27 December 2012

Unitary Patents: Good News from Europe

I must apologize for the long silence since my last post. The reason I have not been blogging recently is that I have been busy with litigation which will have important consequences not just for my client but for everybody who is party to an intellectual property infringement action in the UK.  If the case goes a certain way it will break new ground and will almost certainly have an impact outside as well as within this country. The hearing took place on 20 Dec 2012 and judgment has been reserved. I will tell you all about this case just as soon as I can.

Probably the most important news for inventors while I have been offline was the adoption by the European Parliament on 11 Dec 2012 of legislation for a unitary patent.    Readers who want an overview should read the European Parliament's press release and the welcome to the resolution by the European Patent Office.  For those who want more detail there are some good frequently asked questions.   Those who want to read the legislation for themselves will find the resolutions on the creation of the unitary patent, a unified patent court and ancillary legislation through these links.

The reason why this legislation is important is that it will become considerably cheaper and easier for inventors to obtain a single patent for all the member states of the European Union except Spain and Italy and to enforce that patent through a new patent court sitting in London, Paris and Munich which will have jurisdiction in all those countries.  

At present inventors have the choice of applying to the European Patent Office for a European patent designating one or more of those 25 countries or to each national intellectual property office for a national patent either directly or through the Patent Co-operation Treaty. Either way that is expensive costing an average of €36,000 according to the European Commission compared to a fraction of those costs for patent protection in the USA, China, Japan or South Korea.   If a European or national patent is infringed the patentee has to sue in every member state in which the infringement occurs which in common law countries, such as the UK and Ireland, can be very expensive indeed.

The new legislation should reduce the cost of patent prosecution - the application for a patent and its examination by the European or national patent office - from €36,000 to about €4,725 according to the European Commission, and the cost of enforcement from millions of pounds to tens of thousands of euro.   With the development of new IP insurance and litigation funding packages universities, small and medium enterprises and indeed individual inventors will find it easier to hold their own against multinational companies and other competitors.

The landscape has already changed considerably for such IP owners in England since Professor Kingston wrote "Enforcing Small Firms Patent Rights". The cost of enforcement was reduced dramatically by the new Patent County Court Rules and the introduction of a small claims track for intellectual property disputes.   It has also been possible to get authoritative advisory opinions from patent examiners on whether UK and European patents are valid and whether they have been infringed for £200 since 2005.  The unitary patent will begin to level the playing field internationally.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing a lot about the unitary patent and its likely impact for my clients.   If you wan to learn more about this topic give me a ring on +44 161 850 0080 or send me an an email through my contact page. You can also follow me on Facebook, Linkedin, twitter or Xing.

31 October 2012

Patent Litigation Funding: HLP3 enters the Market

Although it no longer costs anything like as much as it once did to bring a patent infringement claim it is still too much for many individual inventors and small businesses. The small claims track which I discussed in "Soon there will be a Remedy if Someone steals your Idea" on 19 Sept 2012 does not cover litigation relating to patents, registered or registered Community designs, semiconductor topographies or plant varieties.

Ideally a patentee should take out intellectual property insurance before a dispute arises and I have written lots of articles on IP insurance in this blog and elsewhere (see "IP Insurance Five Years On" 23 Oct 2010).  Unfortunately, IP insurance premiums are not cheap and many patent attorneys are sceptical as to the value of the cover.   Consequently many inventors and small businesses cannot afford to fund challenges to their patents.

Some patentees who choose not to take out patent insurance do so in the hope that some law firm or counsel will take their case on a "no win no fee" retainer.   While there are lots of lawyers who will undertake personal injuries litigation on that basis there are very few who will do intellectual property cases without an assured fee for the reasons I explained in "No Win No Fee" (NIPC website on the 14 July 2011).  There will be even fewer such cases after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 takes effect. For very much the same reasons it is hard to get after-the-event insurance ("ATE") for intellectual property cases.   Premiums are high and will be irrecoverable under the new Act.

For some types of litigation, third party funding may offer a solution.   I discussed that option in "Litigation Funding for IP Claims" on 18 Sept 2012.  The latest refinement is HLP3 which was brought to my attention by Peter Rouse.   Peter, who practised IP law for many years, is now working as a consultant with US firm HLP Integration who have brought together funding from Caprica and the legal expertise of Olswang to prosecute patent infringement claims where there is a good prospect of success.   A press release dated 30 Oct 2012 explains how the scheme works:
"In return for an admission fee of £3500 HLP Integration carry out validity, infringement and financial analysis and provide a detailed report. If the results of that report are promising then the report will be sent to Patent Counsel who will carry out an assessment of the prospects of success in patent proceedings. If those prospects meet the required percentage chance of success then the case will pass to ATE insurers for a further risk assessment. If ATE insurance is approved then the patent owner can exercise an option agreement, entered into at the outset, requiring Caprica to fund the proposed litigation. From beginning to end this process is expected to take no more than 3-4 months. In summary: a modest payment per patent; a robust and thorough process of analysis, expert review and risk assessment; and an option agreement exercisable at the patent owner’s discretion for qualifying patents."
Since it is likely to cost at least as much as £3,500 for patent counsel and specialist solicitors to evaluate a claim the admission fee seems almost a bargain.   .

