Accelerating business success requires an IP focus

Although there is no uniform model which all programmes adhere to, the objective of fostering grass roots talent and providing long-term survival tools and tactics is very beneficial to the UK economy. Accelerator programmes have been, and are, set up by local entrepreneurs who are keen to support regional business growth and to reap rewards from their investment. Budding start ups and fledgling businesses are provided with mentorship and, in some cases, hands on strategic and/ or financial support. 

Two established accelerator programmes, called Seedcamp and Springboard, have grown considerably in the time they’ve been operating. Started in Europe and based in London, Seedcamp now commands a global network of members and mentors. Springboard is based at both the Google campus in London and IdeaSpace in Cambridge and offers a 13-week mentorship programme. It is now part of TechStars, which was started in the USA in 2006. Oxygen Accelerator is a more recent programme based in Birmingham, offering a mentor-led ‘boot camp’ which leads to the opportunity to pitch to investors. 

However, the success of an individual programme can only be properly judged by examining the long-term business success it has helped generate. According to Seed-DB, a database that tracks the growth of accelerator programmes, there have been 171 accelerator programmes created worldwide. 

One major focus of accelerator programmes is to introduce entrepreneurs to those who have been there, done that. For example, Oxygen Accelerator has among its mentors Sheffield-based Lee Strafford, founder of Plus Net, which was sold to BT for £67m. Clearly, the hope is that the expertise developed by Lee will be passed on to the next generation of successful entrepreneurs, to increase the chances of success.

Many successful participants in accelerator programmes are service-based software companies and it is fantastic to see such businesses gaining access to these essential networks of support. These programmes are designed to support entrepreneurs with their business and, most importantly, their growth plans. However, we feel there may not be sufficient focus on developing the underlying enabling technology of the future and how to properly derive full benefit from such technology research.

An insight into the world of intellectual property (IP) rights undoubtedly helps fully leverage the benefits of a piece of new technology.

One of the most important aspects of properly protecting an idea or a piece of technology prior to bringing it to market is secrecy management. It’s all too easy for ‘early disclosure’ to occur. This is when details of an invention are publicised ahead of applying for patent protection, for example. However, in some particularly fast-moving markets, reality dictates that maintaining secrecy levels for long durations is not practical or in the best interests of the business. Where this applies, obtaining patent protection as quickly as possible should be a core priority, in order to properly protect against unwanted disclosure. 

The point of disclosure is a critical moment for innovators, as once an invention or idea is in the public domain, it’s impossible to turn back the clock. If the invention is publically disclosed before a patent application has been filed, then it is highly likely that any patent obtained for that technology will be invalid.

In general, however, mitigating against the unnecessary loss of valuable ideas and inventions lies in careful management of the innovation process. For example, when preparing to share innovations, the industry knowledge of a patent adviser can prove invaluable. Their input could involve helping to assess commercial potential and how best to set up agreements relating to confidentiality, ownership and perhaps lump-sum or future royalty payments. Good advisers will also have access to related patent applications which may cause freedom-to-operate issues. Furthermore, they could suggest new avenues of collaboration, as well as specialist knowledge of new standards that may link their inventions to dominant user technologies.

With so much to gain from managing IP effectively from the start, accelerator programme facilitators would be wise to consider the involvement of patent advisors during discussions about the commercialisation of any technology or other IP the business holds. IP should be regarded as a core element of any business strategy. 

John-Paul Rooney is a partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers, one of the UK’s leading firms of patent and trade mark attorneys.

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