Q: I’ve worked as a plumber, running my own business, for years now. My wife has helped out with the books and paperwork involved. However, a few months ago, I had an idea for a product – without going into the specifics, it’s something that should reduce energy costs, it’s easy enough to make, and also simple to install. We tried it out within our own home and it worked a treat – the heating bill is down substantially with more or less the same use. However, I’m not sure about the next step. I’ve looked online quite extensively, and have yet to find anything like it. Should I be giving the patent office a call and talking about manufacturing, or am I missing something?
A: First off, congratulations. You’re right to think first before beginning the patent process, as it is costly, especially if it emerges that your idea isn’t entirely unique – to be given a patent, a product or service needs to have what the office calls an ‘inventive step’ that hasn’t been done before. It’s also possible that the product won’t deliver the savings you hope for with other homeowners, or may have unforeseen problems.
For that reason, I’d recommend running the idea by an engineer or similar professional with a really detailed knowledge of the area. They will be better able to inform you whether the product is truly new, whether it will work universally, and whether there are any potential problems you’re missing. Of course, before you do this, get a serious non-disclosure agreement (NDA) drafted up by a solicitor and signed by the person in question. Even if it is a long-standing professional contact that you reach out to – and you are better off with somebody you trust – you need to be protected.
If an independent engineer verifies that your product delivers, then it’s time to get into the patent process. You can access the patent office at www.patentsoffice.ie, or call 056-7720111. You’ll also have to decide whether you want to sell the rights to your invention, or try to manufacture it yourself. Both have upsides and downsides: selling the rights will let you get a quicker return and let you carry on with your life, but manufacturing the product has the potential for greater rewards. Unless you have experience in manufacturing and marketing products, it will be a major challenge to develop a business, and you’ll likely need to bring in outside experts. It takes serious money to do this, and securing finance or investment will obviously be easier if you have an engineer’s report backing up your claims about the product. We of course assist many companies in securing start-up capital, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you want some advice.