Some of the most successful machinery and tractor developments were invented on the farm. But getting a patent to protect your clever idea has its complications, explains Mike Williams. Visit the inventions competition at any of the summer shows and you’ll see that innovation on the farm is alive and well. However the financial rewards for those who patent new ideas and develop them commercially vary enormously. Only a tiny number of farm equipment ideas make their inventors seriously wealthy. Harry Ferguson is the example many inventors would like to follow. His three-point linkage established a business with output peaking at 100,000 Ferguson tractors a year and profits to match. Earnings for most farm equipment inventors are much more modest, and this includes the farmer in Gloucestershire who invented the world’s first big square baler.
It offered a huge advance in handling efficiency, but sales of the Bigbaler production version from Howard Rotavator were disappointing, mainly due to knotting problems.
8 Top tips on how to get your patent sorted
1 The Intellectual Property Office (IPO), previously known as the Patent Office, is the place to start. Its website offers guidelines for anyone planning to deal with their own patent application.
2 Details of your invention must not be disclosed to anyone until after the patent application has been submitted. Otherwise you may not get the patent at all.
3 There is an exceptions to this rule and this is when the disclosure is to someone who signs a confidentiality agreement. Or to a lawyer or a patent attorney who is professionally required to treat the information confidentially.
4 The application, which can be sent to the IPO by post or email, must include a full description of the invention, drawings and a brief description of the technical features.
The IPO guarantees to send a receipt with an official application number within three days, and when this arrives the enforced confidentiality period comes to an end.
5 A patent can be a valuable business asset and choosing who should handle the application is an important decision, points according to Jerry Bridge-Butler, a chartered patent attorney with Baron, Warren & Redfern of Hammersmith, London.
6 He has experience of dealing with agricultural machinery patents, but his advice is to choose a chartered attorney who is reasonably local and is someone you are happy to work with.
“You should look on a patent as a piece of law that is drawn up just for you, and the cover it provides should be as broad as possible to provide maximum protection.
This is very important and it is just part of the service provided by a patent attorney,” says Mr Bridge-Butler. “A patent attorney will be acting in the client’s business interests, but if you put the application through the IPO they will produce a much narrower level of protection.”