Should any patentee wish to discuss any of these methods of funding he or she may call me on 0161 850 0080 or send me a message through my contact form. Readers can also follow me on Facebook, Linkedin, twitter or Xing..

30 September 2012

From the Patent Examiner's Mouth

At the first meeting of the Leeds Inventors Group many years ago, our first speaker Lawrence Smith-Higgins, Head of Business Outreach & Education at the Intellectual Property Office, promised to send us a patent examiner to address one of our meetings. I reminded Lawrence of that promise every time I visited the Intellectual Property Office for a hearing and at every outreach event at which we were both present. Eventually he relented and arranged for Kalim Yasseen to speak to us earlier this year.  Kalim did in fact address the Sheffield group to a packed house but, sadly, he fell ill and was unable to repeat his talk in Leeds.

Happily, Kalim's colleague, Sarah Whitehead, took his place and she was excellent. Starting from first principles, Sarah explained what a patent was and why an inventor or businessman or woman might want one. She distinguished patents from other intellectual property rights such as copyrights and design rights.  She outlined the inventors' bargain with the public - a monopoly in return for teaching the public how to make or work the invention - and showed how a patent specification reflects that deal. The description and drawings setting out the teaching and the claims the extent of the monopoly.   Patiently she educated the audience as to why the application had to be examined, how it was done and indeed why it seemed to take so long.  It is a very strong thing to grant a 20-year monopoly of the manufacture, importation, distribution and use of a new invention and it is not to be undertaken lightly. The British process may seem long drawn out but our Intellectual Property Office was significantly faster than many other countries'. Finally, Sarah talked about disputes over patents and how they may be resolved mentioning in particular the IPO's opinions service.

After her talk I invited Sarah to supper at "All Bar One". Over a hamburger and chips and vegetarian pad Thai (I had the burger and she the pad Thai) she told me a little more about her work and that of the examiners.  We discussed the practical effects of the Supreme Court's decision in Human Genome Sciences Inc v Eli Lilly and Company [2012] 1 All ER 1154, [2011] UKSC 51, [2012] RPC 6, [2012] Bus LR D37 (a case that I had blogged in "Patents: Human Genome Sciences Inc. v Eli Little and Co" IP/IT Update 9 Nov 2011).  Turning to other matters, she mentioned that she came from Derbyshire, that she was educated at the Universities of Bath and Manchester and that her research had been in life sciences. 

One of the many matters upon which we agreed was that the cost and risk of enforcement had inhibited British businesses from protecting their research and development adequately. We welcomed the new small claims track to the Patents County Court (see "Patents County Court - the New Small Claims Track Rules" IP/IT Update 20 Sept 2012) which will be the topic of my talk to Sheffield Inventors Group tomorrow 1 Oct 2012 at Sheffield Central Library at 18:00 and Liverpool Inventors Club at QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter at 88 Church Street, Liverpool, L1 3AY on 29 Oct at 18:00.

19 September 2012

Soon there will be a Remedy if Someone steals your Idea

For many years the UK has lagged behind its competitors in the number of European patent applications. With 6,464 applications in 2011 it has actually slipped a place from 7th in 2009 to 8th in 2011 behind the USA (59,688), Japan (47,404), Germany (33,181), China (16,946), South Korea (13,254), France (12,107) and Switzerland (7,786).

I have long argued that there is a correlation between the number of patent applications and the relative cost of intellectual property enforcement (see "New Patents County Court Rules" IP/IT Update 31 Oct 2010 and "Why IP Yorkshire" IP Yorkshire 10 Sept 2008). Until the new Patent County Court Rules were introduced on 1 Oct 2010 England and Wales was arguably the most expensive and difficult country for a small business to enforce its intellectual property rights in the developed world.

Now that situation is about to be reversed.   From 1 Oct 2012 England will actually be one of the least expensive and least risky places in the world to bring small IP infringement claims.   On that day The Civil Procedure (Amendment No.2) Rules 2012 (SI 2012 No 2208) come into force. Rule 10 of those Rules will amend CPR Part 63  to permit small IP claims to be brought in the Patents County Court.  This seemingly insignificant rule change is potentially of enormous importance for our country's economic future as I have stressed in "Small IP Claims" (NIPC website 8 May 2012), "Enforcing Small IP Claims: Sullivan v Bristol Film Studios" IP/IT Update 7 May 2012 and "The New Small IP Claims Jurisdiction" IP/IT Update 5 March 2012.

The new rules will allow claims for infringement of copyright, design right, trade mark and most other intellectual property rights including breach of confidence relating to trade secrets and passing off to be allocated to a new small claims track provided that the value of the claim does not exceed £5,000 and the parties agree.  If the parties do not agree the court will allocate the case to the small claims track or multitrack as it thinks appropriate.  The significance of allocating a case to the small claims track is that a simplified procedure applies and there is a limit to the costs that the successful party can recover from the other side. It is possible - though I would stress not always prudent - for a party to represent him or herself in that tribunal.

