A cautionary tale (and tips) for inventors

Taking steps to protect your invention could seem like a hassle when you’re buzzing with excitement and want to tell the whole world about your great new idea.  But it’s worth taking a moment to stop and consider how to best protect your invention, as this cautionary tale demonstrates.

A friend recently told me a story of woe.  A young designer, who prided himself on being able to think “outside the box”, came up with a radical new bike frame design.  The bike manufacturing industry in Australia isn’t as advanced as in other countries, so he packed up his prototype and plans and jumped on a plane to the US.

While in the US, the young designer took his idea to a cycling industry conference.  At the conference, he met a leading bike manufacturer (let’s call them Big Bike Company) who invited the young designer to pitch his idea to them.

With high hopes, lofty ambitions and his plans tucked firmly under his arm, the young designer eagerly wheeled his prototype bike into Big Bike Company’s office.  During the meeting Big Bike Company took a keen interest in the design.  However after the meeting they changed their tune.  The young designer’s idea wasn’t their cup of tea, they said, but they wished him well.

The young designer returned to Australia with only a few cheap souvenirs to show for his experience.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the young designer walks past his local bike store.  There, in the window, was his revolutionary bike design – made, of course, by Big Bike Company.  The young designer kicked himself, and wondered what could have been…

The young designer’s story serves as a cautionary tale for inventors.

While it’s great to be optimistic when dealing with other people and companies (“He’s a nice guy, he’d never rip me off!”), it’s wise to prepare for the worst.  Taking a few simple steps can help to ensure you maintain control of your invention and any benefits (and riches) that may flow from your great new idea.

It’s worth considering:

·                      What steps should you take to ensure that discussions remain confidential, and your idea is not used without your permission?

·                      Should you protect your invention by filing a patent or design application?

·                      If your invention involves distinctive form rather than function, could it be a candidate for trade mark protection as a shape mark?

·                      What records should you keep in case you need to prove ownership?

·                      What would you like to do with the invention – Manufacture and sell it yourself? Or sell or licence the idea to someone else?

The young designer says he wished he’d understood some of these simple ideas five years ago.  And, one thing is for sure – he won’t be telling the world about his next great idea without first visiting an IP lawyer.


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