Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 19/11/08 - Dr Geoff Whiteley

“How to ensure your ideas are protected and marketable” - Dr Geoff Whiteley.
Leeds Inventors Group 19-11-08

Geoff described how “Strulch”, the environmentally-friendly garden mulch on which his business is based, came out of research he was involved with in his post in the Biological Sciences department at Leeds University. A lot of companies were looking for alternatives to peat compost and the university had a number of projects looking into this – funded by industry.

For the university, such projects were a learning process. They began to realise that very often the outcome was a pat on the back but no money so it was decided that in future a better way would be to licence any useful technology to the companies involved.

At this time the university were looking at alternative uses for straw. Straw-burning had been banned because of the impact on the environment, so the university looked into how straw reacts in soil.

The result was a garden mulch made from straw with minerals added to slow its decomposition. As well as being good for the environment it controls weeds and deters garden pests. Patents were filed by the university but after a few years the university decided not to fund the project further. Geoff decided to take the big step of taking the project on himself – along with the significant costs of international patents. Costs of around £25,000 were due at this point.
Because of the research which had been done on it and the advantage of it being good for the environment he was able to get funding from NESTA. This enabled the commission of a processing plant. The product was tested out at the Eden Project, the Earth Centre, the Royal Horticultural Society and Helmsley Wall Garden with very positive feedback.
The next step was to try to get producers interested and he approached companies which he had previously dealt with through the university. The difficulty was that although it could be demonstrated that the product worked on a small scale they wanted to know if it would work on a large scale. And, of course, with an agricultural product this takes time.
Pre-licensing deals were signed with two companies, but as Geoff pointed out things can change quickly. Due to an increase in people composting their own waste and the fact that councils were collecting domestic waste and giving it to composting companies there was an increase in cheap and environmentally friendly compost. As a result the two interested companies backed out.
Geoff and his wife then set up their own business and negotiated with the university to licence the patents. They registered “Strulch” as a trade mark. Business Link then put them in touch with West Yorkshire Ventures. They were advised that in order to get significant funding they would need a business plan and a bigger team with a broader range of skills. In particular, the addition of someone experienced in marketing was a critical step. Funding from Yorkshire Forward and other organisations resulted in an investment of £30,000. They turned down offers from business angels as they didn’t want to give away 50% of the business.
It’s now ten years since the patent was filed. This year the company has paid off its business overdraft. The product has been selling for three years and they’re hoping to break even soon. It has been used on Gardeners World and Ground Force and its reputation is growing.
As Geoff pointed out, having a patent won’t convince manufacturers that the product will sell. They will want to know whether anyone has bought it and whether you can prove that it is better than what is already on the market. A big company, if interested, may well want to do their own trials. It’s a long process, and very often you can think that you’re getting somewhere when in fact you’re being led on by a large company before being dropped. If you can show that the product has sold you will be in a stronger position.
More than anything an inventor needs determination and a great deal of patience.

http://www.strulch.co.uk/

STRULCH LIMITED
26 Hill Crescent
Burley in Wharfedale
Ilkley LS29 7QG
Tel:01943 863610 Fax:01943 863610

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 15/10/08 - Jane Lambert

“Inventing in the Economic Downturn” – Jane Lambert. Leeds Inventors Group 15 – 10 – 08
http://nipcinvention.blogspot.com/2008/10/how-will-economic-downturn-affect.html

http://www.slideshare.net/nipclaw/the-coming-economic-downturn-how-it-will-affect-inventors-and-what-they-can-do-presentation/
Jane decided to take a look at what effects the current economic situation could have on those who are inventing and hoping to get funding or support for their products.

Obviously potential investors are likely to be much more cautious about providing funding when the financial world is particularly unstable. Those who have seen their assets significantly reduced will be much less willing than usual to offer capital. What makes this downturn more difficult is that the government’s support for the banks will mean that there is likely to be much less flexibility in their ability to support new ventures with public money. Inflation and the shrinking economy may mean that funding cuts become necessary. The cost of many materials is also rising.

Anyone putting new products on to the market will always have to compete with existing products, and in difficult times consumers tend to stick with products that they are already familiar with.

Jane pointed out that a growing challenge for European companies and inventors comes from a group of countries he referred to as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India & China). Jane argued that particularly because they are not dependent on exports they – and China in particular – are continuing to grow. While most Western nations tend to cut research and development work in a recession, some of these countries are continuing to invest in them. It’s predicted that in financial terms China will overtake the US within the next 20 years.

However, this growing market should also be seen as an opportunity – both as a place to sell UK goods but also as a source of investment. Already we are starting to see Chinese investment coming in to the UK. Brazil, China and India are also members of the World Trade Organisation.

Jane then went on to list several famous inventions which were developed during the great depression of the 1930s – such as the jet engine, the electron microscope, frozen food and cats eyes – the point being that economic difficulties needn’t kill innovation.

It’s more important than ever to obtain the best professional advice from recognised organisations - PatLib centres such as Business & Patent Information Services; the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys; and the IP Lawyers Association to name a few. As always, beware of invention promoters who offer to protect, promote and sell an inventor’s product for them. She also pointed out that unsolicited approaches to large companies are rarely successful – and sometimes can alert that company to a gap in the market which they can then produce their own product for. Now more than ever companies want proof that a product will sell before they will invest.

Jane stressed how important it is to try to look ahead and see threats to income as early as possible. She advocated the use of adequate intellectual property and other indemnity insurance.

Finally, Jane emphasised how important it is for inventors to make the most of networking opportunities and attending relevant events to keep up to date with current opportunities and making contacts which could give them the breakthrough they are looking for.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 17/09/2008 - Gareth Morgan


“Because Your Business Success Depends on Marketing” : Gareth Morgan of GAP Management

Leeds Inventors Group 17th Sept 2008

Gareth has been working closely with inventors and start-up businesses for eight years. He began his talk by asking the question What is marketing? His answer was that broadly it is about identifying and fulfilling a need.

Identifying a need is something which many inventors don’t spend much time thinking about. Just because you can invent something doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone will want it. Instead of inventing something which overcomes a problem which no-one cares about it’s important to see where there is a market for a new product and whether that market is big enough. As Gareth put it – an accountant doesn’t sell you a load of figures, he sells you a chance to save tax. The figures are a means to an end.

Marketing is everything you do to promote your business or product – including your image. Knowing who your customers are and how they operate is vital in enabling you to get their interest – a will save a lot of time. It’s very important to understand the market and any available trade magazines should be utilised. Where does your product fit into the market? Having a patent does not mean that your product is commercially viable. Many people have spent a fortune on patents and yet not checked that there is a market for the product.

