Licensing Out Your Invention

“I’m an inventor, me, not a businessmen. I’m quite happy to let someone else work my patent just so long as we share the proceeds 50/50.” Barely a day goes by without someone saying this to me and I am sure other IP professionals the length and breadth of this land.

Licensing your invention or other intellectual asset to an established business is not a bad idea and for some industries it is the only way the inventor is ever going to commercialize his or her invention. Companies like Henkel AG & Co KGaA and Procter and Gamble have always invited members of the public to send in ideas for new products. The Intellectual Property Office has published a useful booklet on the topic.

But if you want to go down the licensing route a dose of humility and possibly a double dose of realism would not come amiss. Don’t assume your potential licensee will roll out the red carpet for you. You are most unlikely to be God’s gift to his industry. If the licensee is a big company he or she has probably recruited science and engineering graduates from the best universities in the world. The chances of your coming up with something they have missed are minuscule. If by some fluke you have done just that you have to imagine how you would explain to a bright, young set of PhDs from St. Andrews, Imperial and Cambridge why you have put on hold the project upon which they have spent the last 2 years of their lives in favour of a submission from a Mr. Pooter of Holloway.

The second thing you need to know is that your potential licensee owes its first duty to its shareholders and not to you. If its management are any good they will run the hardest possible bargain they can with you. If they can find a way of exploiting the competitive advantage that your product opens up without actually taking a licence from you they will do so. They may do that by designing round your patent, challenging its validity, looking for loopholes or just making the product and daring you to sue relying on the fact that you are most unlikely to have before-the-event insurance or other means to enable you to do so.

Thirdly, many businessmen have enough on their plate already without mapping out a route to market for your product. Your chances of persuading them to take a licence form you would be greatly enhanced if you can show them how they can make money from your idea. “That requires market research, detailed costs and profit forecasts, in short, a business plan” says Professor Ron Jones inventor of vitrification of nuclear waste, body armour for transport aircraft in war zones and heating elements.

Fourth, you need plenty of good professional advice from lawyers, patent agents, accountants, engineers and all sorts of other experts. I can help you make a start and introduce you to some of the other professionals you may need to know. Contact me through my contact form.


About Jane Lambert

I am a barrister specializing in intellectual property, technology, media and entertainment and competition law. I specialize in helping SME (small and medium enterprises) protect and exploit their investment in brands, design, technology and the arts. SME require intellectual property (legal protection for their intellectual assets) at least as much as big business but their limited means restrict the way they can use it. Looking after such clients wisely requires skills and knowledge which have taken me years to learn.
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