There is always a question of protection when it comes to an invention or a business idea. So how do you effectively protect your small business ideas?
Anyone can easily daydream about a great business idea but the fact is that entrepreneurship is not just about dreaming.
You can dream of an awesome startup idea that’s capable of making millions in returns. But is that all it requires to be a successful entrepreneur?
The fact is that there is more to entrepreneurship than just dreaming of an invention that can change life.
Perhaps the most important task is how to actually turn your dream to a viable business. Arguably, this is why some people think that entrepreneurship is not as easy as you might have thought.
How you can easily protect your small business idea
If you suddenly had an ah ha moment or a moment of clarity, a defining moment where you gain real wisdom – wisdom you can use to change your life, you must protect your idea. If your business centres on an invention, this is done by means of the patenting process.
And if you run a business along more ‘intellectual’ lines – for example, selling photography or producing literature – copyright is your protection. It won’t be cheap – but it will be worth it. Vacuum cleaner tycoon James Dyson famously spent thousands of pounds on patents long before any of his products came to market.
But had he not done so his unique cyclone technology could have been appropriated by rival manufacturers. So how do you protect your small business idea? Below are simple but essential ways you can easily protect your small business idea:
#1]. Patenting is the basics and most important
Before you begin the patenting process, you must research whether your idea really is new, otherwise you will not be granted a patent. Once you establish that your idea is unique, discretion is the key.
Keep your plans secret until a patent application has been filed. You can do this free of charge on the Intellectual Property Office (formerly the Patent Office) website. You can also do this at a public library with a patent department.
If your search brings up nothing you should then go to a registered patent agent or search bureau, although this can be costly.
#2]. Know your market
Check there really is a market for what you are offering: Who wants it? Where are the customers? Will it solve an existing problem better than anything else currently available?
Look at which companies and products are your potential rivals and what market share they have – can your invention compete with what they offer at a competitive price?
For example, you may have developed a new paint – but could you compete with ICI? You could, of course, revolutionise the market with your innovative new product.
But Patent Attorneys and the Intellectual Property Office should be able to offer advice on this.
#3]. Define your idea
Write down clearly what your invention is, how it works, how it could be made in bulk and at what cost, and what its advantages are, including a simple drawing if it is mechanical or electrical.
Then take out a patent either yourself (very difficult) or via a patent agent.
#4]. Patent process and cost
If you apply yourself fees will cost between £230 and £280 from initial filing to a patent being granted. The process takes about 33 months (the fast track system can take under a year for the same price).
Drawing up patent documents is a skilled job, so it is usually better to use a patent agent – the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys can put you in touch with one.
The average cost of employing a patent attorney is between £3,000 and £4,000, but may be less for a simple invention.
Your initial application protects your invention for a year, and although protection can be extended it becomes more expensive, especially for international patents. Try to find a company to buy or license your invention in the first year to save money.
#5]. Copyright: the basics
If you create ‘intellectual’ works you automatically hold the copyright on them. This lasts for 70 years. You can’t claim copyright on slogans, names or titles, although these can sometimes be trademarked.
Copyrighting also gives you the ‘moral rights’ to your idea. This means you can object to infringements of your idea. Copyright is automatic in the UK – you don’t have to apply for it. However, it is worthwhile appending your work, where possible, with the international copyright symbol (©) followed by the year of creation and your name.
Under international conventions, this protection extends to overseas territory and allows you to control how your work is exploited for money and how it is copied, adapted, published, performed or broadcast.
This can be an important source of income for some businesses. Remember, if you use contractors, they hold the copyright unless you agree otherwise.