness of almost every single inventor is the imperative of getting a confidentiality agreement. I have even been asked whether inventors should get their lawyers and patent agents to sign these things.

Now in a sense this concern for confidentiality is a good thing. An invention is patentable only if it is new. By definition an invention cannot be new if everyone knows or can find out about it. Patents have been lost because inventors have disclosed them prematurely to the public. For instance, in Boston Scientific Ltd and another v Palmaz and another [2000] EWCA Civ 83 (20 March 2000) the inventor gave a short presentation of 5 to 10 minutes (perhaps 8 minutes) to about 40 members of the Radiological Society of North America at which he showed a series of slides including some drawings. There was no written record of the presentation and the inventor denied that he had disclosed his invention but the court took the view that he had. It followed that the patent was invalid for want of novelty as a result of that presentation.

What is often forgotten however is that it is not any old disclosure that invalidates a patent. It has to be an enabling disclosure. An enabling disclosure is one that teaches a skilled person enough to make the invention so that it is no longer new or at least enough for him or her to deduce the invention so that it is obvious.

In his talk to the Leeds Inventors Club on 15 March 2006, Dr Barry Stoddart of Procter & Gamble showed how insisting on confidentiality is often unnecessary and can sometimes destroy business opportunities. What a potential customer, partner or investor needs to know is not how an invention works but what it will do. Had the inventor of the wheel told the clerk of works at Stonehenge that he had a world beating invention but he wouldn't say a word about it unless he signed a confidentiality agreement the inventor would have been given very short shrift. If, instead, the inventor had said: "What I have is an invention which will make it much faster and much easier for you to transport stones from one point to another. Are you interested?" The likelihood is that the clerk of works would have replied: "You bet I am interested." There would have been evaluations and a licensing deal.

Companies like Procter & Gamble have large numbers of employees working on all sorts of new products and services all over the world. The problem of confidentiality agreements is that they have to be honoured. Typically, they have to be honoured for years. Where the inventor has hit upon something upon which Procter & Gamble are already working they are embarrassed. The message from Barry's talk was that inventors have to be commercially minded. There is no point in having an invention that is technically brilliant but has no consumer appeal. What P& G need to know is does the invention have such appeal and what is that appeal?

In the course of his talk Barry said that he had never seen a completely satisfactory confidentiality agreement. Hence the headline to this post. That is because different confidential relationships need to be governed by different sets of promises.

The other memorable thing he said in answer to a question from me is that P&G trust inventors' clubs. They know the people behind the clubs and trust them. I can attest to that. I introduced to Barry one of the chaps who attended the IP workshop that I give in the Huddersfield Media Centre on the last Friday of every month. Barry liked his invention and put in train a chain of events that led to his getting a licence from P & G.

11 March 2006

Patents: Resources on Yahoo

It's funny how one discovers useful tings in the most unexpected places isn't. A good example of this serendipity is the "Patent And Trade Law" (sic) - I think they meant "trade secrets" - on the "Small Business " section of Yahoo. The material is written from an American perspective and is therefore based on US law, but much of it is universally applicable.

My favourite article is "You Don't Need a Lawyer to Get a Patent". The article starts with the position of many inventors:
"you have more imagination than money, and a patent attorney wants $7,500 to file a patent application for you. Must your invention gather dust in the garage, or can you apply for a patent yourself, without a lawyer?"

The advice that the article gives is very sound. The only bit that isn't really necessary here is: "record every step of the invention process in a notebook." That is very necessary in America because the right to apply for a patent goes to whoever is the first to invent in America and not the person who is the first to file as it is in most other countries of the world including here. It is still however good practice and as many foreign inventors would want patent protection in the USA there is no harm in following it. The articles ends with potted life histories of four persons who have done very well from their inventions.

Two interesting related articles are "Patent searching online" and "Making your own patent drawings". There are also some good articles on enforcement, non-disclosure agreements and plenty of other stuff.

09 March 2006

IP Centre of Excellence for the North

I have mentioned the launch of the IP Centre of Excellence for the North several times already. I am now glad to announce that it has a website at www.ipcex.org.uk and plans 3 new events:
- 30 March 2006 "Freedom of Information 15 Months on" BPP Law School, Manchester 18:30 to 20:00, Speakers Gerrard Tracey, Assistant Information Commissioner and Ibrahim Hassan,
Freedom of Information Specialist, Proprietor, Act Now Training;

-10 May 2006 Half Day Seminar: "Alternatives to Litigation for Resolving IP Disputes" - BPP Law School, Leeds, 14:00 - 17:00 Speakers: Ignacio de Castro, WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre, Felicity Brandwood, NCC and Sara Ludlam, Keeble Hawson; and
- 15 June 2006 Prof Jeremy Philliips "Five Live IP Issues" - BPP Law School, Leeds. 18:00 - 20:00 to be followed by dinner in nearby restaurant.
Please email me on john.lambert@ipcex.org.uk or call me on 0870 990 5081 ASAP if you want to come as space is likely to be limited.

