All of us involved in selling design services know the power of intellectual property rights. We hand over the IPR of a chosen concept in exchange for a project fee, royalties or even equity stakes. However, what do we do when we conceive our own ideas outside of a fee-paying brief? Do we protect and sell the IPR to another party, protect and develop the ideas ourselves, or do we add them to our portfolio with a view to gaining some marketing exposure?
I would like to share my experiences in bringing Eazistore pans to market.
You instinctively know when an idea is commercially strong, especially if it is patentable, which is rare. An idea can be exploited without a patent, but its value to another party is compromised, relying on design registrations, the power of branding or speed to market.
When I set up my consultancy in 2005, I was determined to develop my own ideas alongside client work. There are typically two challenges when you engage a company to realise a product: the ’not invented here’ syndrome, and the ’this does not fit into our current strategy or timing’.
Eazistore (or ’Russian pans’, as the range was initially named) was conceived in-house and born out of a response to a wider design brief – to explore innovative product ideas in the kitchen arena. This was an informal brief arising from a new business relationship which never developed into anything concrete. The solution addresses the problem of saucepan and lid storage by adopting the ’Russian doll’ principle – one large pan with a lid contains smaller pans with their lids inside.
My financial resources were already stretched through bringing other products to market. This made it difficult to bring the ’Russian pans’ to market as well, so I decided to develop the idea and looked to license it.
The first step was to file a patent. This is an art in itself – my strategy is to write my own and then use a patent agent to refine the ’claims’ if the patent is worth pursuing. Filing is cheap in the short term (it’s expensive later on, when you need to protect it in different markets), but that only gives you a year to exploit the idea (although you can extend that with a Patent Cooperation Treaty application). Design registrations have to be filed within six months of launching with some lead-time for follow-up markets, but these are expensive in the short term and don’t give as much protection. For clarity, a patent captures the mechanical concept in whatever form it is presented, while a design registration only captures the ’look’.
The second step was to seek funding. Having successfully applied for a research and development grant for another idea, I talked to the London Development Agency about help with prototyping and filing a PCT application. Applying for grants is an onerous process and success is never guaranteed, but it is worth exploring to get match-funding for development costs.
Then I had to find a company to bring the concept to market – I discovered Imperial International in December 2006.
The fourth step was to find a manufacturer. Conventionally, saucepans are independent vessels with a handle on the side and a dedicated lid, but ’Russian pans’ require pans, handles and lids across three sizes to ’talk’ to each other. The first manufacturer we found failed to deliver, the second struggled for a year, but the third managed to come up with a pre-production prototype at the end of 2009.
During this period the global licensing agreement was formalised covering financial and commercial aspects. Negotiation is never straightforward, tending to focus on worst-case scenarios and everyone trying to minimise direct costs – my advice is to keep it simple, keep it fair and seek advice where necessary.
With manufacture underway, the next step was to identify licensees for global distribution and brands most relevant to a particular market – Stellar in the UK and others around the world, to be confirmed imminently. ’Russian pans’ became the Eazistore sub-brand – a ’global’ name always associated with the product.
The three-piece saucepan set has now launched through Lakeland for six months, after which it will be widely available around the world. Frying pans, casseroles, colanders, steamers and other kitchen tools will follow. We are developing other ideas to expand the brand.
From a single idea has come a whole product brand, but if someone had told me at the beginning that it would take four years to reach this stage, I would never have believed them.
Patience is a virtue, but IPR is king.
Five main ingredients
- A patent to protect your IPR
- Funding to cover development
- A company to bring it to market
- A manufacturer with the capacity to deliver your concept
- Third-party distribution licensees