THE BLOG

Tripping Up Trunki - What Every Design-Focussed Business Should Know

06/03/2014 11:48 GMT | Updated 05/05/2014 10:59 BST

Having taken on the 'Dragon's Den', been sent away penniless, and gone on to develop a multi-million pound internationally-successful business, there are few that would begrudge the Trunki suitcase inventor Rob Law his success.

Indeed he could almost be considered a poster boy for the hundreds of entrepreneurs across the country who continue working long hours and struggling financially, slogging it out because they believe that their business idea has what it takes, and refuse to give up.

Which makes it all the more sad to hear that the inventor has fallen foul of a competitor who has swapped Trunki's horns for floppy ears, circumventing his design protection.

Despite initially winning a High Court judgment against Hong Kong-based company PMS International for its Kiddee Case, following an appeal against the decision, the judgement has now been overturned. Trunki now has the option to appeal to the Supreme Court and Court of Justice of the European Union.

As someone who's worked with businesses large and small I can confidently say that the more successful a business or product is, the more likely it is to come under fire from imitators.

When there's an opportunity to make millions of pounds by simply 'tweaking' someone else's design, a canny opportunist will do their homework and look for the chinks in your intellectual property (IP) protection armour and seek to capitalise on them.

So, how can you avoid being an easy target? Although not well-known, design registration can be a surprisingly cost-effective tool in warding off copycats. It lasts up to 25 years with has a wide variety of applications, from product packaging and clothing to computer software interfaces and car parts, and can be used to stop others from replicating your products' appearance.

However, whilst design protection is cheap, the scope of a single product-directed design can be limited, as demonstrated in this case. Accordingly, businesses need design protection that not only protects what they what to sell but also makes it difficult for others to design around the protection they have.

It is challenging as a startup (and often money is not there or it is frankly not the best use of it) to protect IP comprehensively, but often things can be done by thinking imaginatively around what is likely to be commercially valuable and protecting things strategically rather than just simplistically.