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What are some common misconceptions when it comes to IP?

19 January

5 mins

Intellectual property (IP) can be a bit of a minefield at times, and a lot of features about the way that it works can seem counterintuitive when you first become exposed to it. This article aims to clarify a few of the common misconceptions that come up when people first encounter IP, and to highlight how you can make the best use of available IP tools for your situation.

If I patent my invention, doesn’t this mean people won’t use it?

Not at all! Patenting your invention merely protects your interests, having been the person to come up with it, and to have put the research time, effort, and money into developing it. Often, other companies in similar fields will seek a licence to use your invention – this can be a valuable source of revenue for you, but even having other companies express an interest in this can be useful if you are looking for investment.

There is no point competing with big companies in my field, as they will easily price me out.

When looking at a lot of the news we have seen recently regarding copyright in the music industry, it can seem like the bigger name, with the bigger pocket, always comes out on top. However, if you have come up with a valuable advance in your area, or a new design, logo, or similar property, then once you have secured your IP filings, you should be protected. Being in a field close to a larger company can actually mean they will seek to spend from their large pockets to secure a licence, or to buy your IP portfolio, or even your company. If you hadn’t protected your ideas, then they might have no interest in doing this.

IP is really expensive and I just do not have the budget for it.

This is not so much a misconception, because protecting your IP can easily rack up costs at various IP offices and through attorney consultation time. However, there are several counterarguments to this. Firstly, a lot of IP firms are able to work on tighter budgets with smaller clients, as well as advise you on other ways you can cut or defer costs, so a small amount of investment in professional advice can be very worthwhile in the long term. Secondly, there is a good chance that a solid investment in your IP portfolio at an early stage can pay for itself (and then some!) down the line, so this money does not necessarily disappear into the ether. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, not all forms of IP (for example, copyright, trade secrets, or unregistered designs) involve formally filing something or paying official fees. While these forms of IP can be harder to enforce, it is possible to protect yourself by keeping well-organised and date-stamped records. Your IP contact can advise you about the specific forms of evidence you might want to hold on to.

I do not see how my invention is useful or inventive.

One common misconception about patents in particular is around the requirement for the claims to be ‘inventive’. While this assessment is subjective, it is based on a legal fiction which considers the situation where essentially a robot takes on the information available and does not have any creative capabilities (this fictional researcher is called the ‘skilled person’). As highly skilled workers in their field, innovators can often struggle to see how it could be argued that their development would be ‘inventive’ for a ‘skilled person’, whereas an IP attorney can usually find at least one way to present those arguments. Because of this, it is really important that you consider whether something should be protected, alongside the advice of an IP professional, before you disclose your invention to anyone.

It is also worth being aware that there are different types of filing strategies that can be useful, which we can generally categorise as ‘defensive’ or ‘offensive’. Defensive filings look to protect what you want to do only, with the aim that nobody can encroach on your turf without your permission. Offensive strategies can involve filing applications which seek to protect something which you know is likely to be of interest to or used by competitors (so that they have to get a licence from you, for example), but this can also involve simply publishing your work straight away to reduce the chances of a competitor being able to protect it. Again, this is something you can consider in your individual situation with your IP contact.

It takes too long to get a patent.

The process of getting a patent granted can be a lengthy one (around 3-4 years) and depends on all sorts of factors including the technological field, and how broadly you are trying to get protection geographically. However, there are procedures in place for acceleration of the process at most offices, which often do not involve paying official fees – for example, the UK patent office has a ‘Green Channel’ to fast-track applications relating to green technology, and the EPO has a system for acceleration of examination (the ‘PACE’ system) which can be requested for free and without any supporting information.

It is also worth noting that if you go down the designs route, or if you are looking to register a trade mark, these are often faster processes. It is worth discussing your options with your IP contact if it is important to you to secure something quickly.

I do not even know where to begin, and my institution does not offer much support.

That is where we come in! IP professionals can be really useful to have an initial chat with to help you to understand the processes, and some are happy to offer this initial guidance, free of charge, on a short 30-minute phone call. We also have plenty of content available on our Scaleup Quarter website, which aims to run through some of the basics of IP in accessible terms, and regularly post additional tips on our news pages or through our social media.

Of course, you should always consult your IP contact if you have a specific question about your own IP, particularly because the best route forward can often differ on a case-by-case basis!

If you have any burning questions about IP which we have not already answered, then please do get in touch.

Written by: Jessica Eastwood