So, you’ve got an idea that you want to develop or a business you want to grow. What do you do next?
Intellectual Property Protection
Many people think that it is essential to protect the intellectual property in their idea as soon as they have it. However, as with most things, this aspect is all a matter of timing. By all means, talk to a patent attorney in the early stages of development to discuss what could and should be protected, but another important question here is ‘when?’. Some registered IP protection, namely patents and registered designs, should (and in most cases must) be applied for before there is any public disclosure of the idea. Public disclosure means showing or telling anyone the idea, except in confidence, so be wary of social media platforms, because if you give away your idea via these types of media, even if only to a few friends, you run the risk of destroying your chances of obtaining valid patent or registered design protection. However, it is possible to discuss your idea with selected (and, to the best of your knowledge, trusted) people or organisations using a confidentiality agreement or NDA, and useful templates can be found here. This might, for example, be useful for speaking to potential investors, collaborators, business mentors, designers or developers to progress your journey before filing applications for intellectual property protection. There are a number of reasons why you might want to wait a while before filing, for example, a patent application. It is a relatively straightforward (and, in the scheme of things, low cost) process to file a UK patent application; BUT, once filed, you only have twelve months before corresponding overseas applications should be filed. This can be an expensive part of the whole process, but that is not the only (or even the main) reason why it might be advisable to have delayed this for as long as practicably possible. Firstly, it could be critical to include in the patent application, further detail of the invention that will only be available when the development process is near completion. Twelve months can be a very short period of time in development, and that detail may simply not be available when it is needed if you started the patent process too early. Secondly, you may not know, at the twelve month stage, which countries might be important to your commercial success. There are ways of delaying this particular decision by an additional 18 months, but even that time can fly by before you know it, so the longer you have to test your markets and even start generating a revenue stream before these deadlines arise, the better.
Of course, other types of registered intellectual property protection, specifically trade marks can often wait a while longer, because there is no need to keep them confidential before filing an application for registration.
So, what else do you need to think about?
Growth Hubs have opened in many parts of England and Wales, and are intended to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in their area, and provide personalised support to businesses of all types in the region, from pre-start through to existing companies and organisations looking to grow. In general, they deliver business development, business support networks, strategy and advisory services, business information and enterprise support, and can offer a great starting point for any entrepreneur looking to get a business off the ground or take an existing business to its full potential.
On the Government web page www.greatbusiness.gov.uk, it says: “Starting a business takes careful preparation and research. Take good advice at this planning stage, and you may well avoid costly mistakes later on”, and we couldn’t agree more.
This is always a big question – how are you going to pay for everything that needs to be done to start or grow a sustainable business? There are numerous finance options available to pre-start, start-up, and established businesses. These include private investment (from individuals, venture capital investment companies, etc), government grants, collaboration or joint venture agreements, secured or unsecured loans, R&D tax credits, crowd funding, to name a few. Only two of these are discussed in a little more detail below.
R&D Tax Credits
If your company carries out research and development then you may be eligible for R&D tax credits, which can reduce your tax bill or increase taxable losses. If your company makes a loss on qualifying R&D expenditure, you can choose to ‘surrender’ or ‘cash-in’ losses that derive from an HMRC claim. A guide to claiming R&D tax credits if you are an SME can be found here.
In contrast to the traditional way of financing a business, which involves asking a small number of people for large sums of money each, crowdfunding is a way of raising finance by asking a large number of people each for a small amount of money. There are a number of different ways to do it, but all methods work online through crowdfunding websites. The Which? Guide entitled What is Crowdfunding? [link here] contains some useful tips for pitchers and potential investors.
Design and Development
You may, of course, be able to progress the idea through the design and development stages yourself. However, often, entrepreneurs need the help of an expert in, for example, product design or software development, depending on the nature of the idea. There are numerous established companies that can help you through these stages of your journey and, if chosen wisely, they can be a hugely valuable partner in the process. We recommend investigating and then comparing a few suitable companies, ensuring that you have confidentiality agreements in place with all of them before divulging your idea (a good design company is likely to have a suitable NDA as part of their welcome pack).
Branding and Packaging
Clearly, whether your idea evolves into a product or service, it is likely that you will, at some point, turn your attention to branding and identity, namely the way people will recognise your product over others in the same sector. This may involve names, logos, packaging design, as well as website development and promotion leading, eventually, to marketing. Whilst branding is often left until the end of the development process, this does need to be thought about before you commit financial resources to its use. For names (i.e. ;’trade marks’), especially, make sure you are free to use your chosen name and will not infringe someone else’s rights because re-branding and legal proceedings after you have gone to market are much more costly than re-thinking your brand identity during earlier stages of the process. Do consult a qualified trade mark attorney, who may advise doing some searching to see if your mark is safe to use, and remember that simply owning the domain name or limited company matching your chosen name does not give you any trade mark rights and will not prevent you from infringing someone else’s rights.
The Pioneer’s Toolkit
In the modern age, a pioneer is often defined as a person or organisation that explores new areas of thought or activity. In other words, an entrepreneur. Here at Wynne-Jones IP, we see ourselves as pioneers, and many of our clients, partners and associates are too. In fact, we are surrounded by successful entrepreneurs, each with their own story to tell. Most of them would agree that the entrepreneur’s journey to success is a challenging one, but we don’t think anyone should have to embark on that journey unaided. With so much experience, expertise and knowledge available to us, we would like to share the journey with you by sharing what and who we know, just to help you on your way. For more information: https://wynne-jones.com/the-pioneer-s-toolkit-blog/
Author: Vicki Strachan, Partner & Patent Attorney at Wynne-Jones IP
Wynne-Jones IP is a firm of Intellectual Property specialists based in Cheltenham, London, Cardiff and Telford with more than fifty years of trading. The firm advises businesses and inventors in a wide range of sectors worldwide on all aspects of patents, trade marks, design rights and copyright.