The road to a patent sometimes'resembles brexit'
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The road to a patent is sometimes 'a bit like brexit'

A patent. It sounds exciting and impressive. The world behind it is that of riddles and of great developments. An entrepreneur invents something new, but are they sure it is new? And that one patent for that one brilliant product
that is taking the world by storm, how will the inventor make sure that no one will hijack his idea and his potential wealth?

'It happens that people search on the Internet, scour stores and then are sure they have something new,' says Gijs van Hoorn. 'Then people come here to get it protected. It is mostly inventors who then have high expectations. Entrepreneurs know the ropes and often know better how things work in the market.'

Advisor IE

Anyone who has to deal with patents in the Northern Netherlands is very likely to find themselves sitting across from ir. Gijs van Hoorn. Van Hoorn is an advisor to IP (Intellectual Property) North Netherlands (RVO). He provides information on the advantages and disadvantages of IP, he helps innovative SMEs and inventors get products or services on the market quickly, cheaply and effectively.

Is it a technical invention? Then there is the patent database, Van Hoorn knows. "There you can look online to see what has already been invented around the world," he says. It's free, but about 120 million publications can be found. You can search by keywords, but smart searching is done with classification codes, for example. Van Hoorn helps in that search, because the layman gets far too many irrelevant answers.

Competitor or partner?

Van Hoorn: "What matters is: is it new and could you protect it? There are many possibilities, including combinations of possibilities. The key questions are mainly: how are you going to make money with it, is there any demand for your product? Are others working on it? And are they competitors or potential partners?'

Gijs van Hoorn knows all the stages of the journey. He gives workshops to help his clients navigate the sometimes slippery innovation path. Van Hoorn: "For example, you very often need help from someone else. Someone with a patent does not always have all the qualities needed to get the product on the market. So you also have to be able to occasionally give someone confidence in order to move forward.

Just the brexit

What matters in that phase, says Van Hoorn, is that it is clear who owns the patent, what must remain secret, how do you divide the proceeds and what if the collaboration ends. Van Hoorn, with a smile, "It's like the brexit then.

And in this part of the process, all too often the difference between the entrepreneur and the inventor reveals itself. Van Hoorn: 'The inventor is often an individual with a good idea. Some become entrepreneurs, but often they remain creative techies.'


The search for a patent is also quite linky. The idea around which everything revolves must remain secret. The more parties know the content of the idea, the greater the risks. 'You lose it if you talk about it openly or seek publicity,' Van Hoorn points out. 'You can say quite a lot without revealing the invention. That's the trick. You can't avoid sharing the idea with parties. For example, if you are looking for funding. You have to learn that. I also give a workshop about that, about collaboration.'

Van Hoorn does have tips: don't talk about how you make something, talk about what you achieve. Do talk about the solution, not about how you do it. 'It's the pitfall for techies,' says the consultant in IE, 'because they like to talk about the technology. They like that, but that part in particular should be kept secret.'


Just to be clear, the search through the patent database does not always yield a conclusive answer. There is always the risk that another party in the world is working on something similar. Large corporations also have their tricks, because if something has ever been published about a product - no matter where - it deprives others of the exclusive right to that product. For example, a product may be described in an insignificant newspaper in Uzbekistan. Van Hoorn: "A concern thus prevents a technique from being used against it.

A patent is not free, absolutely not. You have to see it as an investment, Van Hoorn suggests. 'You also only invest if it pays off,' he believes. 'It costs thousands of euros, depending on the number of countries in which the patent must apply. Moreover, the product or process must be adequately described by a so-called patent attorney, who with university technical training provides the best possible legal description.'

Arrange wisely

Getting a patent right on paper is of immense importance. Arguments over rights are frequent. Van Hoorn: "All sorts of things happen, but I don't know what gets settled in private. Settlement is often the wisest thing to do. There aren't that many lawsuits either, because it's a costly business.'

When to patent and when not to patent?

Gijs van Hoorn outlines when to apply for a patent and when not to.

  1. If a product can be easily copied, then it is precisely a patent that should be applied for.
  2. Look carefully at the life cycle of the product. If it is a hype, then it will soon be over and a patent is not interesting. If, on the other hand, it is a so-called key technology, then a patent is wise.
  3. What is the product worth in the marketplace? Properly consider the costs and benefits.
  4. Are there many or few parties who can infringe the patent? Can you enforce your right? A patent in China may be difficult to enforce.
  5. An investor sometimes wants collateral, especially with a startup. A patent can help win over an investor.

Appealing patent: the bite out of the rusk of bolletje

One of the most famous patents from the Netherlands is "the bite out of the rusk" by Theo Tempels. Bolletje had a license agreement with Tempels to produce the rusks in such a way that the customer could easily grab the rusks from the tight packaging. Van Hoorn: 'For a long time, Bolletje was the only one allowed to produce rusks in this way. Meanwhile, the patent has expired and everyone is allowed to omit a bite from the rusk.' Van Hoorn thinks this is a great story: 'What matters here is the simplicity of the idea.'

How new is it when you tell about it freely

Attorney Mart Dijkstra of Yspeert Advocaten has less to do with patents, but more with intellectual property (IP) in areas such as trademarks, trade names and copyright. 'What we mainly do is think along with the client. Mapping out the risks.'

Dijkstra, who has worked at Samsung, is the IP specialist within Yspeert. He knows what the biggest common denominator is in intellectual property cases: "It is often about a patent holder who is not amused when a competitor uses something similar to his patent. This is understandable, because there has often been considerable investment. Then you can even ask that competitor to pay back profits, for example, or a recall of the products if the patent has been infringed.'

According to Dijkstra, the issue of secrecy is often a tricky one for people with an idea. 'It's wise, if you want to go into the market, to get informed beforehand,' he believes. 'If you are not experienced and you have a great idea, you should absolutely suppress the tendency to want to tell about it. You have something new, but how new is it if you tell about it freely? So make sure you have a good confidentiality agreement.'

Duroflame seeks egg of Columbus

Aldrik Sebens from Bedum is searching intensively for the possibility of applying for a patent. Currently, he does not have one for his Duroflame pellet stove. 'The pellet stove is an existing concept,' he says, 'and you have to know how to find something in which you distinguish yourself.'

A technique that you can base a patent on. Sebens has not yet found such a technique. He started making his own pellet stoves because of the proprietary design plus a reduction in emissions. 'There's no Egg of Columbus in there yet. And so it makes no sense to spend a lot of money on patent research.'

Aldrik Sebens does not rule out applying for another patent. 'I am researching all kinds of things. And one day I hope to find something in the field of combustion and emissions, something revolutionary. Other than that, I can't say much about it.'

Question and Answer game at writing patent

Annemiek Tepper, chemist and European Patent Attorney working at the Groningen office of patent agency V.O. Patents & Trademarks, is helping BioBTX patent its invention. A fun and challenging job, thinks patent attorney Tepper. 'Because there is a lot going on in BioBTX's field at the moment,' she says. 'It's all about discovering a special feature that is distinctive from existing technologies.'

The Groningen pilot plant breaks down tawny plastics into their original building blocks, from which new plastics are made, thus making plastic circular. Pieter Imhof, BioBTX's CEO, thinks it is natural to apply for a patent for BioBTX's technology. 'We are a research company. We want to protect promising inventions.'

BioBTX provides V.O. with the information about the technology. Tepper: "Then a kind of question-and-answer game ensues, in which together with the inventors we look for the unique aspects of the invention. It is a dynamic process, and from the interaction a sharp picture emerges of where BioBTX stands out. We think along conceptually and then go on to legally articulate the technology in a patent application.'

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