08 March 2006

OFT moves on Invention Promoters

A post from my other blog that readers may interest readers of this one is that the Office of Fair Trading has issued a stern warning to the directors of a Dublin based invention promotion concern that is now out of business that they can expect swift action if they try to carry on their activities through a new company (see "OFT issues warning to former directors of inventions promotion company", 8 March 2006).

The OFT reminded the public that there is plenty of free advice about from the Patent Office, the Institute of Patentees and inventors' clubs. One of the reasons for providing "service provider" membership in the Huddersfield, Liverpool, Sheffield and other clubs is to divert folk with bright ideas away from the cowboys to reputable businesses and professional practises that offer useful and cost-effective services, in many cases free. I am glad to say that Eversheds and Nabarros have joined the list of service provider members to the Sheffield club and that Halliwells will be at the first meeting of the Liverpool club.

04 March 2006

American Wisdom: The 6 Life Stages of Inventors: Part 6 Senescense

Since January 2001 the adjective "American" has been associated with the noun "wisdom" less and less frequently, but the phrase "American wisdom" is not an oxymoron. It abounds in copious quantities on the Rethink(IP) and companion blogs of US patent lawyer Stephen Nipper. One series of articles that I would urge all here to read are "The 6 Life Stages of Inventors". I picked it up at "Part 6 Senescense" but I have seen the others and they are all worth reading. Also worth reading is "The Invent Blog".

Sheffield Inventors Group

Joining the inventors clubs that I sponsor in Blackburn and Manchester, and the ones that I helped to start in Leeds, Huddersfield and Liverpool is the new Sheffield Inventors Group. The group will launch at 18:00 on 3 April 2006 with a talk by Miles Rees of the Patent Office at Sheffield Central Library in Surrey Street.

The group will be run very much like the others. There will be two classes of members: inventors from anywhere in South Yorkshire and service providers (people who offer business and professional services to inventors) from anywhere.

Now that we have a fair measure of organization in the North we should soon be in a position to negotiate substantial benefits for Northern inventors such as discounts for searches and library services, legal advice and representation, patent and trade mark agents' services, prototyping and IP insurance.

Michael Sandys of Kirwans and Kate Reid of Pemberton Reid and I have already giving free workshops and clinics. So, too, has Chis Hemingway of patent agents Bailey Walsh. Nadio Granata of PNG Marketing gave a lot of input to the Huddersfield inventors as did product development consultant Richard Hall of PD-M International Ltd. On the financial side Iain MacLeod of IP Insurance Services is already working on a group IP insurance policy for members of any of the Northern inventors' clubs. After that, we shall try to arrange networking events with angels and VCs.

Details of these events are or will be on the "Events" page of www.hip.org.uk. We hope to help make you all rich men and women. We shall certainly do our best.

Manchester Inventors' Club: Arthur to tell us how

At the end of the last Manchester Inventors Group a remarkable thing happened. An inventor appeared who had made a success of his invention. And in less than a year too. The inventor's name is Arthur Arnold and he has nabbed immediately by Steve Mansfield to give the talk next Tuesday.

Arthur has invented a device for securing disabled badges. It is sorely needed because hundreds are stolen in Manchester alone. Arthur showed us his invention in a blister pack ready for sale. He has already had loads of interest from police forces around the country, local authorities, disabled groups and many others. A good example of what can be done.

The talk will take place in the committee room at Manchester Central Library. Refreshments will be available from 18:00 on 7 Mar 2006. Afterwards, Steve will buy a drink for anybody who follows him over to the pub. Can't remember its name but it is in the building where Slater Heelis (one of the oldest law firms in Manchester) used to practise.

02 March 2006

Liverpool Inventors' Club: Monday 27 March 2006 16:00 - 18:00

We are delighted to announce the launch of Liverpool Inventors' Club.

This is a joint venture between Michael Sandys (commercial partner of Kirwans who is qualified both as a barrister and solicitor and who previously practised with Cobbetts LLP and Halliwells) and me.

We have had a lot of support and encouragement would like to thank in particular Ruth Grodner of the Liverpool Patent Library, David Gilmour of Potts Kerr and Jo Pritchard of John Moores University.Our first meeting will take place at Liverpool Central Library at William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EW, Tel 0151 233 5835 Email nipclaw@yahoo.co.uk on Monday 27 March 2006 from 16:00 - 18:00. Admission and refreshments will be served courtesy of Kirwans and nipc.

To kick off our programme, we have an excellent guest speaker in Peter Raymond MBE who gave a first class talk to the Manchester branch of Ideas 21 on 21 Feb 2006. He has an impressive track record of success in innovation working with industry, universities and the public sector. He knows Liverpool well and will have a lot to tell us.

Space in the library is likely to be limited so call Ruth Grodner on 0151 233 5835 well in advance to avoid disappointment.