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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 07:08 GMT 08:08 UK
Inventors fighting for their rights

By Mary Gahan
BBC News Online business reporter

Mandy Haberman
A patent was not enough to protect Mandy Haberman's Anyway Up cup
An inventor ought to have a lonely garden shed where the light burns late into the night and the workbench is littered with experiments and prototypes.

Mandy Haberman admits to having her best ideas at half past four in the morning - and she has made plenty of prototypes.

But, disappointingly, there is no shed at the edge of the lawn, just a little office strewn with papers in a corner of her Hertfordshire home.

Her big invention was the Anyway Up cup, a beaker for toddlers that could be thrown around without spilling its contents.

She came up with the idea after seeing a small child toss his beaker away, covering a pristine white carpet with Ribena.

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Experiments for the new cup took place in the kitchen.

And, once she had invented a slit valve that allowed liquid to be sucked out but prevented accidental spills, Mrs Haberman thought the hardest part was over.

"I was completely naive about patents," she says, "very, very stupidly I thought 'well, nobody else is doing this'."

Big brand rival

Mrs Haberman delayed her patent application by a year while she tweaked and polished her invention.

And she took her prototypes to big companies to try to persuade them to take on her idea.

Trevor Baylis
If you go out and tell everybody about your invention you have lost your idea
Trevor Baylis
Inventor of clockwork radio

In the course of that year a competing product came out in the US so that her patent was limited to covering a slit valve rather than a valved cup.

But still, she had a patent for the valve, and that meant she could license her product to manufacturers and be paid royalties.

When the Anyway Up cup - produced by a partner company - went on sale it was an instant success with half a million sales in its first year.

But then a UK company, Jackel International, brought out a similar product under the Tommy Tippee brand.

"We could not have survived with them in the market," she says. "If you see a brand you know and one you've never heard of, which one are you going to buy?"

Losing your idea

Patents are designed to protect an individual's intellectual property rights.

But Mrs Haberman was surprised to find that her patent offered no automatic protection and the only way to stop her big rival was to sue for patent infringement.

She won a High Court injunction preventing Jackel International from selling its infringing product and the two sides reached an agreement which resulted in Jackel making a payment in respect of damages and costs.

If you link up with a big company... you have got their power
Mandy Haberman
As a result, Mrs Haberman warns other inventors to be wary.

"The best way to show your products to companies is in a 'safe environment'.

"Invite them to a meeting which is in your solicitor's office."

But she warns that even with lawyers present you are still taking the risk of losing your idea to a competitor.

Trevor Baylis, who invented the clockwork radio, agrees that inventors need to be on their guard.

"A smile and a handshake isn't worth anything.

"If you go out and tell everybody about your invention, you have lost your idea."

He has set up the Trevor Baylis Foundation to try to help other inventors succeed with their products and avoid having their ideas stolen along the way.

'Don't be put off'

Mrs Haberman has learned the dangers of being too trusting and refuses to give even a hint of the nature of the "big products" she is working on at the moment.

"I've taken out a worldwide patent application on these because I think they are very simple ideas but with huge commercial potential.

Inventors are not all fruitcakes, we don't all have long hair and broken glasses or look bizarre
Trevor Baylis
Inventor of clockwork radio
"I'm going right to the top.

"I'm going to the biggest companies to talk to them because I feel that if you link up with a small company then, when the infringements come, you are fighting because you don't have a lot of resources.

"If you link up with a big company... you have got their power."

She admits that it is easier for her to go into partnership with big firms now that she has established her reputation.

But, she says, inventors should not be put off by the pitfalls.

"It's enormous fun, it's immensely stimulating and it's a huge buzz to see your product out there and people using it.

"It can be financially rewarding but I don't believe that lay inventors invent for the money.

"They invent because they have a passion for something and feel determined to do something. The money is almost a surprising bonus."

And the image of an inventor as an ordinary person working on an extraordinary idea is something Mr Baylis is keen to promote too.

"We're not all fruitcakes, we don't all have long hair and broken glasses or look bizarre.

"We need to change the image of the inventor."


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