It is important to stress that not every intellectual property right can be enforced in the small claims track. In particular, claims for the infringement of a patent, registered design, registered Community design, design right in a semiconductor topography or plant breeder's rights will still have to be allocated to the multitrack. However, there is nothing to stop the court from re-allocating such a case to the small claims track as the Court of Appeal suggested in Sullivan (see my case note "Enforcing Small IP Claims: Sullivan v Bristol Film Studios") or giving directions similar to those that would be made in the small claims track.

I said above that while it is possible for a party to represent himself before the Patents County Court it is not always prudent to do so. That is because rule 10 (c) provides for most of the rules of CPR Part 63 to apply to the small claims track.  Some of these rules are quite technical as is the substantive law.  In my career at the Bar I have seen several cases in which a litigant in person has proceeded to judgment only to have it set aside at great expense because of an avoidable procedural defect.  For those who are prepared to write their own letters to the court and other side and serve their own documents my chambers will provide fixed fee oral and written representation. For those who are not, I have arranged with JWK Solicitors who have lots of experience of small claims litigation as well as expertise in IP to offer fixed fee litigation. Anyone who wants to learn more of those services should call me on 0800 862 0055 or contact me through Facebook, Linkedin, twitter or Xing, or through my contact page.

Finally, I am giving a talk on the new rules and my new fixed fee enforcement services to Sheffield Inventors Club at Sheffield Central Library in Surrey Street on Monday 1 Oct 2012 between 18:00 and 20:00. Anyone wishing to attend should contact Lynne Hinchcliffe on  0114 273 4712. There will be no charge for the talk but space is limited and recent events have been very well attended.

26 August 2012

Playback Rewards: fancy getting paid to watch telly!

Quite literally, Playback Holdings Ltd pays viewers in cash or vouchers for watching TV commercials. As the company's website explains:
"Targeted advertising is the holy grail of the TV and advertising industries. In the US, experts forecast that by 2015 the annual revenues from targeted advertising will exceed $11 billion. But in the UK and Europe it has stalled because subscription-based services and internet-based advertising sales houses know so much about their customers that it would be difficult to avoid claims of abuse of privacy and data protection rights if they targeted them with tailored advertisements. PBR’s technology completely avoids all privacy and data protection issues."
The technology to which the home page refers are inventions that identify each viewer's interests but does not disclose his identity to the company or any other person. The inventor is my very good friend Alistair Kelman  who is chief executive officer of Playback Holdings. Other heavyweights behind the project include David Elstein, former SEO of Channel 5 who will be the company's chair, patent agent Vivien Irish, and, as you can see from the above video, Stephen Fry, who has invested in Playback Holdings.

In the video below Alistair and David explain how the company's business model works:

  Playback Holdings is raising funds for further development by crowd funding,    You can find more information about the company's offer by joining Seedrs - the first British seed funder to obtain FSA authorization.

The project has already attracted a lot of interest in the blogosphere. Neil Infield, manager of the Business & IP Centre of the British Library, has called Playback Rewards a success story in the making.   Here are some of Alistair's posts on the Cisco British Innovation Gateway Awards blog.

For further information, call me on on 0800 862 0055 or contact me through my contact form, Facebook, Linkedin, Xing or twitter.

28 July 2012

Celebrating British Technology: we should make a habit of it

For me the best part of yesterday's opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was the focus on Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Sir Tim brought us the world wide web which is one of a very small number of inventions which has revolutionized everyday life. And Sir Tim was not the only great British innovator recognized at the ceremony. Isamard Kingdom Brunel played by Kenneth Branagh was featured too. As I tweeted just a few minutes ago, it is not often that we celebrate British science and technology, We should make a habit of it.

Happily there is an event that does just that.   The Make it in Great Britain campaign, which is run by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, aims to challenge outdated notions of British manufacturing industry and in particular the myth that Britain doesn’t make anything anymore.  It celebrates the successes of our manufacturing sector and highlights the best in British innovation. 

The centre piece of the event is an exhibition at the Science Museum which runs from 24 July to 9 September and coincides with the Olympic and Paralympic Games.. It showcases every economic activity in the UK from creative industries to pharmaceuticals. One of the features of the exhibition is a competition to find the best British invention from a number of finalists grouped in a number of categories:
  • Breakthrough Finalists
  • Smarter Finalists
  • Stronger Finalists
  • Life Changing Finalists
  • Sustainable Finalists.
A different group is features at the exhibition and on the website every week and visitors are encouraged to choose the invention they like best.   The winners of each category will be chosen at the end of the contest.  This is just the sort of encouragement that business needs to invest and innovate for our economic recovery.

20 June 2012

Cracking Ideas: My Encounter with Wallace & Gromit

Yesterday I attended the "Cracking Ideas" awards ceremony at the Spaceport in the Seacombe ferry terminal near Wallasey. The event was attended by Baroness Wilcox, Minister with responsibility for Intellectual Property, TV presenter Gareth Jones, 14 innovative youngsters and their families and, of course, these two characters. Wallace & Gromit.

The "Cracking Ideas Competition" is a collaboration between Aardman Animations Ltd. and the Intellectual Property Office. It is part of a wider project consisting of lesson plans, activity packs, challenges and the Cracking Ideas website, to encourage innovation and creativity amongst children and young people between the ages of 4 and 16.

