A trade show is a highly effective platform to raise awareness of your new product, discuss collaborative work within your technology or sector, as well as an ideal opportunity to gain inspiration, secure funding and seek out advice. Be cautious however that lack of IP planning doesn't mean losing more than you stand to gain in a competitive marketplace.
IP rights are all about enabling business opportunities and mitigating risk. With the right IP strategy in place, which need not be complex, you can sign up for the show confident that your product is protected, before you give away all your secrets. Without such a strategy in place, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot by telling your competitors your new idea and, at the same time, stopping yourself from protecting your new idea. This allows your competitor to steal your idea.
Once your IP is secured by having an application filed, a trade show may well offer a practical and cost-effective opportunity to identify potential infringers, or counterfeit products, potentially well before their market presence is established and when the threats are still manageable.
Innovators should consider the intellectual property available to protect their products prior to attendance at any trade show.
Your pre-show IP checklist
Registered designs protect the appearance of a particular product or promotional material, or important aspects of them. In electronics, the distinctive appearance of a particular product is sometimes crucial to the success of that product. In the rapidly growing area of wearable technology, for example, the appearance of a product is a critical aspect of product differentiation. In order to protect this distinctive appearance, manufacturers need to consider protecting the appearance using registered designs. In Europe, designs can be registered on a national or EU bases. Especially useful is a Community registered design since this can offer low cost but effective protection for up to 25 years, not just in the UK but in all 28 member states of the EU. The speed of obtaining protection for designs is without doubt one of its most attractive features. Most applications are accepted within a week or two and more often than not, within just a day or two.
Patents protect the way in which a product operates. Specifically, a patent protects the way in which the product solves a technical problem. Critical here is the message that you should not publicly disclose your invention or use or sell it before a patent application has been filed, as this will almost certainly invalidate any patent.
To be granted a patent an invention must be new, inventive (not obvious) and have practical (industrial) application. It can take several weeks to prepare an application, and two to five years for a patent to be granted, depending on complexity, technology and industry sector. However, all that you need to do before a trade show is file the application – you need not wait for the patent to be granted before exhibiting your new product. Getting professional advice is invariably worthwhile as there are many pitfalls for the uninitiated.
A particular brand name or logo used to market your product can be protected as a trade mark. Registered trade marks ensure that the goodwill and business reputation built up under that brand name or logo is protected in relation to specified goods or services. Back to our example of a wearable technology product, this would contain features that relate to both fashion and function, so it will be important to ensure that trade mark protection is obtained for both aspects. For example, Smart Glasses would require protection both for the glasses themselves and the display device technology.
Before you broadcast your new product at an exhibition or trade show it is important to protect every aspect of your innovation; from the appearance of the product, the way in which it operates, to any associated branding. This synergistic approach to IP will offer protection should competitors get too close or should any copy-cat products appear. It is well worth obtaining legal advice before demonstrating a new product at a trade show.