What an inventor needs to do is summed up in the AIDA acronym – Grab Attention, create Interest, create Desire, call to Action

Gareth pointed out that the inventor has to generate his or her own sales – retailers will put stock on their shelves but won’t market it. It’s important to be able to identify what the benefits of your product are (simpler? easier? cheaper than the competition?) He gave an example – the mobile phone. This has lots of features which can include texting, a camera, internet access and many others. However none of these features are benefits if you simply want to make a phone call. What unique benefits does your product have?

Once the benefits of the invention have been matched to a market, progress must be measured and adapted according to what’s needed.

If you manage to gain the interest of a producer / supplier Gareth suggested that it’s sensible to ensure you don’t present them with your only prototype. They will want to test it out – possibly to destruction – in order to determine its strengths and weaknesses. He also pointed out that if you supply only one firm with your product you will be in a much weaker position. You may be at the mercy of their tactics, and if that firm goes out of business or decides not to continue with your product you’ll be in a very difficult position.

If an inventor is competing in a market with an established product, retailers will favour the established product. They will always be wary of someone they don’t know, not knowing how reliable they are likely to be. Will the inventor be able to match the demands of the retailer if the product takes off?

Pricing is vital – if the price is too high, it won’t sell. If it’s too low, once wholesalers and retailers take their cut you won’t have enough to cover your costs. Pricing is part of what Gareth referred to as positioning, or how you’d like your product / business to be perceived. It includes image, value and quality of service.

Thought needs to go into how the product will be promoted. Gareth gave the example of “Innocent Smoothy” drinks. Initially they promoted the drinks simply by giving away samples at festivals.

Making good contacts is always important, as is “word of mouth” – this includes “viral marketing” or using the internet to spread the message to potential customers. Gareth went into detail about various aspects of promoting the product such as mailing, advertisements, brochures, networking and attending relevant events. Having a clear marketing plan should focus all of these elements.

Most importantly, an inventor must always be clear about what they can offer and what the invention does, who the target market is and how the advantages of the invention has can be proved.

Leeds Inventors’ Group
Presented by
Gareth Morgan
September 2008


Topics
What is Marketing
The 7 Ps of Marketing
Marketing Toolkit
Selling your idea

SPAM
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM
…Wonderful SPAM!

What Is Marketing?
Identifying and fulfilling a need
Identifying who your customers are
What they want
Meeting their need
Feedback

What Is Marketing?
Marketing is:
"Everything you do to promote business"

Market Research
Customers – Who? How many?
Product – Real need?
Price – Consistent
Marketplace – How do buyers buy?
Competition – Who? Your advantage?

Setting Off
Identify your targets – how will you reach?
Customers will buy from me because…
Benefits means that…
Differentiate
Momentum
AIDA
Measure, Modify, Adapt

Patent does not mean commercial viable
Retailers are middlemen selling space
You are responsible for generating demand
Retailers not particularly interested in whose product they sell
Retailers looking for ranges not single products
Marketing is about trust

Product
People buy the Results
Feature – what a product is
Benefit – what a product means for the customer
What do customers REALLY buy?

Pricing
Mark up
Contributions and charges

Positioning
What you stand for in the eyes of customers
Price
Value
Image
Standards of Service
Quality of Staff
Expectations

7ps
Product
Price
Place
Promotion
People
Process
Physical

Marketing Tool Kit
Branding
Business Stationery
Company Literature
Staff
Signage & Premises
Vehicles

Marketing tool Kit
•Word of Mouth
•The Web
•Brochures
•Direct Mail
•PR
•Advertising
•Promotions
•Events
•Networking

Getting Underway
People buy from people
KISS
Short words, short sentences
A Attract Attention
I Create and hold Interest
D Stimulate Desire
A Motivate Generate Action

Intellectual Property
Product – better than others, patented
Brand name – distinguisher, trade marked
Logo – promotion, trademarked or registered design
Colours – distinguisher, registered
Website and literature – promotion, copyright

Selling Your Idea

What appeal does the product have?
Why will customers buy the product?
Where does it fit into current offering?
Who are the competitors?
Does it show sufficient profit?
How packed, displayed, promoted?
Is continuity of supply secure?

What is a Marketing Plan?
Blueprint
Purpose of your Marketing
How you will achieve – describe the benefits
Describe your target audience
Describe your niche and position
Outline the weapons your will use
Outline the budget and timescales
Describe the results

Why do you need a Plan?
To attract and keep profitable customers
Identify who you and where you are going
Focus
Target
Coordinated
Measure

Summary
Who do I want to reach?
What message do I want to generate?
What action do I want to generate?
What is my competitive advantage?
How will I prove my claims?
How will I create urgency?

Your Next Step
Learn More
- Leave your card for a copy of the presentation
- Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter (for hints and tips) at: http://www.gapmanagement.co.uk/
Personal Help
- Use GAP for all your Marketing needs
- Marketing Review to evaluate your marketing


Gareth Morgan 01226 290288

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 23/7/08 - Becky Ascough

Becky Ascough Business development manager of Knowledge Rich - Turning your ideas into reality with university expertise.

Knowledge Rich - the expert network

What we are:
A business dedicated brokering service for companies requiring University expertise.
A Yorkshire Forward funded project
Delivered by Yorkshire Universities, 10 HE Partners

Our aim:To provide a business friendly front door to the wealth of expertise and facilities commercially available in Yorkshire & Humber’s research intensive Universities.

Initial contact & technical brief ,Universities source expertise & provide proposals ,Client makes informed decision ,KnowledgeRICH facilitates contact with expert

The Benefits:
Single access point to the regions Universities ,Commercially responsive process – Expert found in 1 week, Experts with experience of industrial collaboration ,Free service,KnowledgeRICH will hand hold customers through the University maze ,Confidentiality .

You are eligible:
§ No eligibility criteria § Regional SME’s § Large companies § National & International § Any sector .

Case studies:
Technical: Product development, process improvement,
innovation, prototyping

Non-technical: Marketing, web development, business planning

see the Slipstream Energy Ltd case study:http://www.knowledge-rich.com/SuccessStory.aspx?storyid=179
Jay Innovations ltd case study: http://www.knowledge-rich.com/SuccessStory.aspx?storyid=153
What is in the offer?
Consultancy, Design and product development, Training,Equipment hire/ rent a lab, Tap into ground breaking research .

