You may think you’ve just invented the best thing since sliced bread. But how do you stop others copying your idea and creating a ‘best thing since sliced bread’ customer base of their own?

Carole Drury, patent attorney at Barker Brettell, regularly gives advice and presentations to organisations within the food and beverage sector to help them protect innovation and maximise return on investment using intellectual property rights. Here she outlines two key stages for a business to go through before launching a new product:

1. Patentability: is your invention new and non-obvious?

Be honest. Your idea has to be completely new. If it has been done before and is already within the public domain, you will not be able to secure a patent.

Is it a long forgotten historic invention which you’ve decided to resurrect? Has somebody on the other side of the world already invented it but you’re hoping no-one will put two-and-two together? Has it already been described in a different country, perhaps in another language, but you are thinking about launching it in your domestic market?

If the answer to any of these three questions is ‘yes’, then I’m afraid it’s back to the kitchen. You cannot obtain a patent.

If the answer is ‘no’, call in the professionals!

It is very easy to assume that your invention is obvious with the benefit of hindsight. A patent attorney can help assess whether your product is sufficiently different to qualify for a patent, and give advice on the most cost-efficient route to follow.

2. Clearance: freedom to operate.

It is frustrating to launch a product only to receive a letter telling you that you are infringing someone else’s IP rights. You might have to pay a licence fee or, even worse, withdraw the product. What a waste of time, money and effort.

Whether or not your product is patentable, you can carry out checks to reduce the risk of infringing someone else’s IP rights. Luckily IP rights cover specific geographical areas so there is no need to carry out a worldwide search. Searches should be carried out for any countries where you intend to manufacture, store or sell your product.

You may think you’ve just invented the best thing since sliced bread. But how do you stop others copying your idea?