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Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery
James Shaw 15318434
205 Posts
One of the most inspiring talks given at my local centre was Rob Law's Making 'Trunki' From A Worldwide Supply Chain during which he described his long journey to take a design concept and realise it as a saleable product.

'Trunki' is a ride-on suitcase for a child that looks like an animal, a novel idea. As a design student Rob Law first tried to interest suitcase makers, 'sorry it is a toy', and toy retailers, 'sorry it is a suitcase' and so eventually he had to become a business man and make it himself.

I am aware that in recent years others have tried to produce similar items, today this was brought home to me when I saw what looked like a 'Trunki' in a shop window but close inspection revealed that it was being sold under the brand name of a well-know manufacturer of suitcases. I mentioned this to a young shop assistant, she knew about 'Trunki' from its appearance on TV and she actually thought it was a 'real' 'Trunki' in the window, so definitely 'sincere imitation' there.

It has long puzzled me that anyone who has a novel idea has an uphill struggle securing patent/design rights at the same time trying to find someone to make or sell it for you - a disclosed, unregistered idea is no longer novel and cannot be protected. Contrast this with the world of copyright, the mere act of creation can secure protection extending over many decades. People have made a good living from a single bar of music created in moments yet to do the same with an 'engineering' idea demands money, determination and constant vigilance and probably a better idea in reserve.
1 Replies
Andy Millar 33788107
1717 Posts
For anyone interested in this area: it's worth remembering that unregistered design rights are automatic (like copyright), and that it should also be possible to obtain registered design rights even if the design has been disclosed up to 12 months before the application. They don't cover an "invention" but do cover a 2 or 3 dimensional "design" - such as the Trunki. Design rights are surprisingly little known, far easier to achieve and often more relevant than a patent. 

More info here 

BUT like patents it's worth remembering that these are only protection against copying if you actually have the resources to take infringers to court - it's a civil law matter, not criminal law. The biggest value to a lone inventor is more likely to be the possibility of selling the patent or design right to a larger organisation. However, since patents and registered designs are fully published there's a good chance they'll just look at your design and find a way of making a minor change such that their "new" design doesn't fall under your IP. 

I'm not entirely convinced about how valuable patents are these days (except as a marketing tool) - there are generally so many different ways of solving any engineering problem it seems less and less likely that anyone will identify a critical "single solution" to a particular problem? It would be interesting to hear form anyone here who has found them really useful and in what circumstances. For the one patent I was involved with which actually made it to publication we deliberately didn't patent the really clever and most highly original part - because even with a huge company behind us we didn't want to publish it and risk it being copied! But of course that only works for engineering features which can't be copied by examining the design.

How to actually make a lot of money out of an original design or invention? Start a company to produce it, get it at least potentially successful, and then sell the company - so you're not just selling the design and invention rights, but also the name and goodwill. It's risky, but has worked very very well for a number of engineers. Thriving or potentially thriving businesses are for more valuable than engineering ideas! 



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