Added Value:
§ Strong partnerships with regional support agencies
§ Signpost to funding
§ Signpost to technical support e.g MAS
§ Signpost to business support e.g Bus. Link & UKTI
§ Publicity/Success stories

Contact:
Tel: 0845 8336533
http://www.knowledgerich.com/

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 18-6-08 “Sharing the Success” : Support advice & guidance available through LEGI


Leeds Inventors Group 18-6-08 “Sharing the Success” : Support advice & guidance available through LEGI

“Sharing the Success” : Support advice & guidance available through the Local Enterprise Growth InitiativeA team from Leeds Chamber of Commerce spoke to the group about the “Sharing the Success” project and how it might be of benefit to those trying to get a new product on to the market. Kate Rigley began by explaining the project, which is predominantly (but not exclusively) aimed at helping people to set up in business.Gary Sullivan then went into more detail: along with other “Community Motivators” Gary’s job is to find people who think that they might want to go into business but in many cases are unsure as to whether they can do it. Gary and the team help these potential entrepreneurs to understand what they need to do and basically build their confidence and knowledge. He gave an example of someone who had struggled to continue his existing job because of an injury but with support from the team had been able to start a gardening business.Owen Jackson talked about the aims of LEGI in the Leeds area which includes a target of 500 new businesses by 2011, particularly in disadvantaged areas. This is to be achieved with the help of a group of over 20 partners. His role is to give help and advice on funding – explaining the full range of finance available to new enterprises. He works with the Business Enterprise Fund, the banks, the Prince’s Trust and Leeds Credit Union among others. Although it’s not always possible to fund a new project, he emphasised that he’s happy to talk to anyone and particularly to discuss the details and implications of any funding – as he said, he’s happy to give out loans but he’s not happy to give out debts.Alistair MacFarlane then covered his role in “Intensive Assistance”. One of the features of the project is that the team spend a great deal of time with the person developing their business, and as Alistair said, he will see the client as often as is necessary. The ground that he will typically cover includes business plans, finding out if there is a market for the product, and identifying the skills which will be needed to make it work. There is a lot of free training available to assist in this.Finding premises can be critical to anyone starting off. As part of the project, there will be a number of “Catalyst Centres” set up around Leeds offering office space and “hot desking” for just this purpose.The team emphasised that they are happy to speak to anyone – whether it is someone thinking of starting a business, or an inventor looking for an investor or manufacturer. And using their services does not cost anything – though obviously when referring a client on to another professional, that professional may have their own charges.Contact 0113 220 6350 http://www.enterpriseleeds.co.uk/

Leeds Inventors Group 21-5-08 - Barry Haigh & Gregory Peck



Leeds Inventors Group 21-5-08 - Barry Haigh & Gregory Peck
This month’s meeting was a double-act by two experienced inventors – Barry Haigh, inventor of the “Baby Dream Machine” and Gregory Peck, inventor of security etching for car windows.Barry began by describing his experiences with the “Baby Dream Machine” the baby-rocking device which found fame on “Dragons Den” and was previously discussed by Barry’s partner Graham Whitby at January’s Inventors Group meeting.Trying to get an investor or manufacturer interested in a new product is always difficult. Barry initially followed the route which many inventors try – contacting all the major manufacturers. Mothercare were the first company Barry showed the “Baby Dream Machine” to and indicated that they were very interested. Naturally he got very excited and began dreaming of success. Mothercare kept it for a couple of months but then dropped it. Some companies were quite honest and said that if they don’t think of an idea themselves they’re not interested - they don’t take new ideas from outside the company. Some are simply not interested unless they’ve dealt with you before. It’s a vicious circle.Having a “good idea” for a product is one thing, but it is only the start of the process. You have to be able to prove that it works, and of course with any products for children safety is critical. In this particular case it was important to ensure that the movement of the invention was sufficient to rock the child to sleep, and not vigorous enough to throw the child on the floor.Having a good working prototype to demonstrate the invention can take time and money to develop. Barry’s view was that the prototype has to look good as well as working efficiently. Through Business Link he was able to get a grant and a connection with Hull University who worked on developing it.Through meeting Graham Whitby and Gregory Peck and his appearance on “Dragons’ Den” (he pointed out that the grilling by the Dragons is actually very much longer than the few minutes you see in the actual programme) Barry eventually got his invention on the market.Barry pointed out that patent protection can be very expensive – he himself has spent thousands of pounds on patents. Yet in spite of the costs and the frustrations, he still enjoys inventing.







Gregory came up with his first invention 40 years ago, and like Barry had interest from Mothercare who then decided not to follow it through. He later moved to Australia and it was there that he came up with the idea of security etching for car windows.Commonly, stolen cars were painted a different colour to avoid detection and his invention was an attempt to overcome this. He applied for a patent himself as he couldn’t afford a patent agent. When he showed the product to others, the reaction was that it was too expensive.He began selling it in petrol stations before trying his luck in the US on someone’s recommendation. It was several years before he made a breakthrough when a number of car dealers included window etching in the sale of their cars – adding the cost to the price of the car loan. Approval from the police and insurance companies followed and one Boston company stated that they would refuse to insure any vehicle which had not been etched.This was followed up with a number of other successful vehicle security products. Gregory saw Barry and the “Baby Dream Machine” on “Dragons’ Den” and subsequently made contact with him. By this stage he had his own manufacturing contacts in China. He re-emphasised Barry’s point that most companies like dealing with people they know which is why many inventors fail when it comes to approaching companies. He himself has also occasionally been able to use his name (which a number of people have confused with the Hollywood star of the same name) to open doors!In his opinion two of the most important things which he has learned are: Getting the price of the product right at an early stage is vital – if someone else can undercut you, you could be out of business. The second thing is that it’s a good idea to get two manufacturers – then if something goes wrong with one, you’ve still got the other to keep you going.Gregory felt that it’s particularly difficult to get potential manufacturers in the UK interested in a new product – he had much more success elsewhere.

