25 September 2017

Mums Enterprise Roadshow

The Business Design Centre
Author Matt Brown
Licence Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Source Wikipedia

Jane Lambert

I apologize to the organizers of the Mums Enterprise Roadshow and my readers for not mentioning this event earlier but I only found out about it myself this morning when I checked the events calendar of the Intellectual Property Office website.

Mums Enterprise Events are holding what they describe as a series of "child-friendly work and business exhibitions helping mums on a mission whether that be retraining, finding flexible work, starting up or growing a business."

The first of the present series is taking place at the Business Design Centre in London today and you can find out how to get there, how to get in and what you can do when you get there from Lindsey Fish's blog post 10 Ways to make the Most of your Visit to the Mums Enterprise Roadshow - London 12 Sept 2017 Mums Enterprise Blog. You can find an agenda and a list of exhibitors on the London page of the website.

One of the phenomena that I noticed when I chaired inventors clubs in Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield was that while the overwhelming majority of the audience at talks and other events in those cities were gentlemen of a certain age, many of the inventions that actually worked, sold or were of practical use were invented by young women. In fact, most of them were young mothers who had invented items that helped them look after their children. Claire Mitchell of Chillipeeps and Mimi &Mago and Rowena Johnson of BugBrush are just two who spring to mind.

According to the Mums Enterprise website
"The success of UK mumpreneurs appears to be outpacing the sector's growth in other nations, with the mum economy expected to generate £9.5billion for the UK economy by 2025."
This is an activity that our nation needs to encourage and support.

If you miss today's event in London there will be others in Solihull near Birmingham on 31 Oct 2017 and Brighton on 22 Feb 2018. I can't make it to London today but I will try to attend and report on one of the Mums' Enterprise other shows.

Should you want to discuss this article or innovation in general, call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

15 September 2017

How to make Money from your Invention: Licensing

Jane Lambert

In How to make Money from your Invention 13 Sept 2017, I introduced readers to the EPO's Inventors Handbook. Readers will recall that the Handbook advised that there are basically four ways of exploiting an invention:
  • A licensing agreement with a company
  • A business start-up: get your idea to market yourself
  • A joint venture 
  • Outright sale of the idea.
In this article, I shall consider the first of those ways, namely licensing the invention.

The Handbook explains that a licensing deal is one that allows a party known as a "licensee" to use the invention in return for a periodic payment known as a "royalty". It adds that 
"The exact terms of the licence must be negotiated in a process that can be lengthy (often many months) and complex. The licence is a binding legal document, so it is usually essential to involve patent attorneys and other legal professionals."
The Handbook continues:
"For many inventors, licensing is the best way to benefit from an invention. The main reasons are:
  • The licensee bears the costs and risks of production and marketing.
  • Only established companies may have the resources to exploit an idea with major potential.
  • Licensing can provide the inventor with an income over many years for relatively little effort."
However, it also warns that "only the strongest forms of IP will interest potential licensees" which in most cases means a patent.  Licensing is often seen as a soft option compared to setting up a new business to market the invention, but, in many if not most cases, the reverse is true.

For a start, unless you are answering an express invitation from a company to submit your invention, you are likely to spend a lot of time and effort looking for a company that could make money from your invention. Finding a company that can make money from your invention is not the same as finding a company that makes a product like your invention. If, for example, your invention renders obsolete a technology in which a company has invested heavily or threatens an income stream such as the supply of consumables or replacement parts, such a company may be the last business on earth to be interested in your product.

Once you have found a potential licensee you have to persuade that company that it can make money from your invention.  Sometimes, nothing short of a detailed business plan will do. That is bound to be a bit hit and miss as you are unlikely to have access to the financial, marketing and technical information that is available to the company's managers.  Even companies like Procter and Gamble, Henkel and Boots that invite submissions from inventors require those inventors to show how the invention will fit into their product range (see Boots's Innovation Needs). They usually impose strict legal and technical requirements (see Boots's Submission Requirements).

Except for companies like P & G, Henkel and Boots, you will have to give some thought as to whom you will contact and how you will present your invention. As I said in Finding a Route to Market for Your Invention - Unsolicited Approaches are not usually a Good Idea 25 Feb 2012, you are unlikely to get anywhere with an unsolicited submission. Your best bet is to find out as much as you can about your potential licensee through industry events like trade shows and seminars.  The inventors who are best placed to license an invention are those already in an industry or academics in a relevant discipline. Members of the public with no special connection with the industry will find it hard to sell their ideas.

As a licensee would take a licence under a patent or other intellectual property right, your intellectual property strategy must be one that works for your licensee rather than you.  Your invention must be protected not just in the United Kingdom but in all the countries where the invention is likely to be sold as well as those in which it can be made. Unless you intend to grant an express licence to your licensee you will have to take proceedings against infringers and resist revocation applications in each and every one of those countries. That can be very expensive for a private inventor or small business.

Finally, do not expect your licensee's management to be particularly kind to you.  Their job is to look after their shareholders and not to look after you.  They are likely to drive a very hard bargain in the licensing negotiations. After the licence is granted they will construe it in a way that suits them. Once they have learned how to make your product and developed a market for it they may try to challenge clauses they don't like or seek reductions in the royalty or other payments. When negotiating the licence you should think about dispute resolution and choose a method and governing law that works for you.

In negotiating your licensing agreement you are likely to need the services of a patent strategist who could be a lawyer with experience of licensing or a patent or trade mark attorney, an accountant with expertise in licensing and tax incentives for new technologies as well as a patent attorney.  Should you wish to discuss this article further, call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

13 September 2017

How to make Money from your Invention

Jane Lambert

So you've invented something. Congratulations!  That was the easy bit.  Your challenge is to make money from your invention without losing your shirt, your home, your marriage or even your mental health. I am not being flippant.  In all the years that I have been practising law, I have known far more inventors whose lives have been ruined by their inventions than those who have become rich from them.