According to the IPO's press release, the competition attracted 4,000 entries.  The national winners were
  • Jessica Williamson, aged 8 of Stewarton, who invented Wallace & Gromit style ‘Wrong Trousers’ lace-up football boots, with a spring sole contraption to assist with goal-scoring;
  • BritneyAnn Guest, aged 11 of Kidderminster, who designed ‘Mini Flatleys’ dancing shoes with a free lucky charm bracelet for greater performance and comfort; and 
  • Elliot Comnene, aged 13 of Bonnyrigg, who created the ‘Footie ChairSpring-O-Matic’ to help wheelchair users develop their football skills.
This year's contest has a space theme.  A good place to start would be the Spaceport's exhibition on astronomy and space travel.  Apparently they host parties so I shall recommend  the Spaceport to Henry Carr QC as a venue for the Intellectual Property Bar Association bash.  It would make a change from Middle Temple.   I can't be the only one who would like to send Sir Robin Jacob into orbit.

07 June 2012

Catapulted - Forwards or Back

Last Friday I attended a workshop on Shaping the CDE Catapult to support digital SMEs at the Electric Works in Sheffield.   "Catapults" are the new name for the technology and innovation centres proposed by Hermann Hauser in his report "The Current and Future Role of Technology and Innovation Centres in the UK".   I discussed them in detail in my article "Catapult: Is that really the Sort of Initiative that we need to stimulate Growth?" which I posted to my chambers website on 3 June 2012.  "CDE" stands for "Connected Digital Economy" and it is a collaboration between the creative industries, electronics, sensors and photonics and ICT knowledge transfer networks of the Technology Strategy Board.

Over 80 delegates had signed up for this event though not everybody turned up. Those who did make the effort included Trevor Beard of e2E Services in Hatfield, local lad Adrian Tunicliffe of Can Sudios and Danny Licari, self-styled digital media fixer.

We had a comprehensive introduction to the Catapult concept from Nick Appleyard, Head of Digital at the TSB. After a brief Q & A session, we were divided into groups and asked to address a short questionnaire on the priority areas for small and medium enterprises. My group included Trevor, Adrian, Danny and a bright young chap called Tom who offered somewhat rashly to act as our rapporteur. I had read Hargreaves and the IPO's proposals to help SME to get value from their IP the night before and was thus conscious of Hargreaves's finding that many SME were bewildered by the choice of range of IP advice already on offer.   I argued that the Catapult should work with existing resources such as the IPO and PatLib libraries rather than complete with them.   I also stressed that innovation should be market driven rather than bureaucrat or boffin led. A final task after lunch was to imagine a "user journey" to illustrate how an SME might use a Catapult.   We spotted difficulties in IP sharing and our business's jounrey ended in failure.

As I said in my article this is not the first time a government has tried to induce innovation by bringing together business, the universities and the public sector.   That was the thinking that led to the NCC in 1966 which had to be remodelled in order to survive. One hopes that the Catapult initiative will do better though it is not clear why it should.

Finally, Carmel Harrison, head of public relations for the Institute of Directors in Yorkshire, drew my attention to an event at New Broadcasting House between 98L00 and 10:00 on 21 June 2012 called  "Boost your business with thebigword boss". In a comment to my earlier article, Carmel wrote:
"Based on the Knowledge Transfer Partnership it actually allows SMEs to tell Unis what they need and help them shape and deliver the key skills. WE have been here before and will be again but we need to get SMEs to get closer to the academic and learning community."
The event is free and it takes place at the start of the day so it won't cost you much to attend,   I encourage as many of my readers as possible to find out what Leeds Met can do for your business.  If you do go, let me know whether you found it useful by calling ne on 0800 862 0055 or contacting me through my contact form,, Facebook, Linkedin, Xing or twitter.

31 May 2012

IPO's Plan to support SME

"From ideas to growth: Helping SMEs get value from their intellectual property" is the title of the Intellectual Property Office ("IPO")'s plan for supporting small and medium enterprises ("SME"). The services that it proposes to offer are as follows:
  1. providing training and awareness raising seminars for businesses;
  2. providing online tools to help businesses assess their IP assets, 
  3. funding strategic IP audits for businesses where IP has been identified as a critical issue for their growth;
  4. funding Masterclass training for business advisers within other public sector business support schemes, such as GrowthAccelerator, the Technology Strategy Board’s Catapult Centres and the Patent Library network;
  5. extending the model used at the Business and IP Centre in London to six regional patent libraries;
  6. working with the local enterprise partnerships to offer tailored local advice to businesses in different regions;
  7. stimulating the creation of business and IP advice networks across the UK;
  8. creating a strong network of business advisers that SMEs are able to access for sound commercially relevant IP advice;
  9. continuing the Cracking Ideas competition to introduce school children to intellectual property, and
  10. working with universities to reach students who need a good understanding of intellectual property to benefit their future careers and the wider economy.
The public is invited to comment on those proposals by 3 July 2012.  The IPO will use any feedback to develop new and improve existing services.   Responses should be addressed to sme@ipo.gov.uk.

