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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Lunch Lesson Seven - Protecting your ideas
By Rob Pittam
Business Correspondent

Carpet Burns products
Hard to believe they're made from carpet...
Designer Kelly Atkins has a fledgling business with huge potential and a memorable name.

Carpet Burns came about after Kelly made a simple discovery while she was a first-year student in Derby.

Getting ready to go out one evening, Kelly was ironing her clothes on the floor because she didn't have an ironing board.

She left the iron on the floor and burnt a hole in the carpet.

"It left a dirty big mark on the floor and that got me thinking," says Kelly, " and the idea stemmed from there."

Recycling

Kelly was interested in the material produced as a result of burning carpet. Not only did it have great potential for being moulded into all sorts of interesting shapes, but it was also a great way of recycling carpet and being more environmentally friendly.

Kelly Atkins
Kelly: Spent many months testing the process
After the initial accident, Kelly spent much of the next two-and-a-half years testing the carpet burning process to find the best way to produce her material; she even tried a toasted sandwich maker!

Eventually she settled on a contraption that resembles a giant pizza making machine.

Once she was happy with the process, which was essentially a new invention, Kelly filed for a patent with the UK Patent Office.

Exhibit

For a business like Kelly's, patenting was vital.

"It's at the core of what it's all about," says Kelly.

"It was imperative to have the patent filed before I could exhibit any of my works."

Carpet material
Patenting the production method was vital
Patenting is very important for inventors if they want to be able to control the product they have developed in the marketplace.

According to Dr Jeremy Philpott of the Patent Office: "A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, producing, importing, using or selling your invention."

It also enables you to license the patent of the process to others, for which you can charge a fee.

So if you can't afford to produce the product yourself, you might be able to make some money from someone who can.

Filing a patent application is very straightforward, but before you do that, it's vital to check that someone else hasn't got there before you.

You can check in the patent database to see if what you're doing is original. There are a staggering 30 million documents on the patent database already.

Then, once you're sure that your idea is a novel one, and you're happy with your prototype, file for the patent.

Legal advice

To file the application costs nothing, but beware - the costs do rack up over the years.

It takes between three and four years to obtain the patent, which will cost you about 200, but on top of that, you may well need to pay for some legal advice.

And remember, for each country in which you wish to have a patent, there will be more costs.

"The estimate to get patent protection across Europe is around 32,000," reckons Dr. Philpott.

In addition to the filing costs and legal costs, you also have to pay translation costs; an expensive business.

Jeremy Philpott
Jeremy Philpott: Protection can be expensive
"Which is why it pays to get some licensing revenue coming in early on," adds Dr. Philpott.

Kelly's business is still in its infancy so at the moment she just chooses to make handbags and small accessories, but she's hoping to find bigger manufacturers who will want to license the process to make bigger things.

The material is extremely robust and has the potential to be made into boards for packaging, furniture and can be used as a building material.

Accessories

Kelly even imagines that one day a house could be built from the burnt carpet!

She is currently busy marketing her handbags and fashion accessories, but she's already dreaming of bigger things.

"I want to go limited, and move to bigger premises and license the patent to manufacturers," she says.

And it looks very likely she'll succeed - and it's all down to an accident with an iron.

Such a simple idea, but one no-one had spotted before. Her idea could make her her fortune, and securing the patent for her invention was a crucial part of Kelly's business plan.


Student Guide

Kelly Atkins set up Carpet Burns to make recycled carpets into fashion accessories.

She invented a special heat treatment to turn end-of-line or faulty carpet into a material that is waterproof, mouldable, durable and even floats.

It's turned into purses, small handbags, glasses cases and a range of other creative, fashion items.

You'd never guess that you were looking at recycled carpet because Kelly's creative streak has turned it into a very different product.

She needs to take care because someone else might decide to use her idea to make their own products.

Just think...

Every year 1.7 million tonnes of carpet ends up in landfill sites. How is Kelly's business helping the environment?

Have a look at Kelly's website to see some of her products.

What would happen to Kelly's business if other people could use her technique for turning carpet into her exciting products?

Protecting bright ideas

Who would spend time developing new ways of doing things if anyone could copy your ideas?

In business, time is money so when time is spent on research, there are costs involved.

The process can be used for various products
Kelly had to spend ages getting her product just right before she could start making things.

She could have been doing other things but decided to work hard to create something new.

Kelly, like any other business, wants to make sure the ideas are safe - so she has applied for a patent.

To do this she fills in forms and sends them off to the Patent Office, which checks whether her carpet recycling process really is an invention.

To be valid, no-one must have done it and registered it before.

Just think...

How and why does being able to register new ideas help the country and the economy?

What is a patent?

A patent for an invention is granted by government to the inventor, giving the inventor the right for a limited period to stop others from making, using or selling the invention without permission.

When a patent is granted, the invention becomes the property of the inventor and - like any other form of property or business asset - can be bought, sold, rented or hired.

This right can be used to give the proprietor breathing space to develop a business based on the invention, or another person or company may be allowed to exploit the invention and pay royalties under a licensing agreement.

Just think...

Have a look at a range of products and find out if they are patented. Somewhere on the label you will usually find a reference to a patent number.

Why is breathing space important for a business with a new idea?

What happens if someone steals your ideas?

If someone copies your idea, you can challenge them in court. The Patent Office won't take sides. You will have to deal with the legal process.

Often, just having a patent will stop people trying but if they do, you have protection.

Just think...

Why do you think a patent can be enough to deter people?

Carry out a web search for Dyson and Hoover. There was a famous dispute over a vacuum cleaner. Find out what happened.

Take care

Don't tell anyone! If you want to patent your idea you must keep very quiet until your registration is complete.

Just talking about the idea can invalidate your patent. If other people are in the loop, the Patent Office can't be certain whose idea it was originally.

Just think...

Why do you think the Patent Office won't register your product if other people know about it?

No patents - no inventions

It's hard to do business in countries where there is no law to protect people's ideas.

Who is going to spend time inventing new products and processes if they can be used freely by everyone else?

As countries develop, one of the first laws to come into force often covers the protection of people's ideas.

Just think...

Why should a country in the early stages of economic development think about protecting people's ideas?



WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rob Pittam
"Kelly's invention really takes the biscuit"



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