How manufacturing stays innovative thanks to intellectual property

Innovation is the most vital tool in an engineer’s kit. However, if innovation is first, then intellectual property (IP) has to be the second.

Intellectual property is the product of original thinking, including inventions, designs, and names, and is protected by rights including patents, design, copyright, and trademarks. It can be found in everything from brand names to new technology, or even a new manufacturing process.

For most manufacturers, design rights and patents are the most vital when it comes to IP. However, with the lifespan of a patent lasting 20 years and a design right lasting 25 years, how can a business such as Sony UK TEC ensure their products remain innovative, while also protected, in such a fast-paced industry?

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Gerald Kelly, director of Professional Services at Sony UK Technology Centre in Wales – which produces hundreds of high definition broadcast cameras for worldwide distribution – said it is a constant balancing act.

“Being innovative is at the heart of everything we do. It’s vital that we can continue to lead the way in producing industry leading products including the 4K camera.

“We recognise the vast benefits of IP to our brand and its role in the continued success of our products. Not only does it allow us to successfully create and market our products, but it protects the integrity of our brand by ensuing our competitors cannot infringe them and damage our name.

“However, when considering innovation, it is a balancing act between the need to protect our brand but also to ensure our products can remain progressive and keep up with the latest technology.”

To mark World IP Day (April 26), which celebrates the role IP plays in protecting innovation, Gerald Kelly and Dr Elliott Davies of Cardiff intellectual property firm Wynne Jones IP, discuss how to remain innovative in this constantly evolving industry.

How do you remain innovative if a patent or design right spans 20 and 25 years, respectively?

With the competitive nature of manufacturing, today’s latest tech could become tomorrow’s old news, therefor remaining innovative is vital. But are patents and design rights restrictive when you’re trying to stay at the top of the manufacturing field?

Kelly commented: “For us t’s about ensuring that we can continue to research and develop some of the best tech products on the market freely and ensure our products can stand the test of time when up against fierce competitors.

“Over a numbers of years we are more than likely to bring out newer versions of a particular product and update the technology to meet consumer demand, so any IP plan we have would need to be flexible and enable us to do that.

“Any patent or design portfolio must be diverse, to enable us to continue with development without restriction.”

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Dr Davies said: “When filing a patent application for example, we regularly define inventions very broadly to endeavour to protect developments and modifications which may not have been considered at the prototype stage.

“This not only provides broad protection for the invention but also ensures that the resultant patent protects the commercial product, which may be quite different to the original prototype.

!With the launch of, for example the “deluxe” product, it is also common to file further patent applications to further protect the new products and therefore develop a patent thicket to secure a market niche.”

Are there any additional intellectual property concerns when you manufacture for a third party?

As a progressive business, Sony UK TEC also runs a contract manufacturing division creating industry leading products for third parties.

In order to sustain this, these businesses need to be assured that Sony UK TEC can not only create the products efficiently, but also protect their confidential manufacturing processes, technology, and potentially lucrative trade secrets.

Kelly said: “Being able to adhere to our customers’ needs without exposing them to industry-associated risks is absolutely paramount.

“The reason our Contract Manufacturing division has enjoyed success globally, and manufactured over 10 million Raspberry Pis, is linked to their trust in us as a reputable and professional brand.

“This is a major consideration in terms of IP, as any IP plan needs to include a detailed outline of the customers’ trade secrets, what they are, and how they can be protected.”

Dr Davies added: “A new trade secrets directive entered into force in June 2018. Trade secrets or commercial know-how are often used as commercial weapons to secure a market edge, but these IP rights are only valuable provided the information is kept confidential.

“In light of the new directive, it is now necessary to establish procedures in-house to ensure that commercial know-how qualifies as a trade secret. In particular, that information must have a commercial value and procedures must be in place to ensure that the information remains confidential.”