11 May 2012

Kate Reid: Confidentiality and Licensing

Counsel are probably in the best position to judge whether a solicitor, patent or trade mark agent is any good because we are instructed by members of those professions. Since the 4 July 2004 barristers have been permitted to deal directly with the public. Public access has changed the way we are instructed but it has not changed the work that we do. If a case requires a solicitor we have a professional duty to advise our client to that effect.   As often as not, the first question from the client is "Can you recommend one?"  I usually make a number of suggestions depending on the nature of the work but it it involves litigation or licensing I nearly always include Kate Reid, principal of Pemberton Reid.

According to her web page, Kate qualified as a solicitor in 1995 and worked at both Hammonds and Lupton Fawcett in Leeds before setting up Pemberton Reid.  In addition to her LLB she holds a post-graduate diploma in Intellectual Property Law and Practice.   She has been instructed in some important cases:
"Antec International v AVS (patent infringement), Antec International v SWC (passing off), Scholes Windows v Magnet (design right infringement), Tyco European Metal Framing v Clewer & others (design right infringement ), 1-800 Flowers (objection to a trade mark application), Bentone v EOGB (trade mark invalidity proceedings)."
Her work now includes:
  • advising on the existence and extent of intellectual property
  • advising on infringements of intellectual property rights
  • intellectual property agreements such as licences and assignments and confidentiality agreements
  • intellectual property litigation in the High Court and Court of Appeal
  • proceedings in the patent office regarding ownership and entitlement to patents
  • prooeedings in the trade marks registry regarding opposition and invalidity of trade marks
  • WIPO domain name dispute resolution actions 
  • due diligence for purchasers and sellers of intellectual property
  • distribution, supply and commercial agency agreements
  • terms and conditions of trading
  • advising on the Commercial Agents Regulations 1993
  • litigation in relation to the Commercial Agents Regulations 1993.
Kate was guest speaker to the World Intellectual Property Day meeting of Leeds Inventors Group on 18 April 2012 (see "Kate Reid at the Leeds Inventors Group 18.4.12"  26 April 2012).  The title of her talk was "Confidentiality and Licensing"). On confidentiality she discussed
  • why use a confidentiality agreement
  • what is confidential information
  • when is information not confidential
  • how long will information be confidential, and
  • what can it be used for.
On licensing she talked about the nature of a licence and the rights that can be granted, royalties and the usual terms with a few special words about trade marks.   

Immediately after her talk we had a presentation from FabLab Airedale which is now open for business (see
"FabLab Airedale: Introductory Offer and Visit" 2 May 2012 IP Yorkshire). The next meeting of the Leeds Inventors Group will be a visit to FabLab Airedale in Keighley on 16 May 2012 between 18:00 and 20:00 (see "16th May Leeds Inventors Group -visit to Fablab Airedale" 2 May 2012 Leeds Inventors Group blog).   Inventors from Sheffield are also invited and I am sure that those from elsewhere would be very welcome.   If you want to come please call Ged or Stef on  0113 247 8266.

Finally, a plug for Sheffield Inventors.   If you want investment to develop your invention come to Sheffield Central Library, Surrey Street, S1 1XZ at 18:00 sharp on 14 May 2012 to hear Mr. Russell Copley of Angels Den speak on  "Raising Business Growth Investment - Alternatives to Bank Finance". Angels Den is one of the largest angels networks in the UK.

Further Reading
Jane Lambert Sample Confidentiality Agreement 21 Sep 2010

06 May 2012

Lean Startup

A very good friend keeps telling me that great ideas are 10 a penny. An evening at any inventors' club anywhere in the kingdom seems to prove the point.  Britain is buzzing with inventive talent.   What is much harder to find is great execution.  Many (indeed most) of those great ideas never see the light of day.   Indeed, most of the patents on the register have never been worked.

A possible solution to the problem of getting great ideas to market may be the lean startup methodology. It is a principle developed by entrepreneur and author Eric Ries in his book "The Lean Startup". It is summarized in the following proposition:
"The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers' hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development."
The basic concept is the "minimal viable product" which is represented by the circle set out above. An idea for a new product or service is tested by building one that has just the features that enable it to be deployed and no more. Market reaction is measured and considered and the product is either refined or abandoned.

Publisher and visionary Tim O'Reilly suggested that it is an approach that can be applied to many things other than business:
"The Lean Startup isn't just about how to create a more successful entrepreneurial business...it's about what we can learn from those businesses to improve virtually everything we do. I imagine Lean Startup principles applied to government programs, to healthcare, and to solving the world's great problems. It's ultimately an answer to the question 'How can we learn more quickly what works, and discard what doesn't?"
In other words how to use time effectively.

Ries's book has given rise to a worldwide movement of lean startup enthusiasts. A group has existed in London for some time.  There is now a group in Manchester which will meet on Bank Holiday Monday at the Business School at 18:00. I will be there and am looking forward to meeting other members of the group.

01 May 2012

Keighley FabLab opens for Business

Over the last few months we have said a lot about FabLabs in this and our accompanying blogs (see Jane Keats on "Factories of the Future" 7 Nov 2011 and the "Further Information on FabLabs" at the end of my article on Haydn Insley's talk to the Liverpool Inventors' Club of 28 Jan 2012).

