Alternatives to patents
There are alternatives to patents that might be a better fit for your business. These options, which are not just restricted to other types of intellectual property, include:
- trademarks (which protects the name of a product or service)
- design rights (which protects the look of a product)
- first to market (where the owner wants to beat potential competitors to market)
- trade secrets (an option if you want other parties to help manufacture and market your product).
If your invention has a unique shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation, it’s worth considering a design right. While a patent protects the way an invention works, a registered design is more appropriate if the appearance of a product is important and innovative.
First to market
If an invention is destined to have a short commercial life and be in a competitive market, the inventor may seek to be first to market and try and gain major market share. This element of surprise means competitors will have a long lead time before they can get a similar product to market.
A trademark is a unique identifier for the name of a product or service. A registered trademark cannot be used for another good or service that sits within the same class of goods and services.
This option is good in situations where the product has a short commercial life and the owner wants to quickly establish a market lead.
In this case, a trade mark protects the name and reputation of that product (think GoPro).
A trade secret can be sustained through confidentiality agreements (or non-disclosure agreements). According to Federal Government agency IP Australia, this approach is only worthwhile if it’s difficult for others to work out how an invention has been manufactured. A well-kept trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola.
A trade secret lasts for a long as the information remains confidential. This type of agreement would be used, for example, if you needed staff or other businesses to help manufacture your invention in secrecy.