Supply chain · 2 October 2017

How to protect your intellectual property when pitching to a national retailer

Refrigerated foods in store.
Beforepitching to a national retailer, it’s important to keep detailed records of your ideas
Over the past year, our regular supply chain series has been helping small suppliers find out exactly what they need to knowto start’selling to Britain’s most recognisable brands. Now, our legal expert responds to one reader eager to protect their business idea when pitching to a national retailer.

“I would like to directly approach John Lewis (starting with an email and then approaching stores directly). However, although my company and product name is trademarked, I am not going to patent it, as it is an idea rather than wholly new invention.

“Although it would be unethical practice, could John Lewis then ‘copy’ my idea, or do I need to assume some good faith as stated in its ethos? I obviously don’t feel I can email with a disclaimer I’m sure they wouldn’t even bother reading on.

“Is there any protection that covers me if I show or deliver the product to John Lewis?”

Well done on protecting the name of your product, that’s a good start when pitching to a national retailer like John Lewis.

Protecting ideas is always difficult, as intellectual property rights protect the expression of ideas, rather than the idea itself. That means you must turn the idea into something before it gains any protection. The best way to protect ideas is to keep them confidential. Obviously, this can be difficult when you want to share them with someone like John Lewis.

In an ideal world, John Lewis would sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) prior to you disclosing information to it. However, I don’t know what its policy is on this and many large companies refuse to sign NDAs in case they are already working on a similar product completely independent of you.

Also, companies such as John Lewis will be inundated with enquiries from people wanting it to consider their products and it just wouldnt be practical to enter into an NDA with everyone.

Everything you need to know about non-disclosure agreements

Patenting

Is there a possibility that you may be able to patent your product in the future? If so, then it is essential that you do maintain confidentiality and so you mustnt disclose how it works. If you do disclose this information, you will lose the ability to register a patent later. In this situation, an NDA would be essential.

With many ideas I see, there are different levels of information that can be shared. There is a general level where you can talk about your product in broad terms, what it does, the benefits it provides etc. This information can usually be shared freely and won’t compromise you if it was used by someone else.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

David Walker is the founder of Grid Law, a firm which first targeted the motorsport industry, advising on sponsorship deals, new contracts and building of personal brands. He has now expanded his remit to include entrepreneurs, aiding with contract law, dispute resolution and protecting and defending intellectual property rights.

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