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.

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