To IP or not to IP – patent protection and other questions

Whether you want to search pending patent applications, secure a trademark for your brand, or protect your latest invention, SmallBizPod’s guest blogger, Steve Van Dulken from the British Library’s Business & …

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10th May 2007 at 3:09 pm

Whether you want to search pending patent applications, secure a trademark for your brand, or protect your latest invention, SmallBizPod’s guest blogger, Steve Van Dulken from the British Library’s Business & Intellectual Property Centre, offers some thoughts in the first of his monthly contributions.

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I am a librarian at the British Library, and have specialised in intellectual property since 1987. I am not legally qualified, but have picked up a lot of experience over the years in helping people with their research to see if their inventions really are new.

My aim is to tell stories or to comment on new or interesting inventions or other uses of intellectual property, hoping to make it a little more comprehensible to you the inventor, start-up or small business owner.

Many know little about the subject, as I’ve noticed on Dragon’s Den, for example, in both the hopeful supplicants and those thinking about handing out the money. So what is the point of intellectual property? Put simply, making money, of course.

reebok patent applicationTo introduce some aspects of intellectual property, let’s look at the Reebok© Pump shoe – the once famous sports shoe with the little orange basketball to pump it up, to make it tight fitting (and look good). Originally for high-backed basketball shoes, they cost a hefty $175.

The first and most obvious form of protection for this product was through a patent, which was applied for in 1987 and was published as American patent 5113599, “Athletic shoe having inflatable bladder”, which has 30 pages of text and drawings. The summary on the front page says “The bladder may contain a plurality of chambers with a valve disposed therebetween to selectively inflate the chambers” by a lightweight pump: patentese, written to be as vague as possible. It was operated by hand and then stayed up until hand squeezed down again (which released the valve). Protection in Europe was through five separate patents. The patents lasted a maximum of 20 years from the date of filing, but could have “lapsed” earlier, something else to watch out for.

The patent covers how the invention works, and many novice inventors say to me that they want to “patent their invention”. No, they don’t – they want to secure the maximum protection possible for their idea. Patents are just one way, and often other forms of protection, which I’ll cover in my next blog post, are possible or even preferable.

Steve van Dulken

Steve is a member of the Research Service, which supports the Business & Intellectual Property Centre (BIPC) at the British Library. The BIPC provides up-to-date company and market information, plus information on patents, trademarks and registered designs for businesses of all sizes. http://www.bl.uk/bipc

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  1. […] the second of his posts on intellectual property issues, SmallBizPod’s guest blogger, Steve Van Dulken from the British Library’s Business […]

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