Monday, 30 June 2008

Leeds Inventors Group Archive 2005 -2006

First Leeds Inventors Group meeting with the speaker being Laurence Smith-Higgins from the Patent Office (now UKIPO)

In September the guest speakers were Brian Corbett and Bob Middleton. Brian and Bob run the Genica programme, based at Bolton University, which is aimed at assessing and sometimes helping to get new products on to the market. As they pointed out, if a product is not already on the market it is often because nobody wants it, rather than nobody has thought of it.

Anyone hoping to make a success of their product should have a clear idea of what they want and how they are going to get there - but if you want to be a millionaire, buy a lottery ticket - you'll have more chance of success! Have realistic targets. Brian and Bob also said that it is important that if you are working with a company, you should give them an incentive to sell / manufacture your product - don't be to greedy when working out your percentages.

The October meeting saw an interesting presentation by NESTA assessor Peter Bissell, who also wrote the books "A Better Mousetrap" and "The Business of Invention", two of the best-known reference works in the field. Peter explained how he goes about judging inventions which are brought to him. He pointed out that inventors need to carry out a patent search at an early stage, but also need to determine not just that the idea is new but that it is better than what has been done before.
It is important to consider who the competition is and realistically look at market prospects. Costing of the product is vital - how much do you need to sell it at to make a profit? Very often products don't sell because the price is too high - sometimes once the price is cut they take off. Peter pointed out that anyone approaching a company to manufacture or licence an invention needs to convince the company that they are not taking a huge risk if they invest in the product. A good presentation is essential. Many inventors tend to consider only market leaders when they are looking for someone to take on their product, but as Peter explained, big companies are often only interested in products with a huge potential turnover. They may well turn down a product with good prospects because it will "only" sell half a million units per year.

Further hints relating to getting your invention up and running can be found here.

Terry Singleton and Clayton Roudette, winners of the Universiy of Manchester Incubator Company Invention Competition, addressed the group in November. Terry described his long battles to get his products noticed before achieving recognition for his recycling bin. He warned that it's one thing to get interest in an invention, but another thing to get money out of those who are interested. He pointed out that "This is my ninth patent and I'm still a poor man!" A patent can be a strong negotiating tool but does not guarantee success. His advice to other inventors was to keep at it but be prepared to have to spend money before breaking even and eventually making a profit.

Clayton's invention was aimed initially at the domestic leisure market - a quick-assembly structure which could take the place of a temporary marquee or conservatory. His patent has been granted and he is currently talking to interested groups who may wish to produce the product. He is also developing other versions for the commercial sector. He stressed the importance of working with people who genuinely understand the product and have something to gain by promoting it

January's meeting was a "brainstorming" session where a large audience discussed issues relating to their inventions in front of a panel consisting of barrister John Lambert, patent agent Clare Adcocks, and Ged Doonan of Business and Patent Information Services. A wide range of topics were discussed and a number of suggestions made as to where further assistance might be obtained.


Dai Davies of law firm Nabarro Nathanson spoke at the February meeting. He emphasised the importance of determining the commercial value of a new product at an early stage. This is particularly important as inventors often don't consider the significant costs involved in protecting what they have. Any company whch takes on a product is taking a risk in trying to get it on the market and therefore an inventor must be able to convince the company that they themselves are gaining benefit from it. He did point out, however, that even if a patent application fails, the inventor may still have confidential information which is useful (as it is important to disclose only what is necessary in order to try to gain the patent).

Dr Barry Stoddart of Procter & Gamble told the group that inventors need to understand the differences between the technical advantages of their invention (important if they are thinking of patenting) and the commercial benefits which are important if they are to get the product onto the market. A company will be attracted by a new product which can be shown to be faster / better / cheaper. Different companies may have different views on which of these is the most important and an inventor approaching a company must take this into account.

Barry also pointed out that often confidentiality agreements are not particularly well written. They should always be tailored to the particular invention they are supposed to be protecting and the company which is being approached. An inventor must also be prepared to give a company sufficient reason to be interested in the product before expecting any agreement to be signed.
Steve Waud talked to the group about the work of the Business Enterprise Fund. The fund was set up by the government to help people who have been unable to obtain funding from more traditional sources such as banks. The experienced team who run the fund will assess the value of your business idea rather than your assets - as long as they think the business idea is good, they will support it.

As Steve pointed out, few people are good at dealing with all three of the main aspects of business - production and sales and finance. The Business Enterprise Fund can offer mentoring support to help with all three.

John Lambert, founder member of the Leeds Inventors Group, gave advice from the perspective of a barrister. He explained his six golden rules for inventors, which included thorough planning and sound research. He emphasised the importance of being realistic and in particular, not being misled by the flattery of friends, relatives or companies hoping to make money out of the inventor.

Money is always a crucial factor for an inventor and John pointed out that much can be done for little or no cost in the early stages of development - he suggested using the services of patent libraries such as Business & Patent Information Services, patent clinics, inventors groups and organisations such as NESTA (see above). In all cases when using commercial services, compare charges. And as always, consider whether protecting your invention with a patent is worthwhile, and make sure any confidentiality agreements are correctly drawn up.

Eric Redfern shared with the group his experiences of 30 years of inventing, discussing what he has learned from his own inventions which succeeded and those which failed. He stressed the importance of having good legal advisors to support you and advocated the use of commercial solicitors who are experienced in this type of work. As well as approaching companies directly with his inventions, he has also gone through commercial solicitors to find someone interested in his products.

Russ Perkins informed the group of the New Product Award which is being sponsored at next year's Venturefest event - a £20,000 award for help with such things as prototyping and product development, and expressed the hope that some of Leeds' inventors would enter the competition.

The main part of the meeting was led by Wei Huang of VTZ International and Dr Ron Jones of Ipcom (both of whom have long experience of businesses dealing with and working within China) who talked about manufacturing and licensing in China. The fast-growing Chinese economy is now the world's second-largest behind that of the US and both speakers talked of how China now offers great opportunities for those with the drive to see their products succeed. Wei Huang described the new "privelege zones" opened for foreign investors and the attractive rates that companies can find for some of the basic overheads. Many from the West are now surprised at finding a highly skilled workforce in the country.
She did point out the importance of having good legal advice and preferably someone with business experience who can deal with legal and technical matters equally well in English and Chinese.

Ron Jones gave a very informative history of intellectual property rights in China, and the country's desire to compete in the global market which has resulted in new - and often severe - laws aimed at stamping out counterfeiting. Cultural and political difficulties have made this a long process but Intellectual Property laws are strengthening and many Chinese companies now have their own patents and trade marks to protect.
Ron pointed out that working with China, particularly if you intend to set up production there, is not the easiest of things to do. However, anyone who is fully committed - and particularly if wiling to spend a significant amount of time in the country - is likely to find significant rewards.

Like Wei he pointed out that the way to succed is to gain the right contacts at an early stage.

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