Patents are something of a controversial topic for SMEs – some are strongly in favour of pursuing, others see it with little to no value. We asked a serial entrepreneur to share his experience.
As the old saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but nothing could be farther from the truth when talking about intellectual property (IP). When business owners want to protect their IP, patents are one avenue to follow.
However, there is a lot of cost and red tape involved in establishing patents, not to mention the often considerable time taken to pursue the patent. To some business owners, this may simply not be worth the time, cost and hassle to pursue.
However, Mat Collett, a serial entrepreneur who has been involved in multiple businesses, says while the process is costly and drawn out, the patent process is ultimately worthwhile.
Mat’s current business, Solar D Suncreen, has developed a new type of sunscreen that protects from sunburn while also allowing UVB rays to create vitamin D, and is selling it into local as well as international markets.
In order to protect his ownership of the innovation, Mat has been utilising patents in Australia and abroad, saying “patent protection is key”.
“Most of our money, outside of manufacturing, has been in legal cost for patents,” Mat explains.
“[But] having such a different product out there, we had to patent it because we knew that for our survival, we needed to patent this and protect it.”
When asked on what other SMEs should do if they have innovative products, Mat’s advice is to allow for the financial and time investment and ensure the product is patented first before going to market.
“I get phone calls every now and then from people I know who are starting up a similar business and they want to know which way to go,” Mat says.
“My maybe conservative theory is you've got to protect it first.
“We were lucky we had a concept and idea that no one knew about, that no one even thought of. We believed we had that control, so we definitely put the patent protection in first before we even thought about going to market.”
Mat adds that while the process may seem arduous, protection under the patent actually applies much sooner than many people realise.
“Once you put that patent application in, you protect it. You don't have to wait for the approval, just as long as it’s pending or being put in, you have the right over anyone coming from behind you.”
While securing the IP gives business owners the peace of mind that their IP truly is their own, Mat warns that it is a costly procedure.
“You’ve got to have some deep pockets to fund that patent process,” he says.
“You do that before you go to market because, again, if we go to market, someone sees it, they think it's a good idea, they'll just copy us and we're gone. I think it's just worth the time and money to protect it, whatever it is.”