Leeds Inventors Group 16/4/08 - Jane Lambert

Leeds Inventors Group 16/4/08 - Jane Lambert

“So You Think You Want a Patent?” http://www.slideshare.net/nipclaw/so-you-think-you-want-a-patent/ Jane Lambert, Patent BarristerLeeds Inventors Group 16 – 4 – 08 Jane began her talk with a story which should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks that gaining a patent is an end in itself. She told of a couple who had saved up for many years in order to travel the world, only for the husband to spend most of the money obtaining patents. Their dreams of travelling were gone and though the patents had been granted, the product they protected never reached the market.The opposite of that, of course, are those people with good ideas and marketable products who don’t protect them with a patent. But it’s always important to remember that a patent is essentially a tool to enable the owner to take legal action against an infringer. Such legal action is very expensive – particularly in the UK. Jane gave some examples of enforcement costs, ranging from £150,000 to over £1 million.Jane gave a detailed description of the application process and the procedure in the case of an infringement.One of the things which came out of the meeting was that some people don’t realise that once a patent is granted it can still be revoked at any time. To have a patent granted the invention must be new – something which has not been disclosed anywhere in the world ever before. Obviously there is no database or search system which could determine this with absolute certainty so the grant of a patent means that the invention is regarded as being new as far as the examiners are aware at that point in time. This can always be challenged at any point during the life of the patent. 50% of patent cases which go to trial result in a judgement that the patent should not have been granted in the first place.It is because of this that patent insurance can be important (this was a subject discussed in more detail by Mark Philmore of MFL Insurance Brokers in February’s Inventors Group meeting). It is also possible now to get an opinion from an examiner at the UK Intellectual Property Office (the Patent Office) on validity before going ahead with an action. Insurance can also cover confidentiality agreements.Jane pointed out that the process of getting a new product from the idea stage to actual production is likely to involve a lot of people – searchers, legal advisors, product developers etc. All are specialists in their own area and inventors should always be wary of anyone who claims to be able to offer a service which does everything. One of the big advantages which multinationals have is that they have large teams of all these specialists in-house. Jane stated that intellectual property protects businesses rather than individuals – it is regarded as a big part of a company’s assets.And inventors always need to take a realistic view of how they protect their invention – it is often not practical or financially viable to gain patents in all countries. This is one reason why the vast majority of patents are held by companies. Jane pointed out that even Microsoft can’t afford to protect all of their Intellectual Property rights.

Leeds Inventors Group 20-02-08 - Mark Philmore

Leeds Inventors Group 20-02-08 - Mark Philmore

Leeds Inventors Group 20-02-08 “Insuring Your Invention” Mark Philmore of MFL LtdMark is a Chartered Insurance Broker and through the services of MFL Science & Technology Insurance Brokers attempts to, as he put it, “level the playing field”.Mark pointed out that the presence of Intellectual Property (IP) – patents, trade marks, designs and copyright – significantly increases the value of a business. However, exploiting an idea will always involve risk. If a patent is infringed and it goes to court, costs can be substantial – fromtens of thousands to, in some cases, a million. Having IP insurance can help put off infringers – it lets them know that you intend to assert your rights. And if the case does go to court it means that the individual or small company has a better chance of fighting off a larger company with substantial resources.Mark went through the various options for cover from self-insuring to the most expensive “After the event” cover. He also explained that any claim would be carefully assessed by the insurer. There will always be a clause which states that costs will be covered if there is a chance of winning the case. If it looks like there’s no chance they won’t do it. It’s normal in these situations to get opinions from IP lawyers.IP insurance plays a significant part in the process of protecting a new product or service but it is one that is frequently overlooked.

Graham Whitby - Leeds Inventors Group 16/1/08

Graham Whitby - Leeds Inventors Group 16/1/08
Out of the Dragons’ Den Yorkshire entrepreneur Graham Whitby shot to fame when he appeared on BBC2’s popular Dragons’ Den. In January he was guest speaker at the Inventors Group and entertained a large audience with descriptions of his experiences.Graham told how he had worked in product manufacturing for 20 years before he met inventor Barry Haigh who had developed a device for rocking babies to sleep. The device comprised a base plate with an oscillating roller onto which could be placed the wheels of a pram or pushchair. The gentle motion produced by the “Baby Dream Machine” lulls the child to sleep. Graham could see the potential of the product and the two of them began working together.Having applied for a patent they began publicising the “Baby Dream Machine”, attending such events as “Venturefest” and getting onto the local “Calendar “ news programme. As a result of this they got a call from the BBC in London asking if they would be interested in being involved in a new television show (which would become Dragons’ Den).Graham described the numerous trips to London and the hours spent waiting around before finally getting to present their product to the Dragons. Their presentation didn’t go well and he said it was a perfect example of how not to do a pitch. However, because they messed it up it has been shown repeatedly on TV and therefore generated a great deal of publicity for the product! Each time the show is repeated sales of the product shoot up.Although the Dragons liked the product Graham and Barry decided to go it alone, and have built an international business selling the Baby Dream Machine.Graham is now developing further products, including an electric temperature control unit for a bath which maintains water temperature at a comfortable level for as long as required.He admitted that when he began developing new products he had no clear idea of where he was going with them and had no detailed plans in place. This is a common problem with inventors – they often don’t know where their product fits in to the market or whether anyone will be interested in them. And yet they are so confident that they have a worthwhile idea that they spend a lot of money on it – sometimes tens of thousands – and keep on spending.Graham cited a number of challenges to any inventor, such as the high cost of international patents, development costs and the importance of patent insurance to help cope with the possibility of infringement cases. But he believes that selling the product and finding a route to market is always the hardest part.http://www.naturalsleepinnovations.co.uk/http://www.thermassure.co.uk/

Paul White - Leeds Inventors Group 28/11/07

Paul White - Leeds Inventors Group 28/11/07
Leeds Inventors Group 28/11/07 Guest speaker Paul White of “Ideas North West”Paul gave the group an interesting talk on the development of Blackburn Inventors Group – one of the longest-established groups in the country.The group actually receives funding from Blackburn & Darwen councils – the only group which has managed to achieve this. As a result they are able to assist inventors in the local area with up to 50% of their costs – patenting, prototyping etcPaul himself has previously worked in design in private industry and has been involved in patenting so he’s familiar with what is involved and the potential pitfalls. In 2001 he got a group of inventors together to form a self-help group. A lot of these inventors already had experience of patenting. Initially there was a suggestion of looking at an inventions promotion company to see if that might be a route to market for their products. They found it impossible to find a decent one and decided to do it themselves.Since then the group – now known as “Ideas North West” – has formed a separate entity – “Ideas North West Ltd.” (controlled by a committee of members from “Ideas North West”) which can employ outsiders briefly for a fee to help members of the group. The group has developed successful partnerships with business support organisations in both the public and private sector, universities, and specific groups such as IP specialists.The group has a track record of successful inventions and Paul went on to describe some of these, including a flexible finger splint and an aid for people with arthritis to enable them to put in and remove plugs. Paul said that he is constantly driving the point home to the council that this is economic activity driven by invention.Paul’s talk certainly showed the potential for development within an inventors group – providing they have contacts at a senior level in the local organisation.

