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Advice Worthy of being Heeded when Participating in Idea and Innovation Competitions

Why bother about details if you’ve got a great idea on your mind?

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The small print of the conditions and rules governing idea competitions quite often includes a participant concession that allows the organizer to publish the documents that were handed in. Unfortunately, this kind of promotion may prove detrimental to the participants’ interests. The same is true should the participants, naturally proud of their ideas, reveal details about their innovations in front of running cameras without a clear notion what disadvantageous consequences this may entail.

Therefore bear in mind that if you intend to protect your innovation by means of a patent your invention must be new the whole world over! It may not have been made public. The same rule applies to designs and trademarks for business ideas. Again, you possess an invaluable head start if you really are the first, so don’t needlessly and ineptly relinquish that advantage!

What might go wrong?

  • The chance to obtain patent protection is squandered the moment the technical invention is disclosed publicly, regardless how this may have happened or by whom the disclosure was made.

    The idea will be copied and you will not have the means to legally proceed against the copy cats.

  • It is quite similar where designs are concerned. Here the disclosure must not have been made more than 12 months ago.
  • Should you have a trademark idea others may view it as being quite appealing and since it is new and not yet a registered trademark register it themselves before you do. From this moment onwards you are actually no longer entitled to use your own idea!

What can be done to prevent such things happening?

Our recommendations where technical inventions are concerned:

  • Anything the documents submitted during the competition contain is potentially publicly accessible and should be protected in advance. An especially simple and cost-effective way of doing this is by means of PRIO, the provisional patent application.

    Please note: when protecting technical inventions remember that whatever was submitted, otherwise disclosed or presented within the framework of the competition must also feature in the (provisional) patent application. Revealing a decisive detail afterwards is quite risky since it cannot be protected retroactively as a patent.

  • Be especially careful in cases of straightforward solutions. Should your idea itself constitute the technical solution of the problem it is highly advisable to have already submitted a fully elaborated and complete patent application to protect your idea before you participate in any competitions.

Problem definition: an apparatus that prevents birds colliding with the rotor blades of wind power stations without disturbing humans in the vicinity.

Problem solution (perhaps worthy of a patent):
A conceivable solution would be the coating of the rotor blades with a light reflecting material. When rotating the rotor blades reflect the sunlight. By this means a light source in motion and thus one that would be shunned by birds could be obtained. Additionally, a special coating would ensure that only ultraviolet light is reflected, which is discernible to birds but not humans, who would thus not feel molested.

By the way, this example is by no means fictitious. Please confer the register number JP 2002039051 of espacenet.com.

Should you already have publicly revealed your invention and provided that public disclosure was not made more than 6 months earlier, a utility model registration remains as a possible means of protection.

Also note:
Not protectable by means of a patent are methods of conducting business, software as such or mere ideas not of a technical nature.

Our advice where trademarks are concerned:

  • If a competition involves the submittal of a trademark idea it should be safeguarded prior to the submittal. Fast Track enables you to do this simply and quickly. Subsequent to our trademark offensive registration of a trademark is now possible from 284.00 EUR up (which translates into 2.50 EUR a month!) and offers protection for a time span of 10 years.
  • A registered trademark enables you to take legal action against copycats and freeloaders illicitly seeking to exploit the success of your trademark.

Our advice respecting designs:

  • The countdown commences upon submittal of your design within the framework of a competition.
  • Within a 12 months’ time limit starting from the disclosure made in the context of a competition, the external appearance, i.e. the design may be protected for a term of 25 years’ duration.
  • Should you opt not to register your design it automatically becomes an unregistered Community design which provides protection against copying for 3 years.
  • Copyright protection of your work is in force irrespective of design protection.

Do you have any more questions? At any rate, it’s always a sound approach to consult the Patent Office and to safeguard your creation first before submitting it in circumstances and conditions where it becomes a potential free ride for others if it is unprotected! You can contact us here.

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