Q: I specialise in supplying and fitting platform decking for use on steep gradients and in water. I buy the decking in but want to commission the manufacture of a special fixing plate which I have designed which will be more durable in the type of terrain I work on than the standard plates I have used previously. There could also be a spin-off opportunity in replacement plates. I am however mindful that I should probably protect my design, otherwise the firm I commission to make the plates could produce and offer them to competitors. What do I need to do?
A: Before disclosing any information about your idea or design to a potential manufacturer you should get a non-disclosure agreement drawn up. This should clearly define the design and end product as your Intellectual Property (IP) and a copy should be signed by everyone you are going to be dealing with, e.g. designer, manufacturer, distributors etc. You should also consider patenting your design and registering it as your IP.
It usually takes around two and a half years to obtain a patent but once you have filed an initial application no-one else will be able to apply for a patent for the same thing for twelve months. There will be fees to pay at various stages of the patenting process, with the overall fees for obtaining a patent being around £2500. When you have been granted the full patent it can then be maintained for up to twenty years. After four years you would need to renew it annually, for which there would be an increasing fee each time.
Protection is key from every angle when it comes to IP protection, so seeking legal advice before initiating any action would be the most sensible first move.