Chris Herbert - Leeds Inventors Group 17/10/07

Chris Herbert - Leeds Inventors Group 17/10/07

Leeds Inventors Group 17-10-07. Chris Herbert of Medipex – “Innovation in Healthcare”Medipex was set up in 2002 by six regional health trusts and is a not-for-profit organisation. It is the NHS “hub” for Yorkshire & Humberside. There are nine hubs throughout the UK. Medipex works with both Yorkshire Forward and regional health organisations to try to ensure that the NHS gets the benefit of any innovative ideas which its staff come up with in the course of their work. There have been many examples in the past of ideas for which those who developed them gained little reward – and often ideas have been given away to outside companies. MRI scanners were developed within the NHS but the NHS saw little profit from them.Medipex licence spin-outs and ensure that non-commercial but valuable ideas are disseminated throughout the NHS. Over the last two years the hubs nationally have set up 54 licence deals and 4 spin-outs and are negotiating a further 80 projects with partners. Other trusts have to pay to use their services but can then leave development work to Medipex.Chris described some of the products which have been developed through the hubs, from a probe for more accurate detection of cervical cancer, to a calibrating panoramic X-ray machine, to a mechanised drip stand.An annual innovation competition is now run for NHS staff to recognise the innovative ideas being developed within the NHS. The financial split between NHS and inventor for any ideas which are taken up is often 50-50. Although it is mostly internal ideas that are dealt with, the NHS National Innovation Centre which is linked to the hubs, does deal with outside inventors.Medipex was named Young Business of the Year in 2007. Further information can be found on the Ennovations website www.ennovations.co.uk

Mark Saunders - Leeds Inventors Group 19/9/2007

Mark Saunders - Leeds Inventors Group 19/9/2007

Mark Saunders of Yorkshire Forward came to talk to the group about the “Grant for Research & Development” He began by explaining the role of Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency which is largely responsible for the regional economic strategy. Business growth is obviously important and innovation is a big part of this.Mark said that there is quite a lot of funding and support available for new ventures – to such an extent that it can all be quite bewildering. What is important is to ensure that you go for a grant / support that fits what you are doing rather than trying to force your idea into an existing grant.The Grant for Research & Development was set up in 1987 by the DTI to encourage R&D as it was felt that as a country we don’t spend enough on it. Yorkshire and Humberside spend about a third of the national average. The grant is available for SMEs and individuals planning to start a business. The business must involve something which is technologically innovative – something which is new and just as importantly, you must be able to show that there is a market for it. You also need a strong argument as to why you believe you should be given financial support from this source as oppose to any other.If your bid is successful, in most cases the money is not paid up-front. You spend your money first and then claim that amount back from the grant. It is match-funded ie Yorkshire Forward normally supply around 50% of the funding with the other 50% coming from yourself. Mark went through the features of a successful application – including innovation, presentation, management skills and commercial potential.Feedback is given on all unsuccessful applications and Mark pointed out that Yorkshire Forward are keen to give support through the application process. More details of Mark’s presentation can be found via this link:-http://www.yorkshire-forward.com/asset_store/document/grd_briefing_presentation_april_2007_93921.pdf

Rowena Mead - Leeds Inventors Group 18/7/07

Rowena Mead - Leeds Inventors Group 18/7/07

Rowena invented her completely malleable children’s toothbrush after having problems getting her young daughter to clean her teeth. The little girl much preferred chewing the handle, so Rowena came up with the idea of a flexible brush completely covered in bristles.Having done a search on Google and found nothing similar, she began to think that she may have a good idea worth pursuing. She attended Venturefest in York, a free event for businesses, inventors and entrepreneurs where she met Steve Ascough of Smart Innovation. Having been through the invention process himself and now running his own business, Steve was able to give Rowena useful guidance. He pointed out the advisability of a confidentiality / non-disclosure agreement when talking to companies; and also the importance of carrying out some patent searching.Rowena carried out an initial search on Espacenet and then came to Business & Patent Information Services for a more detailed search. She then approached Gilholm Harrison, patent attorneys, and filed a patent application and a design registration.In order to get a bit of publicity for her product, she wrote a press release and sent it round to various newspapers. This resulted in a big article in the York Evening Press. Through a series of questionnaires she was able to get some feedback from the public and it was very encouraging.Prototyping was difficult – it can be expensive and the number of bristles on the brush meant that it would not be easy to make. Through contacts at the inventors group she was put in touch with PDM International who came up with a 3-D animation to demonstrate the features of the brush to potential partners.Rowena was aware that she would have to deal with large companies as that is the nature of the toothbrush market. Her research told her that niche products didn’t survive and she was aware that as this was an oral hygiene product clinical trials would be necessary. This could cost £200,000 - therefore she would need the backing of a large company. There are five key players in the market and she had great difficulties getting through to them. The only one whom she felt was accessible was Wisdom, who hold a smaller share of the market. They have been very encouraging and helped her along.Rowena is hoping that in the not too distant future, her flexible toothbrush will be a common sight in bathrooms round the country.
http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk/blog/author/rowenamead/

Steve Ascough - Leeds Inventors Group 20/6/07

Steve Ascough - Leeds Inventors Group 20/6/07


“Inventing in the real world: A reality check” Steve Ascough of Smart Innovation at the inventors group June 07Steve, a member of the inventors group himself, shared his experiences of successfully getting a product to market and protecting it.Steve has been in the vehicle crash repair business for many years. His own invention is the Crog® a very compact device which fits any car wheel. It enables recovery vehicles to collect any car whose wheels have been stolen without having to worry about wheel types, saving a great deal of time and money. (“to give someone a crog” is an old Yorkshire expression meaning to give someone a lift)Steve pointed out that there must be a logical process to inventing and it’s very important for the inventor to take as much advice as is possible. There’s no-one worse than the inventor for seeing things through rose-tinted spectacles. Most inventions fail and one statistic is that only around 1 in 1400 inventions become world-beaters. A reality check is needed.A patent search at an early stage is vital(Further information on how to go about this can be obtained from Business & Patent Info Services) – this can reveal threats and competitors which the inventor was previously unaware of. Assuming that the searching goes well careful decisions need to be made with regard to protection. Patenting, particularly on an international basis, is expensive. Steve had to decide whether it was worth patenting his product everywhere. He had to consider the risk of rip-offs and whether the likely loss of income from this would be more than the patent costs.Making sure that there is a market for a new product is vital for any inventor – as Steve said, just because you can patent your product doesn’t guarantee there’ll be a market for it. It’s important to do your homework – don’t just ask your family and friends what they think. Does the product solve a problem? Is it a significant problem? Can it be cost-effective? Is there a market? Is that market big enough? Is the market a niche market or mass market? If this product existed, would you buy it? How much would you be willing to pay? It’s vital that an inventor can answer these questions. In Steve’s words, “if you haven’t got customers, you haven’t got a successful product.”Costs have to be carefully monitored. Even if production costs are low, anyone who distributes your product will want their margin, and therefore the cost goes up. This must be taken into account – what costs can the market stand? Is it still viable? Overheads such as rent, fuel bills, insurance need to be accounted for – they are all “outgoings” before you start making a profit. Steve found himself about £95,000 out of pocket in the first three years – this was not unexpected but it is quite daunting and needs to be foreseen. His advice was to try to maintain your existing income while you’re developing your product otherwise you could face financial difficulties.He began by selling his product himself but only sold two dozen sets in the first six months. He realised that he needed help. People don’t come to you – you have to publicise the product. He now has a distributor and two salesmen. Steve pointed out that other people won’t have your enthusiasm for the product – they’ll want to know what’s in it for them. They will need an incentive to help you.If you intend to approach a funding organisation you’ll need to ask for an amount based on facts & actual quotes. You need to work out how many you need to sell to break even and then make a profit. Don’t approach anyone for funding until you have answers to these questions.Steve, who set up his company Smart Innovation Ltd to market and sell the Crog hopes his experiences can help other would-be inventors."Smart Innovation Ltd., email sma@smart-innovation.co.uk

