Being inventive need not be a taxing matter

By | March 24, 2011

The other side of Intellectual Property (the overall title for such things as trade marks, patents, copyright and design registration) is patents. These too can be highly profitable.

Far too many of us believe that being creative is way outside of our capabilities and, to be an inventor, one must be an Einstein. This is far from the case. A huge number of the best known inventions were developed by people who came from different walks of life to the subject matter they created.

It would be fair to assume that an engineer invented the ballpoint pen but in fact the idea was developed by a Hungarian hypnotist. Equally surprising are the inventors of the following list: Frisbee, a building inspector; Monopoly, a heating engineer; Photocopier, a land-claim official; Brillo, a manufacturer of costume jewellery and the Telephone Answering Machine, an American businessman!

Therefore, if the likes of these can do it why can’t you? Every day in manufacturing, for instance, people come up with novel ways to get the job done. Oftentimes, this is merely to overcome an obstacle, get it out on time, and rush onto the next task. But the same applies to everything from farming to services. Something is put together to solve a problem whether that be using a piece of farm machinery or implement in an unusual way; coming up with a new way of fixing a garden hose or stopping a pot from boiling over on the cooker. If these are of use, and solve a known, regular problem, then they are of interest to others who encounter similar difficulties.

Many inventions are improvements on existing items and/or combining two known elements from other areas in a novel way in another. You should also realise that simplicity is no objection to patentability. In addition, there is an advantage in “being first and brand it”. You can apply for a patent which allows you to put “Patent Pending” on your invention and this may dissuade others from coping you for fear of infringing your patent. Then launch your product under a trade mark which you have registered. The potential rivals will not know the details of your invention for at least 18 months and this will allow sufficient time for you to establish your product on the marketplace and have the public become familiar with your trade mark.

The life of a patent is usually 20 years, so if royalties can be attached then a positive cash flow can indeed be rewarding. This can be all the more attractive in an Irish context because, under certain circumstances, royalties from anywhere in the world can be free of Irish income tax.

Back in 1968, an inventor, Ron Hickman, filed a patent for “A workbench”. At first he could not interest any company in his invention, in fact, Stanley Tools reckoned the product might sell in dozens rather than hundreds. Ron started to manufacture the workbench himself in his own garage and market it under the name WORKMATE ( a name he rightly registered as a trade mark). Four years later Black & Decker agreed to manufacture and sales began to explode. Ron wrote a small book detailing his story in which he recounted Stanley Tools’ observation. He was happy to point out that, at the time of writing, the 10 millionth WORKMATE had been sold! That was in 1981 and, it is believed that, through various improvements to the workbench, patents are still in force to this day.

If you do have something that you think might be the basis of an invention there are some basic rules and guidelines about which you should be aware. In the first instance, do not disclose your invention to anyone, except in confidence. Discuss the details only with an experienced European Patent Attorney who will be able to assist in assessing whether the concept could be subject to patent protection. If this proves to be the case then a detailed specification can be drawn up and filed immediately. A ballpark figure for this part of the exercise is €1,000. There are then 12 months, before a final filing, during which you can amend any details of the invention, decide in which countries to file and arrange the necessary finance. In the meantime you are free to disclose the invention virtually world-wide with impunity.

In conclusion, do not dismiss any ideas you may have, out of hand. Remember that many of the world’s great inventions came from people just like you. There is great satisfaction, as well as financial rewards, in bringing into being something that you have devised that is benefit to others.

Liam Birkett


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