The first FabLab in Britain opened in Manchester and I wrote about it in "FabLab Manchester" and "The Manchester FabLab" in IP North West on 18 July 2011. Now a second FabLab has opened in Keighley and I took a look at it on 20 April 2012.

The Keighley FabLab (known as "FabLab Airedale") is a joint venture between Bradford City Council, the Airedale Partnership and Leeds City College which has a campus at Keighley. The connection with the College  enables the FabLab Airedale to supply business as well as technical advice to users. That is a service that not every FabLab can offer.

FabLab Airedale has all the equipment that I saw in Manchester on 5 August plus two impressive bits of kit of its own, namely a Denford lathe and a Denford router, Denford is based in Brighouse which is not far from Keighley.  James Kitson, the manager of FabLab Airedale worked there before he took up his present appointment.

If you have not yet visited a FabLab you have an opportunity on 16 May 2012.  Leeds inventors club are paying them a visit on that day between 18:00 and 19:45 (see "16th May Leeds Inventors Group -visit to Fablab Airedale"  on the Leeds Inventors Group blog for 30 April 2012).  If you want to attend the event call Ged or Stef of Leeds Central Library on 0113 247 8266.

The next FabLab to open will probably be Freerange Artists in Carlisle which I mentioned in my article "Introducing IP to Freerange Artists in Carlisle" on 10 March 2012.   Others are planned for Scotland, Merseyside and Northern Ireland.  If anyone is interested in learning more, there is a FabLabUK group on meetip.com and a FabLab Manchester group on Linkedin.  There are also organizations run on very similar lines to FabLab such as Sheffield's Refab Space which I discussed in "Integreatplus's Learning Lunch: Refab Space and FabLab" on 24 Feb 2012 in IP Yorkshire.

If you want to find out any more, contact me through my contact form,, Facebook, Linkedin, Xing or twitter or call me on 0800 862 0055.

29 March 2012

HutchinsonIP's First Anniversary

Over the last year I have done a lot of work with Tom Hutchinson of HutchinsonIP. This has included seminars to the Manchester FabLab and freerange at Carlisle (see "FabLab Manchester - Introduction to Intellectual Property" 6 Nov 2011 and "Introducing IP to Freerange Artists in Carlisle" of 10 March 2012 in my IP North West blog) as well as professional work. Tom has been one of the best patent agents I have ever worked with and I have known a few in my time..

As his firm passed its first anniversary Tom recruited a trade mark attorney. He can now cover the whole spectrum of IP work from patents and registered designs to British and Community trade marks as well as unregistered design right, unregistered Community designs, semiconductor topographies, copyrights and rights in performances.

Until the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and Liverpool Central Library can reopen the Liverpool patent clinic, I shall be referring any enquiries that require advice from a patent or trade mark attorney from Merseyside, North Wales, the Wirral and West Lancashire to HutchinsonIP.  Should you wish to consult the NIPC IP Clinic you should complete our on-line enquiry form or call me 0800 862 0055.

If you want to consult Tom directly he practises from

Hutchinson IP Ltd
57 Hoghton Street
Tel: 01704 532 683

01 March 2012

Forthcoming Events - Sheffield and Carlisle

Two great events you will not want to miss.

Sheffield 5 March 2012
James Wallbank of Access Space will talk about Refab-Space which provides many of the facilities that are offered by the FabLabs around the world.   I heard James speak at Integreatplus's Learning Lunch  and he is a really inspiring speaker.

The talk takes place at Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 1XZ at 18:00 on 5 Match 2012.   If the talk is anything like the last one it will be standing room only.  Admission is free but you are strongly advised to book your place in advance. Call or email Lynne Hichcliffe on 0114 273 4736 to let her know you are coming.  See today's post  "Refab - a fabrication laboratory for Sheffield" in IP Yorkshire.

Carlisle, 8 March 2012
On the other side of the Pennines IP North West will present an Introduction to Intellectual Property Law to Freerange Artists in Carlisle on 8 March 2012 between 10:30 and 13:30.  Speakers include patent attorney Tom Hutchinson of Hutchinson IP and David Flint of MacRoberts one of the leading intellectual property lawyers in the United Kingdom.  As a Scottish solicitor, David can give some insight into some of the features of Scots law that differ from those of England and Wales.  He can obviously assist creative entrepreneurs  immediately to the North of Carlisle wall but he can also alert those in Cumbria and Westmorland with customers and suppliers to the North who prefer their own legal system of the pitfalls and advantages of Scots law.   I shall chair the meeting, introduce the topic generally and speak on enforcement.  Call or email Hannah Stewart on 01228 401324 for further information.

If anybody has any questions or comments, he or she can contact me through my contact form,, Facebook, Linkedin, Xing or twitter or call me on 0800 862 0055.

25 February 2012

Finding a Route to Market for Your Invention - Unsolicited Approaches are not usually a Good Idea

When I was a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s my favourite book was "Ideas and Inventions", a large, red cloth bound volume telling the history of some of the world's great inventions and the often difficult life stories of their inventors. My bedroom was littered with all sorts of rubbish such as cotton spindles, fuse wire, bits of string and rope ends of various thickness and hundreds of hundreds of elastic bands which I fashioned into unpromising contractions. It is probably one reason why I am so untidy as an adult.

