Can I realise my idea’s potential on my own?

The ninth in a series of 10 blogs by Martin Brassell of Inngot, helping you find your own answers to 10 key questions about your intellectual property, or IP.

If you are a multinational corporation, the answer to the question posed by this blog is often (but not always) “yes”. The answer for most small and medium-sized businesses is usually the opposite.

Collaboration can occur at lots of stages in the ‘product to market’ cycle. As previously explored, it is often involved at the genesis, and decisions have to be made (preferably in advance of a discovery) about who will own and exploit the resulting technology. However, it’s an equally powerful tool in later stages. We’ll briefly consider two of these: prototyping and distribution.

Inventors often lack the specialist skills or resources to translate their idea into a working model or prototype. Some will turn to commercial organisations to overcome this, while others will work with a university. Both situations require a clear understanding to be put in place up-front.

When developing a product with a commercial partner, they must be bound by confidentiality agreements. If they are bringing significant know-how to the exercise, there will have to be agreement on how their IP is handled.  Sometimes it will be appropriate for all IP to pass to the inventor on payment: on other occasions you may judge it is better for the commercial partner to have a longer-term interest in the project. The price paid should reflect this difference. 

There are a myriad of ways you can work with universities, ranging from straightforward contract research (where you basically pay them to do a job) to collaborative research programmes (where the university has a stake in the
outcome, and may help to fund the work). In all cases, universities like to publish what they have done, so you need to ensure that nothing commercially sensitive or patentable gets disclosed prematurely.

Five Lambert agreement templates have been devised to cover the most familiar scenarios and offer flexibility in determining who will have which rights to own and exploit the resulting new IP.They provide a good starting point for negotiations.

Turning to distribution: if you don’t have the resources to reach your target markets yourself, IP is the key to a number of potential solutions. If you have devised a new service format, you could look to franchise it. To do this successfully, you will need to have something proprietary to your business (like specialist know-how that has been turned into a process, or perhaps a trade secret) and you will have to brand it. This requires trade mark protection, which you will be expected to enforce.

Where markets are more remote, you may decide to license your marketing and distribution activities, and perhaps your manufacture as well. These licences will be based on permission to use your assets in exchange for payment: since those assets will be IP and intangibles, you need to own them all for this strategy to work.

So if you want to go down this route, you will need to ensure your IP is protected in the territory in question – as well as choose your friends carefully!

Visit www.inngot.com for details of how to profile and value your IP and intangibles.

Others in the series:

De-mystifying IP

IP - Unlocking the hidden value of apps

IP - What have I got?

IP - Is what I have original and distinctive?

Is my IP really mine?

IP - How can I protect what I’ve got?

IP - Who else knows about what I’ve got?

IP - How open should I be?

IP - How big is the market for what I have?

IP - How intense is my competition?