While entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged and nurtured here in Ireland, it can feel as though one critical aspect of the process from invention to successful commercialisation is neglected: the patent process.
Two Northern Ireland companies have brought an iPad application to market to tackle this problem. InventorAid, created by PatentNav in collaboration with SpeechBubble, is a step-by-step application to bring inventors, entrepreneurs and start-ups through the process of filing for a patent, protecting your invention and overall protection of your intellectual property.
Eddie O’Gorman, founder of PatentNav, says: "People are quite often concerned at the low level of understanding that there is surrounding the patenting process, even the trademark, design, registration and protection processes.
"I kept coming across this problem and began to think about how I could create something affordable and easy to access that start-ups and entrepreneurs could learn from."
O’Gorman hooked up with fellow Northern Ireland technology company SpeechBubble through Twitter to come up with an app for the iPad that would educate and inform those looking to learn about the patent process.
From paper to iPad
The journey from getting PatentNav itself off paper and onto the iPad was an experience, recalls O’Gorman, as Apple had only recently opened up this space for developers and many found it to be a different experience than creating apps for the iPhone.
"SpeechBubble was invited to develop an iPad app for launch and with two weeks to go we had to start from scratch because the technology is different than developing for the iPhone.
"It was a bit like the Grand National; there were a lot of horses at the start but as time went on you could see developers dropping off one by one because not many fully understood the application process."
Added to this was the lack of a physical iPad to test the apps for compliance and stability, explains O’Gorman.
InventorAid made it through and arrived on the App Store on 1 April and is an educational tool available in English, German and Spanish with a graphical walkthrough and would work well for both inventors and third-level students working on research while needing to be aware of the commercialisation aspects of their work. There is also a free version for the iPhone available since 1 May.
As patent laws around the world are becoming more uniform through the Patent Cooperation Treaty, O’Gorman says that the app is quite universal in its value as a reference tool: "There is uniformity in most countries now and most have signed up to the Paris Convention (for the protection of industrial property) which gives you a one-year priority that allows you to file patent application after which you can decide what to do."
Interestingly, after having seen this firsthand, O’Gorman makes comparisons between the process developers must go through to get an application accepted for the iPad and iPhone and the patent process.
"The process that iPad developers go through in the space of a few weeks is like what happens over a few years in the patent process.
"Apple seems to be an innovation office right now. It seems to be acting like a registrar for innovation, according to their technological standards.
"After working in the patent field for so long I find it interesting that there is almost this parallel universe out there with the app registration system. It makes you wonder if patent offices around the world could in a way learn from Apple," says O’Gorman.
He explains that the whole patent system, which can be painstakingly long, is being questioned right now, with a lot of people trying to reform it, even though by and large it works.
"It can be a tough system and this app is designed to try and get people’s heads around the importance of dates, timelines, terminology used and the context they are used in."
PatentNav is already looking to its second app, PatentNav Generics, which is focused on the pharmaceutical industry, and is looking to locate the app part of its business in Kilkenny, close to the Irish Patent Office.
By Marie Boran
Photo: Pictured from left are: Dr Edward O’Gorman, founder of PatentNav; Andy McCartney, SpeechBubble; and Mervyn Watley, director of Facilities & Corporate Real Estate, NI Science Park