My dream was to invent something that would bring me fame and fortune.  Some of my ideas were not half bad. I remember devising a video recording system in my head and dismantling an old dictating machine that my mother had brought home from work together with an ancient Kodak box brownie camera. My plan was to build a prototype and offer it to Mullard or Ferguson or one of the other great British radio set makers of the day. I hoped that one of them would marvel at my invention and put it into production paying me a massive royalty that I would probably have spent on sweets.

Now with several decades of experience of practising intellectual property law I understand the naivete of that plan. However, through my clinics and inventors clubs I am consulted by many adults for whom an unsolicited invitation to a market leader remains the preferred route to market.   "I'm a serial inventor, me", many of them say. "I don't care about money. Just leave me in my workshop to get on with inventing things and pay me what you think the invention is worth."  Actually they do care about money if their idea or invention is actually taken up - or if they imagine that it is.

Although there are some companies such as Procter & Gamble, Henkel and Boots which have always encouraged approaches from individual inventors, it is not as a rule a good idea to cold call companies.   The vast majority of firms will not be interested simply because they have got quite enough on their plate as it is with global competition and declining markets.  Of of the few firms that may take an interest in your invention most will be reluctant to enter a non-disclosure agreement with you. There may be many reasons for their reluctance.   In some cases it will be because they are working on a similar invention and they don't want to risk a claim by you that they have stolen their idea.  Another reason may be that they have scoured the universities looking for fine minds whose pet projects are rarely taken up and firms don't want to upset those staff still further by giving house room to an idea off the street.   Yet another reason - although a very rare one - is that if your idea really is a disruptive technology, businesses that have invested heavily in the conventional technology just don't want to hear about it.   The usual reason for not taking up unsolicited ideas is that businesses do not see how they can make any money from your idea.

The best route to market if you really do have a good invention is to make it (or get it made) and market it yourself. That means going into business with all the hazards that entails.  I won't tell you how to do that.  There is already plenty of good advice on the Business in You website.   If you want a business advisor you can find one through Mentorsme.  There are great local resources built on city central libraries such as Business and Patents in Leeds and the Business and IP Centres in London and Newcastle.  You need to consult those resources even if you want to license your invention because your potential licensee is much more likely to take you seriously if you can produce a business plan which shows how your invention will fit into his existing business and make him money.

Whatever you decide to do you are likely to need a lot of help with patent, trade mark and perhaps design registration, licensing, distribution agreements, joint ventures and the like. If you need to discuss any of those matters feel free to call me on 0800 862 0055  or use my contact form. You can also contact me through FacebookLinkedin, twitter or Xing.

31 January 2012

Straight from the Horse's Mouth:"Filing a UK patent application - process and procedures"

When you apply for a British patent you have to satisfy the Intellectual Property Office  that your invention is new, involves an inventive step, is capable of industrial application, does not fall within any of the statutory exclusions and meets all the other requirements of the Patents Act 1977. The official who considers your application is called an examiner. The photo shows a group of them to the left. Very brainy people as you can imagine. Albert Einstein once did that job for the Swiss federal intellectual property office.

It's not often that you actually get a chance to meet a patent examiner but this opportunity will arise on Monday 6 Feb 2012 in Sheffield and Wednesday 15 Feb 2012 in Leeds.

Sheffield and Leeds inventors groups are delighted to welcome Kalim Yasseen, an examiner of the UK Intellectual Property Office to our February meetings. Kalim will talk about  "Filing a UK patent application - process and procedures".

These talks are important not just for inventors but also for patent agents, entrepreneurs, business advisers, bankers, angels and venture capital investors and just about everyone involved in the patenting process.

The Sheffield talk will take place at Sheffield Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 1XZ on 6 Feb at 18:00.

The Leeds talk will take place at Leeds Central Library, Calverley Street, Leeds, LS1 3AB  on 15 Feb at 18:00.

Both events are free.

28 January 2012

Liverpool Inventors Club Re-launch - Fabulous FabLab

As everyone in Liverpool knows, Liverpool Central Library at William George Street has been closed for refurbishment since 23 July 2010. According to patent librarian Ruth Grodner, it is not due to re-open to the public until some time in  2013.

The library hosted Liverpool Inventors Club and th:e CIPA patent clinic. Since the refurbishment, both have been looking for a new home. Now thanks to QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter, we have found a new one for the Inventors Club and the patent and trade mark agents and other IP practitioners in IP North West will provide a patent clinic service for Liverpool until the CIPA one is up and running again.

The Inventors Club will kick off to a fantastic start with a presentation by Haydn Insley of the Manufacturing Institute who runs the fabulous FabLab Manchester. The meeting will take place on Monday, 27 Feb 2012 at 18:00 at the offices of QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter at
88 Church Street
L1 3AY

This is an event for everyone in Merseyside, not just inventors but artists, business angels, designers, patent and trade mark agents and other IP professionals, venture capitalists.   The lot.

Space is limited so book your ticket quickly. Click here to register for the event or contact your host Michael Sandys at 0151 282 1700 for further info on the event.

