James Dyson – Britain’s answer to the billionaire–genius philanthropist – has been helming the James Dyson Foundation since 2002, and one of the keynote components of the foundation is the awarding of the “James Dyson Award”, an annual prize given to innovative products. This year’s International Winner has been recently announced as the ‘EcoHelmet’, a bicycle helmet made out of paper which has a cellular structure designed to absorb impact, and is aimed at the infrequent cyclist. Dyson made time in his busy schedule from taking pot-shots at the EU to congratulate the winning designer, one Isis Shiffer.
Dyson: A true Intellectual Property’s Champion
Dyson has a longstanding history of championing the benefit of Intellectual Property – at the time of writing, there are over 6,500 patents or applications worldwide in the name of Dyson Technology Ltd; so, presumably he provided Ms Shiffer with some pearls of wisdom regarding the protection of her helmet? A quick trawl through Espacenet’s and EUIPO’s databases for the name Isis Shiffer as the inventor, however, do not yield any results. This begs an interesting question: what is stopping me from making my own EcoHelmets right now?
Is the product patent pending?
There is nothing on the EcoHelmet website which would suggest as much, and I have not been able to find a patent application online. Critically though, this does not mean that there isn’t a patent application pending somewhere in the world.
The nature of patent applications is that they are secret until the point of publication, and publication of a patent application does generally not occur until eighteen months following the date of priority of the first-filed patent application. The copyright markings on the EcoHelmet website are dated ©2016; for argument’s sake, if the EcoHelmet were only disclosed on the website in the past few weeks, then a patent application may not have been filed long beforehand. In this case, any patent application may not be published until early 2018!
This secrecy can be one of the most powerful aspects of patent protection. If your competitors are aware that you have filed a patent application for a particular product that you have since disclosed, they will not necessarily be aware of the contents for a considerable time. As such, the fear-factor associated with the potential but as-yet-unknown possibility of patent infringement can act as an effective deterrent to copyists. The patent pending status can also be maintained for a relatively long period of time, further amplifying the deterrent effect, and marking out your market space, giving you plenty of time to build up the commercial benefit from the patent application. For this reason, it is a good idea to mark products which are patent pending as such.
Can I fold my own?
So, to answer my original question, can I make knock-off copies of the EcoHelmet? I certainly won’t be doing so – I just don’t know what the potential risks downstream might be! The benefits of Intellectual Property protection therefore spread beyond the power to bring infringement proceedings against your rivals, but can also have a powerful psychological effect as well.