The reason why bad things happen to inventors is that they allow themselves to become obsessed with their inventions. Obsession clouds judgment which leads to bad deals and bad decisions.  Often there is only so much that an inventor's spouse or partner can stand. That is what leads to family breakdowns. Money and relationship problems can lead to depression or worse.

In many cases, those misfortunes could have been avoided by seeking good advice at an early stage. Now intellectual property advice can be expensive but it does not have to be. There is a lot of good advice on the internet for free.  One of the best sources of advice is the Inventors Handbook on the European Patent Office website.

The opening words of the Handbook are as follows:
"The purpose of this Inventors' Handbook is to provide you with basic guidance on all the key stages of turning an invention into a commercial product. Or perhaps we should say the key stages of turning an idea into an enterprise, if we are to widen our definition of 'invention' to include novel processes, business methods, social interactions etc. Though invention has traditionally been associated with manufactured products, it is now better understood that new wealth has always been created primarily from new knowledge, or novel uses of existing knowledge."
I would invite readers to read the rest of the page which stresses the need to reduce risk and control costs and that is where someone like me can often be of assistance.

The next passage I should like you to read right now is Exploitation Routes. The page begins with the words:
"There are basically four ways of exploiting an invention:
  • A licensing agreement with a company
  • Business start-up: get your idea to market yourself
  • A joint venture 
  • Outright sale of your idea."
It also warns readers to take care when dealing with invention promotion companies.  Over the next few days, I shall be exploring each of the above options and explaining where you can get more help.

If you want to discuss this article, call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

01 September 2017

The National Summer Teacher Institute: How the US Patent and Trademark Office trains Teachers to teach Kids about IP

US Patent and Trademark Office
Author Coolcaesar
Licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Source Wikipedia

In What do Start-up Entrepreneurs need to look for in a Good IP Lawyer? 23 Aug 2017 NIPC News, I wrote:
"The first thing to say is that intellectual property is far too important to be left to IP lawyers and patent and trade mark attorneys. IP should be on the curriculum of every business school in the country. Every entrepreneur, investor, business owner and manager should know how the law protects his or her brands, designs, technology and creative output and how to leverage such protection for the benefit of his or her business."
Several readers agreed.  One added that IP is underestimated by so many businesses and that can be their undoing.

I was therefore interested to learn of an initiative in the United States that introduces the public to intellectual property very much earlier. In a post to his blog entitled Training Teachers to Educate the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs 31Aug 2017, Joe Matal, the acting US Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office), the equivalent of Comptroller here, wrote:
"As students are starting the school year, teachers are heading back with new lesson plans, some of which include intellectual property concepts. Last month, more than 50 K-12 educators from across the nation took part in the 4th Annual National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI) on Innovation, STEM, and Intellectual Property. This year’s NSTI was hosted by the USPTO’s Office of Education and Outreach in Denver, Colorado in collaboration with the University of Denver’s Project X-ITE Team. NSTI is a week-long innovation and entrepreneurial boot camp designed to help teachers unleash the innovative potential of their students."
The course is open to science and maths teachers at the equivalent of primary and secondary schools or sixth forms colleges or to teachers of practical subjects like wood and metalwork and design technology. They must have some teaching or child mentoring experience and intend to spend at least another year in the profession, They must also intend to incorporate into their lessons plans, curricula and resources "student activities related to making, inventing, or innovating as part of school year curriculum". Finally, their attendance on the NSTI must be approved by their head teacher or other relevant authority (see FAQ on NSTI on Innovation, STEM and IP).

Fifty teachers may not sound much given the enormous population and the massive land area of the USA but one of the conditions for attending the programme is that they agree to share their experience with other teachers so the potential cascade experience is considerable. The USPTO's goal in providing this training is to give "opportunities for educators to explore the concepts of intellectual property creation, development, and protection as it relates to science, technology, engineering, mathematics, art, design, invention, and innovation."

The objectives of the programme are to:
  • "Increase public knowledge about the significance of intellectual property and innovation, especially as it relates to STEM, art, design, and entrepreneurship;
  • Help increase the number of students actively pursuing making, inventing, innovation, and STEM fields of study and careers;
  • Offer tools and instructional strategies to encourage student learning about STEM, innovation, and intellectual property; and
  • Highlight the accomplishments and contributions of inventors and the advances realized as a result of invention."
The course will be taught by "USPTO experts, National Science Foundation-funded researchers, experts from other Federal agencies, representatives from the Maker Education community, and distinguished faculty inventors from U.S. universities." Those attending the course can expect to learn how to:
  • "Apply the principles of intellectual property and innovation to help further motivate and engage students in authentic project-based learning in STEM;
  • Experience how innovators invent new things, improve upon old ones, and apply the creative design and engineering process;
  • Explore resources designed to encourage student inquiry using a strategy modelled on the research-based science writing heuristic to help meet Next Generation standards in science and engineering;
  • Gain experience in methods to implement the “Science of Innovation” materials in the classroom; and
  • Become part of a national network of education professionals at the cutting edge of integrating intellectual property, innovation, and STEM into the K-12 education curricula."
Like the United States, the UK is a country that ought to perform a lot better than it does in the OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests in maths and science. This seems to be an imaginative and effective way of motivating teachers to attract more children and young adults into the STEM subjects. This is the sort of initiative that we would do well to follow here.

Should anybody wish to discuss this article or how to set up a similar programme here, call me on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.