Further Information on FabLabs

IP North West
FabLab Manchester, Introduction to Intellectual Property
The Manchester FabLab
FabLab Manchester

Inventors Club
Jane Keats "Factories of the Future"

IP Yorkshire
FabLabs for Yorkshire: IntegreatPlus Learning Lunch

21 January 2012

BIPC Newcastle

On 26 Oct 2010 I blogged an announcement by Mark Preece MP of a new a new collaboration between the British Library, NESTA, Newcastle City Library and Northumbria University for a new Business and IP Centre in Newcastle along the lines of the British Library's Business and IP Centre in London (see Jane Lambert "Resources for Inventors in North East England"). I am pleased to say that the Centre is now open at Newcastle City Library and it has a website and twitter feed.

The home page of the website claims to be the "only dedicated Business and Intellectual Property Centre outside London". Leeds Business and Patents would be entitled to argue with that. Like Leeds, the BIPC sets out to be  "a comprehensive one-stop-shop for the region’s business talent, offering everything from research materials to subscription database access; tailored 1:1 consultation sessions to the latest business journals."

The BIPC's resources include:
  • A wide selection of business reference and lending books.
  • Free factsheets and guides (including Trade Marks, Design, Copyright, Esp@cenet, Historical Patents Searching, Patent Information and IP protection)
  • Current and backdated newspapers and journals including Management Today, Investors Chronicle, Trade International, Moneyfacts, Marketing, People Management and Contrax Weekly.
  • A dedicated seating/study/networking area for business use.
  • Display cabinets exhibiting successful case studies and historical patents journals.
  • 2 x Apple Macs and 1 PC dedicated for business use.
  • Business database subscriptions including Keynote, Cobra, Corporate Researcher and Which?
  • A private interview room with PC/internet access.
  • Interactive ‘Skills Swap’ networking board.
Resources available in the wider library include a 100 seat cafĂ© with terrace area, printing, photocopying, scanning and faxing facilities and free internet and Wi-Fi.   All good stuff.

The enterprise is a joint venture between the City and British Libraries, Newcastle Science City, Northumbria University, the Bdaily business network, some local solicitors and the Newcastle branch of a  firm of patent and trade mark agents. Advertised services include assistance with business planning, patent, trade mark and design searches and skill training.  BIPC has an interesting programme of events starting with  business coaching and a talk by Trevor Baylis on 24 Jan 2012. It plans to develop a range of services on the London model.

One thing that they do seem to lack in Newcastle is an inventors group like the ones in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.   When I published my article in 2010 I received a number of enquires and offers of help from inventors in the North East.  Our chambers would be very glad to help set up such a group in Newcastle if anyone would care to contact us on 0191 580 8090 or through our form.

The Library is open until 20:30 on Monday to Thursday.   It shuts at 17:30 on Friday and Saturday and 17:00 on Sunday.   Its address is 33 New Bridge St West, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8AX.

17 January 2012

Ideas North West: Going for Grants

If you missed Charles Lucas and Tom Bathgate of Going for Grants when they spoke in Yorkshire you can catch Charles in Accrington on Thursday.

He will be speaking to Ideas North West  at

The Globe Centre
St.James Square
Thursday, 19 Jan 2012 at 18:00 for 18:30.

Further information from Margaret Tate on 01254 208419.

08 January 2012

Leeds Inventors Club: John Biddleston

Leeds Inventors Group is in for a treat this month. The first speaker of the New Year will be John Biddleston who gave an excellent talk to the Sheffield Inventors Group on 7 Nov 2011.  

The title of John's talk will be "The Importance of Planning". He is well qualified for that topic as he us a product design consultant as well as an inventor.  He is also a qualified teacher and knows how to keep an audience's attention.   I wish he had been one of my masters.

The talk will take place on 18 Jan 2012 at 18:00 at Central Library, Calverley Street, Leeds, LS1 3AB. For further information call Ged Doonan or Stef Stephenson on  0113 247 8266 or  email piu@leeds.gov.uk.

01 January 2012

Happy New Year - this could be the year the recovery starts

Last year a group of economists predicted a modest recovery for the British economy. Many of the economic indicators suggested that they might be right. Manufacturing was powering ahead and exporters were doing well. However, I thought they were over optimistic and said so many times in my twitter stream. Several people including one of my best friends accused me of talking down the economy but I am sorry to say that events proved me right.

This year, economists are predicting gloom and doom and again many of the indicators are suggesting that they may be right. Again, I take a different view. I think the pessimism is exaggerated. I believe that 2012 will be the year in which we see signs of recovery.

Why do I say that? The answer is that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and CIVETS (Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) countries as well as other emerging economies are growing so quickly internally that they can lift the world from recession. That was the outcome that I envisaged at the start of the downturn (see The Coming Economic Downturn: How it will affect inventors and what they can do).

I am not alone in anticipating recovery. Neil Mackay, managing director of Advantage Business Angels for whom I have a particularly high regard has said so too in "A First Sighting of Recovery" though for somewhat different reasons.

The only fly in the ointment I can see is that property prices are falling in China. This seems to be the result of government policy but if real estate has been taken as collateral it could affect the Chinese banking system. Then we would all be in trouble.