Friday 20 September 2013

Developing inventions: going for brokers?

A perennial problem faced by IP practitioners, particular those in practices that attract an SME clientele at the micro end of the range, is that clients are sometimes unable -- and practitioners are occasionally reluctant -- to draw a clear line between professional skills (eg advising on patentability and registrability, drafting applications, licences and the like) and the exercise of judgment based on experience in dealing with questions like "now that I've got my patent/design/trade mark, where do I go from here?"

The dilemma facing any practitioner is painful. Do I abandon my client to the market where, armed with his own ambitions, experiences and credibility when seeking capital or collaborators, he will sink or swim? Or do I steer him along, to the best of my ability but leading myself into fields of expertise that are distant from my core professional skills?

It is at this point that enlisting the assistance of a third party such as an innovation broker may appeal to both practitioner and client -- yet the absence of accepted standards for professional innovation broking, plus the deleterious effect of stories of painful scams in which vulnerable innovators part with hard cash and sometimes their IP rights, remove the attractive force of enlisting their support. There may well be as many honest, capable and effective innovation brokers and advisors as there are incompetent and deceitful ones -- but who can tell, and who is prepared to say to a client, hand-on-heart, that they should go to one?

It would be good to know what SOLO IP readers think, and what experiences they have had in this regard.


  1. The best Patent agents don't let themselves get to the situation where they hear "now that I've got my patent..". Today, it needs to be part of the initial client take on procedures to ascertain whether your client has the necessary knowledge and capacity to justify the investment in using your services. We have some great services offering business advice and training to entrepreneurs and the inventor may be better off skilling himself with some courses of that nature to make sure that he is able to exploit his ideas as part of a decent business proposition.

    The Google Campus, The British Library Business and IP Centre and UCL Advances , and the 3Cs are just a few ideas within a stone's throw of my office. Try your local big city library and University for ideas if further afield.

  2. Earlier this week I had a meeting with an inventor who has just had a bad experience with an innovation broker. The broker was charging a fortune for preparing a presentation of the invention, and then contacting patent attorneys to file an application. I advised the inventor that I did not think it was patentable and told them to be very wary of the broker's advice. It's clear that naïve inventors are being scammed by invention brokers.

    I think patent attorneys can offer a lot of additional advice to clients because we have already learned from dealing with many different types of companies. To very naïve biotech clients I'll tell them a little bit about VC funding and what sort of exit options are available. I point them to further sources of information and give them a heads up on what to think about, rather than advising them on specifics. I'm constantly surprised at how little people know about the areas in which they are doing business.