Eureka moment

Every budding inventor dreams of having a ‘Eureka!’ moment. The spark of an idea for something that could change the way people work or play, that lightning bolt of inspiration that could potentially catapult them to success.

 

But once you have that amazing thought, what do you do next to make your dream become reality and, most importantly, protect your concept? For many inventors, the University of Wolverhampton has provided the essential support to make their innovation a viable prospect. Students, staff and the general public can seek advice on how to protect the rights for their ideas and how to commercialise a product.

 

Recent successes include an innovative device to prevent people putting the wrong fuel in their cars. According to the AA, the number of motorists who make this mistake has doubled in the UK over the last ten years, and now affects an estimated 150,000 drivers.

 

Misfuelling mainly occurs when drivers of diesel cars accidentally fill up with petrol, as the nozzle from a diesel fuel pump is larger than a petrol one.

 

A solution to this was devised by an independent inventor, Martin White, who then partnered with the Caparo Innovation Centre at the University of Wolverhampton to develop the design and patent rights to bring the idea into reality.

 

The Caparo RightFuel device was taken to market by Caparo Vehicle Products, who licensed the rights to the invention from the University of Wolverhampton.

 

Also in the pipeline is a ground-breaking new device which could transform the way babies learn. This time the bright spark of an idea came from a member of University staff, Emeritus Professor Elvidina Nabuco Adamson- Macedo, who retired from the School of Health last year, she came up with the idea following years of research and testing with babies born early and their parents.

 

The Neo-FrogTM Baby Development Aid, the first of the Neo-HaPy® family of products, aims to enable both pre-term and full-term babies to start learning soon after they are born. The product was licensed to a local company, Medical Devices Technology International Ltd, and they are in the process of sourcing large scale manufacture. A DVD filmed by School of Art & Design students will be included along with the product.

 

Help was at hand for both inventions from Dr Iain Alexander, Commercial Compliance/IP Manager for the University’s Competitiveness Centre. Iain advises on the best ways of recognising, protecting and exploiting Intellectual Property (IP), and his work supports students, staff and the public.

 

“Everything needs to be original with IP,” Iain explains. “It has to be innovative as well; it cannot be just a case of putting two existing things together. It is more like an Eureka moment – something to make it different and a step change in thought. It can be simple or small, it does not have to be rocket science.”

 

The protection available includes patents, registered designs, copyright and trademarks. Iain explains that the NeoFrog, for example, is patented, is a registered design and has a trademark. There is also copyright covering the DVD, the description of how the device works and the script for the instructions. The priority is to protect the concept, and a patent gives an inventor the ability to stop someone else doing the same thing and producing a competitive product.

 

“Everything needs to be original with IP,” Iain explains. “It has to be innovative as well; it cannot be just a case of putting two existing things together. It is more like an Eureka moment – something to make it different and a step change in thought. It can be simple or small, it does not have to be rocket science.”

 

So what advice can the University offer to people who have an idea for an innovation, and don’t know what to do next? Iain says it is important to talk to someone early on to know whether there is a chance of protecting the IP or not. Sadly, for some inventors, this is where the adventure will end, as there is no chance of protecting the Intellectual Property due to similarities to something that has already been patented or to something that is already in existence. For large companies this is less of an issue, as they are already established and well-known. But for a new business starting from scratch, it is more difficult to protect your product and prevent yourself from being squeezed out by other organisations. Applying for patents is also a fairly expensive thing to do, and often this is a stumbling block for some inventors.

 

Iain says the best thing to do is to find a White Knight to fight for your product. Programmes such as Dragon’s Den highlight the importance of having someone with industry know-how, money and drive to back your idea. However the show is not the place to go for business advice, as the fearsome dragons are not simply benefactors and will rip an unprepared inventor to shreds. Iain adds: “Someone has to champion a new idea. Inventors need to think to themselves, if I’m not the one to do this, who is? There will be barriers along the way and you need someone who keeps pushing through these barriers and asking the questions regardless.”

 

The University has a Help for Inventors service, which is available through the Caparo Innovation Centre.

 

Visit www.wlv.ac.uk/caparo for further information.