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 or visit the website at

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.

For further information tel 0113 2478266 or email

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

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.