23/03/2015

By Sarah Booth, Communications Director, GM AHSN

If you want to sell your medical device or service to the NHS, knowing how to protect your work is essential to safeguard your ideas and to ensure you get the credit and the financial returns you deserve.

Copyright and Design Rights can be used to protect your designs, written materials, drawings and other collateral. While healthcare innovators can make good use of these particular Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) there are additional, stronger methods that can be leveraged in the form of Patents and Trademarks.

Each IP protection has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as rules on the length of the protection applied, how it can be achieved, and how much it costs. Healthcare companies will probably find that more than one of these types can be applied to their business and product developments at different stages.

Patents

As a monopoly right, this is the most robust form of IP protection. If you have designed a medical device (not a service) that has real application to benefiting the NHS and its patients’ health, the ideal is to get it patented. Patents apply to many different inventions, though software can be difficult to protect by patenting.

• It typically takes 3 to 4 years for a UK patent to be granted
• Legal protection for inventions for a period of up to 20 years subject to payment of renewal fees
• A monopoly right that allows the owner to prevent others from using or exploiting the invention
• Patent protection can be very expensive to apply for – just the initial filing can cost around £4,000 to £6,000 when using a patent agent
• Employing a patent agent is not necessary but can be useful to make trickier applications stand up to scrutiny
• Can be costly to maintain, especially if protection is extended to countries outside the UK
• Needs defending by the patent owner – so you will need to consider potential legal fees

It’s not always appropriate or financially possible for healthcare innovators to apply for or maintain a patent. However, there are various ways you can utilise IP rights in your favour, that are both cost effective and which benefit your reputation – such as branding and Trademarks.

A Few Words About Branding

Branding your product or service is not necessary, but it can be a relatively inexpensive way of staking your claim, especially if you have designed something for a niche market where there are currently no competitors. Even if your innovation is copied and its idea subsequently exploited by the mass marketplace, your brand identity will have helped establish it as the gold standard and go-to for quality.

A healthcare innovation company that is brand-savvy, which can saturate the market with its product on the back of a huge launch, definitely has a head start. If you take this approach, confidentiality is key if you want to launch your product with maximum impact.

Trademarks

These are part of your branding – recognisable signs or symbols used to distinguish your product or service from those of other businesses. Examples include protected brand names of medicines – like Prozac (generic name fluoxetine) – and businesses or organisations, as seen with the NHS logo.

• Help the owner to establish a brand
• Differentiate a distinctive, identifiable product or service
• Harder to defend if not registered, though they don’t have to be
• Can last forever as long as the renewal fees are paid every 10 years
• Defending your trademarks may cost you in legal fees

As we’ve said, it isn’t mandatory to have a brand or a trademark. It depends on the marketing strategies and situations of individual businesses.

More information

Healthcare developers based or working in Greater Manchester can access professional support under the Innovation Nexus initiative. Run by the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network (GM AHSN) and partners in the NHS and the private sector, the initiative provides support to deliver new products and services within the region.

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