In this blog, Rachel talks about conversations had as the entrepreneur in residence at the British Library’s first Business & IP Centre in Scotland. Delivered in partnership with Glasgow Life and the National Library of Scotland, the new service in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library is modelled on the internationally revered  British Library’s Business & IP Centre, and the first ever ‘outpost’ to open north of the Border.

Rachel Jones with Totseats

Picture Copyright: Chris Watt

I’ve been a fan of the British Library ever since I can remember, inheriting a love of its red brick from my mother whom, as a historian of science, was often there. Her ‘indulgent’ (her terminology not ours) trips to London to re-equip her brain with powerful knowledge involved her working long days and nights at the British Library (when it was open almost 24 x 7 ) and holing up in a less than salubrious B&B at Kings Cross. The area is much improved, as a whole, making my trips there some 50 years later safer and infinitely more luxurious. Now, with an outpost of the Business and IP Centre in Glasgow, I don’t even need to go so far …

When invited by said Glasgow outpost, the Mitchell Library, to be their first Entrepreneur in Residence I was thrilled. The variety of ideas coming through the door is inspirational – if not somewhat daunting upon occasion. While I haven’t been massively useful to a few folks who have infinitely more experience of technical applications than I, the product inventors are right up my street. Oozing with enthusiasm and joie de entrepreneurialism, they are a delight to hear, to coach and, importantly, to learn from.

As many of our conversations have raised the same challenges, I thought that perhaps sharing some of these topics might help to guide others. This is, probably, the first of a few such blogs … there being many questions and even more answers! Online brand protection will get (another) blog of its own …. and another useful page (the Glossary) is here.

#1: Is the product idea legal and safe?

Can it be proven as being so and fully tested for every relevant market? While this might sound incredibly simplistic, it’s easy to think that something which solves a problem is ‘of course’ safe for its intended use without actually considering how it could be misused.

A very helpful tip is to ask yourself … are all of the components safe when taken out of context?

If the manufacturing is outsourced, can you be absolutely sure of the above? I would highly recommend always visiting the factory with which you’ve chosen to partner. I would, personally, never ever sell a baby product, for example, from a factory I have not visited – at Totseat we visit ours at least annually, and sometimes more often. Not everyone thinks this way, but I personally think it’s a must.

#2: How protected is your idea? And was, or is, it yours in the first place?

Inspiration can be divine (so they say) … but is more likely to have come from an experience. If you’ve been inspired by a product, whether you’ve just seen it, or you use it, and you think you’ll just make your own version which would be better, more colourful, more easily packed, or whatever, despite your ingenuity, this isn’t necessarily a great place to start. The original idea most probably belongs to someone else, and even if you think you can improve said product as you go along, you may still be infringing someone else’s designs or patents. And get into seriously hot water if you continue.

Your product needs differentiation to be novel. It needs a USP (unique selling point) just to create a reason for someone to want it – whether it’s the colour, the fabric, the design or its functionality.

Working on the basis that you have created something novel, design rights can protect the look of the product, patents the design and functionality and trademarks provide brilliant protection for names and logos. Consider registering your trademark(s) in all of the territories in which you intend to trade. And, when registered, use the wee R (®) in a circle symbol every single time you mention the registered name/brand. If not, stick to the wee TM (™) which at least works as a deterrent. But remember trademarks are territory specific, so you can’t use the ® in a territory where your trademark is not registered.

If you are considering a patent, you need to be completely confident that your idea is so novel no one else can come and along and accuse you of copying them. Secrecy is also key before and during your application. It is critical that no one is told anything about your product without a strong non disclosure agreement (NDA) in place. You should know that gaining a patent can be a very long, slow and expensive process so make sure that you get proper advice from good trademark and patent attorneys, many of whom should give you an initial chat for free. Design rights are an excellent and relatively quick mid-ground – they can be filed while you wait for a patent to be granted (which can take years) and are powerful in defending your brand, if required. Design rights however do not protect the function of your product – and with Brexit looming there are serious and depressing differences between European and UK Design Rights. Again, it is important that you ask an expert for guidance.

#3: What safety marks do you need?

The ‘CE’ (the abbreviation of ‘Conformité Européene’, meaning ‘European Conformity’ to the EU’s essential requirements) is only relevant for certain products. Not all products need them. Start with the General Product Safety Directive and find a decent testing house to guide you (Intertek, Bureau Veritas, SGS, TUV are all accredited internationally, amongst others).

If planning to export, you may also need specific industry accreditation, so do your research. Your local Trading Standards office is also a great place for advice – as well as the Mitchell Library! And there’s some useful stuff here too.  And if you only remember one thing, never, ever, scrimp on safety.

#4: What insurance do you need?

Think very carefully about public liability and product liability. Do you need cover for stock (in storage and in transit) and/or your employees? Always better to be safe than very (financially) sorry. Again, there’s always help you can find and it’s a very good idea to become well acquainted with those giving it. If you’re exporting to the USA, this is a seriously expensive market in terms of insurance for baby products, in particular, and often adds thousands and thousands of pounds to premiums for SMEs.

So, there you have it. Tick each of these off (with careful consideration, resources, and advice) and move forwards, one step at a time.

More next time …