Leeds Inventors Group Archive 2007

17/01/07 John Lambert " The Best Way to Protect Your Rights"

21/2/07 Nic Morton "Funding Business, How West Yorkshire Ventures can help"

21/3/07 Michael Harrison "How to use your patent attorney"

18/4/07 Opening of "Innovation Showcase" LMU

23/5/07 Inventia demonstrating their "ideas 2 market" software

Valerie & Aldo from Inventia presented their new software I2M (Ideas to Market)

Valerie began by giving some background on the subject area and started with a quote from Alexander Graham Bell – “Preparation is the key to success.”

For anyone who has come up with an idea for a new product, the first step is to try to determine realistically what the potential of the new idea actually is. There are a number of steps to be taken & it’s important to do everything in the right order – Valerie pointed out that it’s like building a house – it will collapse if it’s not done properly, and in the right order (foundations first etc).

She suggested that a quick search on the ‘net is a helpful first move – get an idea of what’s out there and see who might be doing something similar.

Carry out a patent search – initially on Espacenet.

Carry out a feasibility study

Look at strengths & weaknesses – Can it be done?
Has it been done before?
Is this the best way to do it?

What’s the commercial benefit? – Should it be done?
Will it make money?

How will you manage it? – Work alone?
Work in partnership?
License the product?

The ability to sell the product is the proof of success. If you can’t sell it, why invent it?

Market Research – you need to understand what customers want and what they perhaps can’t do with the products currently on the market. If they don’t need your product, they won’t buy it.

Just because someone else is doing something in that particular area of the market doesn’t mean that you can be as successful as they are. They may have a large marketing budget.

Feasibility studies are important but they can be expensive and are often just a way for consultants to make money.

The I2M software offers a step-by-step approach in dealing with new products, and can be particularly helpful if applying for funding as it helps to get your thoughts structured. It gives exercises to do and questions to ask yourself in order to enable this process.

The Ideas Bank. On this part of the database you can place information relating to your proposed product which can be seen by organisations registered in the Ideas Bank who might be looking for new products to develop – funding organisations, venture capitalists etc.

One inventor got an offer of £250,000 equity after 3 weeks in the Ideas Bank. The investor would want % of the company for this (didn’t say what %)

Another inventor got a meeting with a potential investor within four days, which is unusual.

Anyone registering their proposals in the Ideas Bank can specify how much investment they’re looking for, or whether they’re hoping to licence etc

Valerie and Aldo are offering copies of their software to members of the Inventors Groups at a discount price - £100 instead of £250. A simplified version is n development and this will be available for £80, discounted to £60. A basic free version is available on the website of the Manchester Inventors Group.

They are in talks with North West business link and development agency to take it on.

They also do consultancy work and this software is the distillation of their knowledge & experience.

Leeds Inventors Group Archive 2005 -2006

Leeds Inventors Group Archive 2005 -2006

20/7/05 First Leeds Inventors Group meeting with the speaker being Laurence Smith-Higgins from the Patent Office (now UKIPO) Business & Patent Information Services hosted the first meeting of the Leeds Inventors Group on the 20th of Julythe event attracted local inventors, Patent Agents and advisors from throughout the region.

Lawrence Smith-Higgins from the Patent Office gave a dynamic presentation on the changing role of the Patent Office…he stressed that as well as their usual job of processing and granting patents the Patent Office is now being urged by the government to become more proactive in encouraging inventors to get their products to market.
They are doing this by sign-posting links to local organisations who provide Business advice, help with grants and practical help such as prototyping and by going out to the regions to deliver training to advisors.

The presentation was well received and after a short question and answer session there was an opportunity for the inventors to talk to BAPIS staff, Patent Agents or to swap experiences with each other.

21/9/05 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.----------------------------------------------------
19/10/05 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.-----------------------------------------------------

16/11/05 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----------------------------------------------------------

18/1/06 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.--------------------------------------------------------

15/2/06 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).--------------------------------------------------------
15/3/06 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.---------------------------------------------

17/5/06 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.-----------------------------------------------

14/6/06 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.http://www.slideshare.net/nipclaw/all-you-need-to-know-about-confidentiality/-----------------------------------------

20/9/06Eric 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.

18/10/06Russ 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.

For further information tel 0113 2478266 or email piu@leeds.gov.uk

Inventors Group Helping Make Dreams a Reality - Press Release from 10/1/2006

Inventors Group Helping Make Dreams a Reality - Press Release from 10/1/2006

A Group offering free advice to guide local inventors on the path of success has been praised by Leeds City Council.The Leeds Inventors Group, which was launched in July 2005, has already built up a significant following with monthly meetings now being attended by over 30 people.Run by Leeds City Council's business and patent information services department, with meetings held at the Central Library, the group discusses all aspects of putting a new product on the market as well as hearing from guest speakers, idea-sharing and networking.Leeds City Council Executive Member for Leisure, Coun John Procter, said: "We are absolutely delighted with the success of the Leeds Inventors Group."It has only been meeting for six months and yet it is already attracting a large crowd every month. That is down to the quality of the organisers and the enthusiasm of everyone involved so it is great to see the impact it has made." He continued: "We are keen for the group to continue to grow in 2006 so I would encourage anyone interested in any aspect of inventing to go along to discuss their ideas.Companies "The meetings are free and are a great way of picking up information, advice and useful contacts. Anyone wanting to turn their idea into reality should go and see what the group has to offer." The council's business and patent information services department offers what it describes as a comprehensive guide to business needs, with start-up information, how to target new customers effectively through mailing lists, information on companies and suppliers, and market research.Information on current legislation, standards and health and safety is also available, as well as how to protect inventions, trademarks and designs.It also offers electronic access to thousands of business and industry journals, free booklets, delivers documents and runs free clinics for expert advice from a registered patent agent.The Leeds Inventors Group meets on the third Wednesday of every month.
To book a place, or for further information, call (0113) 247 8266, e-mail piu@leeds.gov.uk or visit the website at www.businessandpatents.org

