Business Small Business

Wednesday 31 August 2016

How to protect your business ideas

Published 09/03/2016 | 11:58

This week’s Ready Business show finds out how to protect your business ideas.  Brian Purcell got the how and the why from Cathal Lane, Managing Partner of IP experts, Tomkins, and Joe Elias, CEO of Retail in Motion, an in-flight services company that was recently sold to Lufthansa.

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For Joe Elias, his business success has meant a reliance on patent and IP protection, though unusually, his background is actually in medicine.

Cathal Lane, Managing Partner, Tomkins; Brian Purcell, Ready Business show presenter; and Joe Elias, CEO, Retail in Motion
Cathal Lane, Managing Partner, Tomkins; Brian Purcell, Ready Business show presenter; and Joe Elias, CEO, Retail in Motion

“I trained as medical doctor, “ he told the Ready Business show.  “And then I gave two weeks notice on my first day.  In medical school I had started my own software company doing medical e-learning programmes and by the time I was ready to practice medicine I won a major software contract.  It was very difficult to give up medicine after going so far but my passion was in making and building things and I knew medicine wasn’t my future.”

After selling his first company, Elias then stumbled across an idea to portion-control spirits in the alcohol industry by offering vodka in a sachet.   This got the attention of Ryanair who wanted to know more and he quickly developed Retail in Motion, his in-flight services company, from there.

Patents and copyright around product development are extremely important to Elias’ business with the likes of their boxer chips (crisps in a box), and a filter lid that allows them to use freshly ground coffee on airplanes, amongst their many products.

“The key for businesses to understand,” explained Cathal Lane.   “Is knowing the importance of protecting your business and having your IP position clarified, especially if you’re going into a partnership.  There’s inherent value in it if you’re protected properly which can even be offered as security against loans.”

For the #readybusinessadvice part of the show, Jane in Waterford, wanted to know what kind of budget a business needs to factor in for IP protection?  “It depends on your budget and ambition,” says Lane.  “But start off with a few thousand and you can take it from there and see how you get on.”

Tommy in Midleton asked where and how one can check existing patents and IP?  Espacenet and Google’s patent search engine are good starting points as well as the Irish patents office, advised Lane.

“For smaller companies, don’t get too greedy when looking for patent protection.,” says Tomkins’ Managing Partner.  “Focus on the key markets where your products are being sold.  It’s important for the smaller guys not to get muscled out on a good idea when starting out.  But you need to factor in the cost from the outset and you can do enough to test the market without spending a fortune.”

“The world of IP is substantial, complex and incredibly litigious,” Elias cautions.  “Protect what you can, as much as you can.  For the business I sold recently, 75-80% of the paperwork was around due diligence to do with intellectual property.”

For next week’s Ready Business show, send in your business questions on Twitter to @Brian_Purcell using #readybusinessadvice.

The Ready Business show, in association with Vodafone, is available every Thursday via iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher and Independent.ie. Or subscribe to the RSS feed of the Ready Business Podcast using your favourite podcatcher.

You can check out the full Ready Business Podcast series here.

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