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When inventor Mark Sheahan saw his mother struggling to open a tin of shoe polish with her arthritic fingers, it started him Thinking.  Several prototypes and £90,000 in patent fees later, he's beginning to earn serious money from his inventions.

 


 

Inventor Mark Sheahan followed up an initial flash of inspiration with six months design work and a series of visits to a patent attorney to make sure that nobody else had come up with the same idea. Patent applications for his ‘better container’ have cost him a lot of money, which he’s raised by bringing in investors and licensing his designs internationally.  Mark’s initial aim was simple: to create a better container for shoe polish. He designed a semi-flexible container that could easily be opened, just by squeezing the sides. His first working prototype, made from polypropylene, seemed perfect for its purpose, until he tried it with shoe polish. That’s when he discovered that the solvent used in polish was also effective in dissolving the container, making it totally unsuitable.  The dissolving polypropylene set­back caused him to rethink his strategy and consider licensing his design. With assistance from his patent attorneys (Graham Jones & Co) and from his legal advisors (Bristows), he has now succeeded in agreeing licensing, evaluation and option deals in the UK, USA, mainland Europe and Japan.

Mark’s next design was the Popi pack — a tube that flips open when you squeeze the sides. Popi is targeted at the confectionery and snack market and is intended to replace existing cardboard tubes, with its improved safety.

'“I have sometimes wondered whether I would ever make any money out of these inventions,” confesses Mark. “However energetic you are, getting from a good idea to the point where you make money just takes a lot of time.  With most products, you now have to access international markets to achieve the volumes needed to pay back your investment.”

Mark believes that the quality of his designs, backed by his strong international patents, is why potential buyers now try to impress him, rather than the other way round. On a recent trade mission trip to Osaka in Japan, the president of one company booked a whole restaurant just for me,” Mark recounts.

The life of an independent inventor can be rather solitary, Mark concedes. “That’s why I find it helpful to meet people in a similar situation and share experiences.  I am involved with several inventors’ clubs, which are very useful.  Whatever problem you’re facing — financing, patent disputes, license agreements, prototype production — there’s usually someone else who’s faced something similar and who’ll help you find a solution.  

My advice to any bud­ding inventors is that if you have a “bit of an idea”, as your first port of call, visit the British Library’s new Business and IP Centre (www.bl.uk) and find yourself a good chartered patent attorney.”

BY PETER PROWSE FOR THE CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF PATENT ATTORNEYS (CIPA)

 

Source of help for inventors

Inventors clubs:

 

Excellent free resource:

British Association for Inventors – an umbrella association representing UK inventor groups. Can be contacted via Ideas 21:  

The British Library – The World’s Knowledge. New Business & IP Centre.

www.ideas21.co.uk Tel: 020 8780 9017

 

www.bl.uk Tel: 0870 444 1500

Institute of Patentees and Inventors

Professional advice:

A not-for-profit organisation offering a range of services to patentees and inventors.

 

Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys - Professional institute providing a free service which puts inventors in touch with three accredited patent attorneys who are either local to the inventor or specialise in the relevant field. Many patent attorneys will provide an initial consultation free of charge.

www.invent.org.uk Tel: 0871 226 2091

 

www.cipa.org.uk Tel: 020 7405 9450

 

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