Monday, 30 June 2008

Inventors Group Helping Make Dreams a Reality - Press Release from 10/1/2006


A Group offering free advice to guide local inventors on the path of success has been praised by Leeds City Council.
The Leeds Inventors Group, which was launched in July 2005, has already built up a significant following with monthly meetings now being attended by over 30 people.
Run by Leeds City Council's business and patent information services department, with meetings held at the Central Library, the group discusses all aspects of putting a new product on the market as well as hearing from guest speakers, idea-sharing and networking.
Leeds City Council Executive Member for Leisure, Coun John Procter, said: "We are absolutely delighted with the success of the Leeds Inventors Group.
"It has only been meeting for six months and yet it is already attracting a large crowd every month. That is down to the quality of the organisers and the enthusiasm of everyone involved so it is great to see the impact it has made." He continued: "We are keen for the group to continue to grow in 2006 so I would encourage anyone interested in any aspect of inventing to go along to discuss their ideas.
Companies "The meetings are free and are a great way of picking up information, advice and useful contacts. Anyone wanting to turn their idea into reality should go and see what the group has to offer." The council's business and patent information services department offers what it describes as a comprehensive guide to business needs, with start-up information, how to target new customers effectively through mailing lists, information on companies and suppliers, and market research.
Information on current legislation, standards and health and safety is also available, as well as how to protect inventions, trademarks and designs.
It also offers electronic access to thousands of business and industry journals, free booklets, delivers documents and runs free clinics for expert advice from a registered patent agent.
The Leeds Inventors Group meets on the third Wednesday of every month.
To book a place, or for further information, call (0113) 247 8266, e-mail piu@leeds.gov.uk or visit the website at www.businessandpatents.org

Leeds Inventors Group Archive 2005 -2006


20/7/05
First Leeds Inventors Group meeting with the speaker being Laurence Smith-Higgins from the Patent Office (now UKIPO)

21/9/05
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.
----------------------------------------------------

19/10/05
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.
-----------------------------------------------------

16/11/05
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
----------------------------------------------------------

18/1/06
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.
--------------------------------------------------------




15/2/06

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).
--------------------------------------------------------

15/3/06
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.
---------------------------------------------
17/5/06
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.
------------------------------------------------

14/6/06
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.
-----------------------------------------

20/9/06
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.

18/10/06
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.

For further information tel 0113 2478266 or email piu@leeds.gov.uk

Friday, 27 June 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 18-6-08 “Sharing the Success” : Support advice & guidance available through LEGI


“Sharing the Success” : Support advice & guidance available through the Local Enterprise Growth Initiative

A team from Leeds Chamber of Commerce spoke to the group about the “Sharing the Success” project and how it might be of benefit to those trying to get a new product on to the market. Kate Rigley began by explaining the project, which is predominantly (but not exclusively) aimed at helping people to set up in business.
Gary Sullivan then went into more detail: along with other “Community Motivators” Gary’s job is to find people who think that they might want to go into business but in many cases are unsure as to whether they can do it. Gary and the team help these potential entrepreneurs to understand what they need to do and basically build their confidence and knowledge. He gave an example of someone who had struggled to continue his existing job because of an injury but with support from the team had been able to start a gardening business.

Owen Jackson talked about the aims of LEGI in the Leeds area which includes a target of 500 new businesses by 2011, particularly in disadvantaged areas. This is to be achieved with the help of a group of over 20 partners. His role is to give help and advice on funding – explaining the full range of finance available to new enterprises. He works with the Business Enterprise Fund, the banks, the Prince’s Trust and Leeds Credit Union among others. Although it’s not always possible to fund a new project, he emphasised that he’s happy to talk to anyone and particularly to discuss the details and implications of any funding – as he said, he’s happy to give out loans but he’s not happy to give out debts.

Alistair MacFarlane then covered his role in “Intensive Assistance”. One of the features of the project is that the team spend a great deal of time with the person developing their business, and as Alistair said, he will see the client as often as is necessary. The ground that he will typically cover includes business plans, finding out if there is a market for the product, and identifying the skills which will be needed to make it work. There is a lot of free training available to assist in this.

Finding premises can be critical to anyone starting off. As part of the project, there will be a number of “Catalyst Centres” set up around Leeds offering office space and “hot desking” for just this purpose.

The team emphasised that they are happy to speak to anyone – whether it is someone thinking of starting a business, or an inventor looking for an investor or manufacturer. And using their services does not cost anything – though obviously when referring a client on to another professional, that professional may have their own charges.


Contact 0113 220 6350 http://www.enterpriseleeds.co.uk/

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 21-5-08 - Barry Haigh & Gregory Peck

This month’s meeting was a double-act by two experienced inventors – Barry Haigh, inventor of the “Baby Dream Machine” and Gregory Peck, inventor of security etching for car windows.

Barry began by describing his experiences with the “Baby Dream Machine” the baby-rocking device which found fame on “Dragons Den” and was previously discussed by Barry’s partner Graham Whitby at January’s Inventors Group meeting.

Trying to get an investor or manufacturer interested in a new product is always difficult. Barry initially followed the route which many inventors try – contacting all the major manufacturers. Mothercare were the first company Barry showed the “Baby Dream Machine” to and indicated that they were very interested. Naturally he got very excited and began dreaming of success. Mothercare kept it for a couple of months but then dropped it.

Barry demonstrates the Baby Dream Machine (press play to view)Some companies were quite honest and said that if they don’t think of an idea themselves they’re not interested - they don’t take new ideas from outside the company. Some are simply not interested unless they’ve dealt with you before. It’s a vicious circle.

Having a “good idea” for a product is one thing, but it is only the start of the process. You have to be able to prove that it works, and of course with any products for children safety is critical. In this particular case it was important to ensure that the movement of the invention was sufficient to rock the child to sleep, and not vigorous enough to throw the child on the floor.

Having a good working prototype to demonstrate the invention can take time and money to develop. Barry’s view was that the prototype has to look good as well as working efficiently. Through Business Link he was able to get a grant and a connection with Hull University who worked on developing it.

Through meeting Graham Whitby and Gregory Peck and his appearance on “Dragons’ Den” (he pointed out that the grilling by the Dragons is actually very much longer than the few minutes you see in the actual programme) Barry eventually got his invention on the market.

Barry pointed out that patent protection can be very expensive – he himself has spent thousands of pounds on patents. Yet in spite of the costs and the frustrations, he still enjoys inventing.

Gregory came up with his first invention 40 years ago, and like Barry had interest from Mothercare who then decided not to follow it through. He later moved to Australia and it was there that he came up with the idea of security etching for car windows.

