Safeguarding innovation is as much about marginal gains as patent protection

Posted on 15 May 2017 by Jonny Williamson

There has always been a huge emphasis placed on protecting the intellectual property of manufacturers and their businesses, but that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all, says the director of a world-leading UK manufacturing company.

Patent Protection - With output now measured in the millions, the company has turned to automation to help meet growing demand - image courtesy of John Guest.
The company ring-fences upwards of 10% of revenue into research and development, and new product development – image courtesy of John Guest.

John Guest has several competitors from all over the world, and it’s easy to see why. The West Drayton-based company has become renowned for its ‘Push-Fit’ technology – the deceptively easy-to-grasp concept used in every one of its plumbing connection products.

Ring-fencing upwards of 10% of revenue into research and development, and new product development, it stands to reason that John Guest has put a substantial amount of resource behind securing various types of patent protection. However, that’s not where the conversation ends, says director of international sales & marketing, James Guest.

The Manufacturer recently sat down with James –grandson of founder, John Guest, who explained: “We do see products on the global market which look very similar – increasingly – to some of our products; but looking very similar is not the same thing.

“We have various types of patent protection on our products, but it’s not just about the patent, it’s also about all of those marginal gains we have absorbed over the past 40 years of making ‘Push-Fit’ technology.

“If a competitor tried to replicate our products they would lack all those crucial learnings, things like what grade of stainless steel should be used, what angles the teeth on the collet should be set at, the optimum settings for the injection moulding machines, and so on. They may seem like small details, but they all add up to something considerable. Every single day, we are learning and improving.”

A core strength of the business, added James, is having a clear focus on one core technology.

He noted: “It’s not just something that the business does, it’s everything. We consider that focus to have been a significant factor in our success to date. We want to be the best in the world at connection technology. It’s not just simply another string to our bow, it’s absolutely what we do and it drives us on.”

To date, such a philosophy has seen John Guest’s output now measured in the millions, with exports to countries across Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australasia accounting for roughly half of the business’ total sales.