She who dares wins: Start-ups and dealing with aggressive competition

Scoot founder Claire Burley on the dangers of being a start-up firm with a good idea, and the challenge of protecting your intellectual properties.
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I know you’ve got to expect to be copied if you have a good idea. 

But I hadn’t anticipated that a potential distributor would refuse to sign a basic IP clause as, in their own words, they “planned on copying a few of the products”. Go figure.

We sell accessories for scooters including lights for the scooter deck. We were at Nuremberg this year, when some charming individual came round the first evening and cut off the PCB board and battery terminal from all of the show samples.

So why should you care? Well, here’s the stat: small and medium enterprises account for half of all private sector GDP as well as 59 per cent of employment in the private sector. Personally, I’m looking to the industry, not the banks, to get the UK out of the hole it dug itself.

Plus, we lovingly refer to ourselves as ‘Ingenious Britain’ and it’s true. Us Brits generate a lot of ideas. We are one of the top ten countries for resident patent and design activity, but our problem is commercialising it in the UK.

Even for the big boys it’s tough. You’ve just got to look at Sir James Dyson’s case against Vax where he won it in France but lost it in the UK. If it’s tricky for him, how are start-ups going to manage?

The fundamental problem is that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are big enough to generate new products, but not big enough to defend them. The toy industry moves so fast, that if you don’t wield power quickly enough to stop being copied, then Santa will have been and gone. And wielding power quickly is fine, but not when the costs involve putting your house on the line.

My thinking is that the Government could treat IP and the defence of IP in the same way they incentivise R&D. At the moment, SMEs get tax relief on R&D costs but only if it’s over £10,000. Well that’s no good for start-ups. But £10,000 on patents and designs and the defence of them is relevant and a priority. The current approach assumes that all innovation comes from R&D, but actually most start-ups can get a prototype and samples developed for under £5,000. It’s the legal costs of patenting and then defending your patent that is prohibitive.

So come on David, help us out. Yes, thanks for the Patent Box (it came in during April and reduces corporation tax to ten per cent on income from UK patented products), but what good is that if someone’s nicked your idea?

Please, please add IP costs into your R&D relief scheme for SMEs. It won’t cost more to administer – the rules are set up. It will enable ideas to stay in the UK and will encourage more innovation if you know you can hold on to your idea.

They say ‘He who dares wins’. Let’s hope so.

About the author

Claire Burley is the founder and MD of scooter accessories company Scoot. Visit https://scootonline.com/

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