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Patently Faster

 
 
 

The car-friendly guide to fixing human-made greenhouse emissions.

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Patently Faster

About 25 years ago people started telling me all about the critical importance of IP protection, and why we should be working closely with patent attorneys to defend ourselves against the terrible threat of IP theft. We'll all go broke, they told us, and we'll have no choice but to sell everything and bludge our way to old-age unless we buy the best IP protection we can get.

Apparently everything I'd learned at AWA and Taits was wrong. Never mind that AWA had been a successful manufacturer for decades, and that Angus Tait had been selling two-way radios all over the world for decades. We were, apparently, naive to think that staying ahead of our competition was the way to increase our share of world markets. We had to have patents, and design registrations, and copyrights, and somehow this would all pay off.

Thanks to Technology Valley I am starting to meet successful manufacturers who understand how innovation really works. Like Tait's and AWA, they don't go rushing off to a patent attorney every time they invent something new. It's refreshing to meet people who understand that they have nothing to fear from copycats. While the competition are busy copying your old product, you're already developing the new model. By the time the copycat launches their product it's already obsolete. I've seen this first hand. In the very early 1980s AWA's UK distributor suddenly stopped buying two-way radios. In fact, they suddenly stopped talking to us, full stop. After spending a few months trying to make contact, our international marketing guy hopped on a plane and went over to the UK. A week or so later he showed up in the lab with a two-way radio that was internally identical to our own product. It was hilarious. The guy probably thought he could increase profitability by wrapping his counterfeit in a housing very similar to Tait's Miniphone. But this dope went and grafted the very worst feature of the Tait Miniphone onto a product we were just about to consign to the museum. His rip-off came out just weeks before we launched a totally new product. Shoe-horning our radio into Tait's crappy tin housing, he managed to ruin its performance. We knew his engineers didn't have the expertise to fix that. It was wonderful! Customers who had been looking with interest at our radios suddenly realised how good they really were. And when they saw the new model, wow!

Listening to Lower Hutt manufacturers talking about their experience of patents and IP protection, I am hearing similar stories. For example, last night, Racetech chief executive David Black told the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce about a customer who bought some Racetech seats, then came out a few months later with slightly modified versions of the same product. Those slight modifications were enough to get around any patent protection.

A patent is a major investment with enormous on-going costs. You have to patent your product in each individual country in which you want IP "protection". In some countries you have to pay an annual subscription, otherwise your patent will lapse. It's not difficult to spend the thick end of a million dollars registering a patent. If someone disputes your application, you can spend millions fighting in court. Industrial research Limited spend more than fifteen million dollars on the patent for their high-temperature superconducting material.

Companies like Racetech (and, when I worked there, AWA) treat patents as strategic investments. They try to put numbers on the costs and benefits of patent registration. Occasionally it's justified. More often than not it isn't.


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Parametric Modelling Consultant who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your requirements: hello {a} kevincudby.com

 
 
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