Commonly, stolen cars were painted a different colour to avoid detection and his invention was an attempt to overcome this. He applied for a patent himself as he couldn’t afford a patent agent. When he showed the product to others, the reaction was that it was too expensive.

He began selling it in petrol stations before trying his luck in the US on someone’s recommendation. It was several years before he made a breakthrough when a number of car dealers included window etching in the sale of their cars – adding the cost to the price of the car loan. Approval from the police and insurance companies followed and one Boston company stated that they would refuse to insure any vehicle which had not been etched.

This was followed up with a number of other successful vehicle security products. Gregory saw Barry and the “Baby Dream Machine” on “Dragons’ Den” and subsequently made contact with him. By this stage he had his own manufacturing contacts in China. He re-emphasised Barry’s point that most companies like dealing with people they know which is why many inventors fail when it comes to approaching companies. He himself has also occasionally been able to use his name (which a number of people have confused with the Hollywood star of the same name) to open doors!

In his opinion two of the most important things which he has learned are: Getting the price of the product right at an early stage is vital – if someone else can undercut you, you could be out of business. The second thing is that it’s a good idea to get two manufacturers – then if something goes wrong with one, you’ve still got the other to keep you going.

Gregory felt that it’s particularly difficult to get potential manufacturers in the UK interested in a new product – he had much more success elsewhere.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 16/4/08 - Jane Lambert


“So You Think You Want a Patent?” Jane Lambert, Patent Barrister
Leeds Inventors Group 16 – 4 – 08

Jane began her talk with a story which should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks that gaining a patent is an end in itself. She told of a couple who had saved up for many years in order to travel the world, only for the husband to spend most of the money obtaining patents. Their dreams of travelling were gone and though the patents had been granted, the product they protected never reached the market.

The opposite of that, of course, are those people with good ideas and marketable products who don’t protect them with a patent. But it’s always important to remember that a patent is essentially a tool to enable the owner to take legal action against an infringer. Such legal action is very expensive – particularly in the UK. Jane gave some examples of enforcement costs, ranging from £150,000 to over £1 million.

Jane gave a detailed description of the application process and the procedure in the case of an infringement.


One of the things which came out of the meeting was that some people don’t realise that once a patent is granted it can still be revoked at any time. To have a patent granted the invention must be new – something which has not been disclosed anywhere in the world ever before. Obviously there is no database or search system which could determine this with absolute certainty so the grant of a patent means that the invention is regarded as being new as far as the examiners are aware at that point in time. This can always be challenged at any point during the life of the patent. 50% of patent cases which go to trial result in a judgement that the patent should not have been granted in the first place.

It is because of this that patent insurance can be important (this was a subject discussed in more detail by Mark Philmore of MFL Insurance Brokers in February’s Inventors Group meeting). It is also possible now to get an opinion from an examiner at the UK Intellectual Property Office (the Patent Office) on validity before going ahead with an action. Insurance can also cover confidentiality agreements.

Jane pointed out that the process of getting a new product from the idea stage to actual production is likely to involve a lot of people – searchers, legal advisors, product developers etc. All are specialists in their own area and inventors should always be wary of anyone who claims to be able to offer a service which does everything. One of the big advantages which multinationals have is that they have large teams of all these specialists in-house. Jane stated that intellectual property protects businesses rather than individuals – it is regarded as a big part of a company’s assets.

And inventors always need to take a realistic view of how they protect their invention – it is often not practical or financially viable to gain patents in all countries. This is one reason why the vast majority of patents are held by companies. Jane pointed out that even Microsoft can’t afford to protect all of their Intellectual Property rights.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 20-02-08 - Mark Philmore


Leeds Inventors Group 20-02-08 “Insuring Your Invention” Mark Philmore of MFL Ltd

Mark is a Chartered Insurance Broker and through the services of MFL Science & Technology Insurance Brokers attempts to, as he put it, “level the playing field”.

Mark pointed out that the presence of Intellectual Property (IP) – patents, trade marks, designs and copyright – significantly increases the value of a business. However, exploiting an idea will always involve risk. If a patent is infringed and it goes to court, costs can be substantial – from
tens of thousands to, in some cases, a million. Having IP insurance can help put off infringers – it lets them know that you intend to assert your rights. And if the case does go to court it means that the individual or small company has a better chance of fighting off a larger company with substantial resources.

Mark went through the various options for cover from self-insuring to the most expensive “After the event” cover. He also explained that any claim would be carefully assessed by the insurer. There will always be a clause which states that costs will be covered if there is a chance of winning the case. If it looks like there’s no chance they won’t do it. It’s normal in these situations to get opinions from IP lawyers.

IP insurance plays a significant part in the process of protecting a new product or service but it is one that is frequently overlooked.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Graham Whitby - Leeds Inventors Group 16/1/08

Out of the Dragons’ Den Yorkshire entrepreneur Graham Whitby shot to fame when he appeared on BBC2’s popular Dragons’ Den. In January he was guest speaker at the Inventors Group and entertained a large audience with descriptions of his experiences.

Graham told how he had worked in product manufacturing for 20 years before he met inventor Barry Haigh who had developed a device for rocking babies to sleep. The device comprised a base plate with an oscillating roller onto which could be placed the wheels of a pram or pushchair. The gentle motion produced by the “Baby Dream Machine” lulls the child to sleep. Graham could see the potential of the product and the two of them began working together.

Having applied for a patent they began publicising the “Baby Dream Machine”, attending such events as “Venturefest” and getting onto the local “Calendar “ news programme. As a result of this they got a call from the BBC in London asking if they would be interested in being involved in a new television show (which would become Dragons’ Den).

Graham described the numerous trips to London and the hours spent waiting around before finally getting to present their product to the Dragons. Their presentation didn’t go well and he said it was a perfect example of how not to do a pitch. However, because they messed it up it has been shown repeatedly on TV and therefore generated a great deal of publicity for the product! Each time the show is repeated sales of the product shoot up.

Although the Dragons liked the product Graham and Barry decided to go it alone, and have built an international business selling the Baby Dream Machine.

Graham is now developing further products, including an electric temperature control unit for a bath which maintains water temperature at a comfortable level for as long as required.

He admitted that when he began developing new products he had no clear idea of where he was going with them and had no detailed plans in place. This is a common problem with inventors – they often don’t know where their product fits in to the market or whether anyone will be interested in them. And yet they are so confident that they have a worthwhile idea that they spend a lot of money on it – sometimes tens of thousands – and keep on spending.

Graham cited a number of challenges to any inventor, such as the high cost of international patents, development costs and the importance of patent insurance to help cope with the possibility of infringement cases. But he believes that selling the product and finding a route to market is always the hardest part.

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