Protect your creativity: advice from a veteran entrepreneur

Published: 
5 June 2017

Have you ever sat down at a busy café and just as your hot drink is being served, you realise you’ve chosen the wobbly table?

The NOROCK team have solved your problem by inventing a mechanical system that allows table legs to stabilise on an imbalanced surface, avoiding the need for a wedge of cardboard or newspaper. Their invention has won two prestigious industry awards so far, taking home a 2017 Red Dot Design Award and 2016 Good Design Award.

Chris Heyring, NOROCK’s founder and inventor, has been in the business of commercialising ideas for over 25 years. He has lodged 75 patent applications in Australia and has pursued overseas patent protection using international applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty. 

Over this time, he’s developed a tried-and-tested approach to securing intellectual property (IP) protection. We asked Mr. Heyring to share his advice for creative entrepreneurs who are in the process of devising their own IP strategy.

Founder and inventor Chris Heyring, image sourced from www.estilocommercial.com.au

How has investing in IP protection added value to your business?

‘Having IP protection demonstrates that we have the ability to look after our business legally.

Potential licensees, manufacturers and product distributers all recognise that NOROCK is a serious company with novel and innovative technologies which are protected by IP.

Receiving awards from Good Design Australia and Red Dot underline the fact that NOROCK products are objectively recognised by other external impartial parties and this creates a sense of respect for the technology and the NOROCK team.’

What steps do you take when securing your IP?

‘Before we launched NOROCK, my team and I had already been in the IP business for about 25 years so we’ve been refining our tactics and IP approaches for a long time.

We usually start by making confidential ‘back of the envelope’ sketches which we can then all discuss.

If the idea looks promising, we make a series of computer aided design (CAD) drawings and prototypes with improvements to investigate if the idea works as intended.

If the prototypes gain the team’s approval, we then study the manufacturability of the proposed product and at this point our in-house patent engineer will do a patent search.

If the IP area is not fraught with too much prior art which we might infringe, our patent engineer will construct a ‘claim tree’ to see what the patents could usefully protect.

Then, they will draft out a provisional application and submit this to our official patent attorneys who will scrutinise and make any changes deemed necessary.

When all parties are satisfied the patent application is filed.’

What is your strategy for dealing with IP infringements?

‘We have had other companies ‘borrowing’ not only our technologies but also lodging patents which were almost carbon copies of our own and manufacturing exact duplicates of our patented products.

In one case, we ended up in the European Patent Office Opposition Division in Munich and the infringing party was stripped of their patents, which were almost entirely based on ours.

In another case, the infringing party approached one of our licensees with a product that looked exactly like ours; they [the licensees] soon ran a patent search to determine that our company was the rightful owner of the technologies.

We have also had a very big global manufacturing company try to re-engineer our technology in order to avoid paying us the agreed license fees.

Each time we’ve started a new venture we’ve talked with a reputable patent attorney and they have written up and lodged our patents, although now we employ our own in-house patent expert.’

NOROCK’s top tips for creative entrepreneurs:

  1. ‘Be tough. It’s a hard, long road and the world is full of naysayers so believe in yourself and get up every time you get knocked down.’
  2. ‘Don’t show or discuss any details of your idea with anybody before you talk with a patent attorney and/or file a provisional application as this can erode your ability to gain patent protection.’
  3. ‘Just because you’ve never seen anything like your invention doesn’t mean you can obtain a patent for it. Almost every invention ever made already has some prior art IP in the same ‘territory’. However, don’t give up easily because most successful patents only cover a novel portion of the total invention and often it’s this little bit that hasn’t been thought about previously.’
  4. ‘Even once you have a provisional application, don’t tell people about your invention unnecessarily. In some countries, when another company applies for a similar patent after your provisional application date, but before you application is public, then their application does not have to be inventive over your application.’
  5. ‘Be diligent about managing relationships with your investor(s). When mapping out your business plan, have an idea of how you want to run it. Understand what your options are before allowing investors to increase their stake in your business at a time when you’re vulnerable and cash-poor.’ 

Registering your IP