Monday, 30 July 2012

“Common problems faced by inventors” Steve Van Dulken Leeds Inventors Group 18th July 2012

Steve has been working as an intellectual property librarian at the British Library, London for around 25 years. Using his vast experience he has written several books on patents and appeared in a number of television programmes relating to inventions. In a wide-ranging discussion he used anecdotes to illustrate a number of areas and situations which inventors commonly experience.

The issue of when to file a patent on a new product and the use of confidentiality / non-disclosure agreements is a frequently pondered question and when Steve addressed this it provoked a variety of responses. He also went through the importance of searching at an early stage and some of the techniques he uses.

One area which many inventors fall down on is the business aspect of their new product. It will only sell if there is a market for it and getting a product to market (either the inventor doing so or by licensing or selling it on) requires some business awareness. Steve suggested that an inventor should think carefully about what they would regard as success – how much do you realistically expect to make from the product? How much would you be willing to sell it for? What is your attitude to risk? Developing any new product involves a degree of risk and the success rate for new products is very small.

He strongly suggested a business plan, which basically makes you think about the pros and cons of the product and the market and what issues may arise – before they actually crop up. Not only does this make you more prepared generally, but it enables you to deal more effectively with other people and organisations you will need to work with in order to get the product to market.

Cash flow is critical – we often think of businesses going bust if they don’t sell enough product. It can also happen because they sell too much  - they spend money on providing the product but payment usually arrives some time later, and it can come too late.

When dealing with others his advice was to describe yourself as a designer rather than an inventor as the latter can have very negative connotations for some and may be less likely to be taken seriously.

Steve emphasised the importance of keeping track of costs and not overspending – including costs of intellectual property. Many inventors and businesses decide that they need a trade mark to protect their name or logo, but is it necessary? If you don’t plan to expand the business significantly would it be worthwhile?

Overall, much to be considered before any inventor starts the process of considering protection or publicising his product.

Steve's blog http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/patentsblog/