Operating in South Tyneside, Tyne and Wear Marine Ltd (TWM) is one business which knows all about this. It’s been providing services to the marine and civil engineering industries for almost 30 years.
Their first experience of IP rights came when they developed a new bollard testing system. The system helps users safely test the capability and strength of marine mooring bollards.
IP: your business’ moorings
Jeff Main, Managing Director, explains:
We were working on a project for a customer. At the research stage, we realised that there was a gap in the market for the product we were designing and a potential global need for it.
At the time, Jeff and the TWM team had no understanding of IP protection. With little experience to draw upon, they had to rely on external support.
A consultant we were working with had experience in patent protection. Based on their knowledge, we started our IP journey. We hired a patent attorney who gathered a lot of information about our product and process. They checked this against the patents already registered to see if we were creating something new.
The attorney filed the application with the Intellectual Property Office. But instead of applying solely for a UK patent, they chose to use the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system. It allows those who want protection in many countries to file just a single international application.
TWM have chosen to pursue their PCT application in countries such as Canada, South Africa and Nigeria. The patent will then be enforceable in these countries once it achieves granted status.
The recognition we received after applying for the patent raised the credibility and reputation of the business. It also helped us realise that we were leading the way in innovation in our industry. Because of this, we set up a new company called Bollard Load Testing Limited (BLT).
BLT is a subsidiary of TWM and focuses on manufacturing their new product. Despite only launching in April 2015, BLT is already receiving industry recognition for their innovation.
Having an awareness of the IP assets owned by your business is a great advantage. Applying for the patent opened Jeff’s eyes to the benefits of IP and how you can miss opportunities by not having a good IP management system in place.
From now on we’ll consider where registering IP may be the best way to protect our innovations. It’s easy to take for granted that coming up with innovative new ideas and creating products is just part of the service clients are paying for. We did.
We now recognise there’ve been times over the years where we’ve missed the chance to protect our IP assets. This has been purely through our lack of IP awareness. The first thing every business should to do is identify the process it has in place for spotting the IP assets it needs to protect.
Setting sail towards success
So where does Jeff see the business heading in the future?
We’ve launched a UK service company and are now seeking to develop an international business. Plans are also underway for securing licensees to act as approved BLT service contractors. We launched our first international licensee, BLT Nigeria Ltd, in January 2016.
Both TWM and BLT appear to have a bright future ahead of them. But what final piece of advice would Jeff offer other businesses thinking of applying for a patent?
Don’t underestimate how much time it takes to get the products to market and see a return on investment. Choose your advisors wisely and have trust in them. When working with a patent attorney, get the process explained in a way that aids your understanding. What will happen, by who and when? What will the potential costs be? This will help you consider the costs of securing your rights and whether it’ll be profitable.