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Innovation & Entrepreneurship START! Challenge hosted by the Imperial College Business School’s Enterprise Lab

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HackScience presented with their prize by Dr Markus Perkmann (left) and Bruno Cotta (right)

IPcopy welcomes Monica Patel back to the blog today with a report on the recent I&E START! Challenge Final 2016 at Imperial College’s Business School in which three finalists pitched their business to a panel of investors and competed for a £10,000 prize.

As I walked into the room, I couldn’t help but feel like I was entering the Dragons’ Den (despite the fact that I was in a brightly-coloured lecture theatre at Imperial College’s Business School). Sat behind the three “Dragons”, I had front row seats to the final round of the I&E START! Challenge, hosted by Imperial College Business School’s Enterprise Lab.

The top three teams of the competition, whittled down from a total of eight teams, were each about to deliver their pitch to a panel of judges. Evaluated on market opportunity, product feasibility and plans for growth, the winning team was to be presented with a prize of £10,000 to further develop their business venture.

The judging panel consisted of Harveen Chugh (Managing Director, VIS-3), Colin Spiller (London Angel Club Manager, Angels Den) and Graham Kennedy (Director and Principal Consultant, Alexoria).

Each with a unique blend of experience in working with entrepreneurs and start-ups, the judges listened closely as the three finalist teams delivered their pitches in succession:

1) Since I can remember, booking an emergency appointment with a healthcare provider (nurse or GP) has been problematic and downright frustrating. It’s often difficult to be allocated an appointment at a time that is convenient for the patient. This is one of the reasons why there is a need for Magnacare, the first pitch, in the market.

Magnacare is an iOS app platform facilitating non-emergency on-demand home care services within London. It matches real-time requests with local agency nurses / carers able to deliver the service within one hour. The name itself got me thinking about which types of Intellectual Property (IP) might be relevant for the start-up.

I wondered whether the brand of the company had been protected by registering it as a trade mark. Trade mark registration helps the owner to prevent competitors from copying the names of their products or brands. More information about trade marks can be found here and here.

It is important when choosing a product/company name to undertake some due diligence to make sure nobody else is using the same or similar mark for the same or similar goods/services. It is a good idea to conduct these searches prior to applying to register a new trade mark to ensure that the use and registration of the mark will not conflict with any earlier third party rights. Any such search could include a keyword search of the UK trade mark register (for example, it would be possible to search for the mark “Magnacare” on the register).

While a search for identical marks may have already been conducted as part of a company’s branding process, a more extensive search for similar marks may also be useful. As well as searching on the trade mark register, it is important to search online for names or brands that are unregistered but could be conflicting. A register search can be supplemented by a common law search to check for unregistered marks that could prevent use or registration of the company’s name or brand under the law of passing off. In this case, such a wider search could include a Google search against suitable search terms.

As with any goods or services company that is needed in the market, the number of competitors in the market is likely to grow as the company develops further. Patents help to prevent competitors from copying an invention. In fact, a patent confers the exclusive right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention in a territory for a specific amount of time. For a patent to be granted, the invention must be new, inventive and industrially-applicable.

It is a common misconception that patents cannot be obtained for software or computer-implemented inventions. Whereas innovation related to business models is likely to be held as a business method and therefore not eligible for patent protection, it is possible to obtain a patent for business related innovations provided a technical aspect of the innovation can be identified that provides a technical solution to a technical problem.

So, for Magnacare, although the “headline” innovation appears to be within the business method field it would be worth looking deeper at the specific way the app works to see if there are any technical innovations that could be assessed for patentability. Further information about computer-implemented inventions can be found in a previous IPcopy post.

In addition to the brand and the invention, the appearance of an app may be protected with registered designs. Further information about registered designs can be found here and here.

2) Next up to pitch their idea was Hackscience. The Hackscience software enables scientists to easily create their own automated tools, without the need to code, thereby creating affordable laboratory automation and accelerating scientific research. I related to this instantly as I have previously worked with scientists who were spending a significant amount of time on laboratory processes that had the potential to be automated. I would often see my lab colleagues travelling back and forth from the office to the lab, as well as making weekend visits to the lab to keep an eye on their experiments.

Whilst Hackscience delivered their pitch, a number of questions floated in my mind: has the name Hackscience been protected with a trade mark? Which features of the Hackscience software platform are patentable?

A quick check of the UK trade mark register shows that the Hackscience team has sensibly moved to protect the IP in their name by applying to register “Hackscience” as a trade mark.

As mentioned briefly above, the patent issues surrounding patents for software inventions are often misrepresented. Although it is more difficult to obtain patent protection for a software invention in some countries (including the UK and Europe) than in other countries, it is certainly possible as long as it meets specific requirements. In addition to the requirements of the invention to be novel, inventive and industrially-applicable, if it can be demonstrated that the software provides a technical solution to a technical problem it is possible to obtain patent protection in the UK and Europe. Any invention related to a computer program is potentially patentable if it makes a contribution in a technical field. Examples of solutions and technical problems include: improving the efficiency or speed of a process; improving the security of a computer system; and reducing the memory required by a process.

Details about how the Hackscience software works and what it does on a technical level were not disclosed during the pitch. Not disclosing details of their software was a wise move since it is extremely important not to publicly disclose your invention, for example by including details on your website (or in a public pitch!), before you’ve filed a patent application. Any disclosures that you make become part of the “prior art” and could be cited against you when your patent application is examined by the Patent Office. So, in a worst case scenario your own disclosures could preclude you from getting a patent through to grant. If, however, it is necessary to share information related to the invention, it is important to use a non-disclosure agreement, which sets out how you share information or ideas in confidence.

3) The third and final pitch was delivered by ZiO Health. The creators of ZiO Health have developed a revolutionary home health-monitoring device that allows people to take bodily fluid samples and track their health on a molecular level. The device can analyse a pin prick of blood and return the results of a blood test that would normally involve several visits to the GP and/or hospital, all in the comfort of your own home. With ZiO Health, there is good news on the patent front – the team confirmed they are in the midst of the patent drafting process to protect their technology.

After three fantastic pitches, followed by a Q&A session, the friendly judging panel congratulated the teams before retreating into a separate room to discuss the three business ideas.

After much deliberation, a conclusion was reached on the winning team. The judges presented positive remarks on all three contesting teams and subsequently expressed the difficulty they had had in reaching a decision before announcing the winning team as… Hackscience! With both excitement and relief, the Hackscience team members took to the stage to accept their prize – a £10,000 cheque to contribute to the growth of their start-up. 

The value of IP in your business or start-up may not always be immediately obvious and, as discussed in the examples above, more than one type of protection could be involved in protecting a single product or service. For example, the name or brand may potentially be registered as a trade mark, the shape of the product may be protected with a registered design and the technology or inventive concept of the product may be protected with a patent.

Monica Patel 21 February 2017

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