The Importance of Intellectual Property for SMEs like Inzpire - in Celebration of World IP Day
24 Apr 20
24 Apr 20
As a start-up we knew that we had to protect our Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and had to figure out how best to do this with very limited resources. Patents in particular seemed to be the domain of the big corporates and we were in creativity mode, concentrating on making something special enough that the MoD would want to buy it. With the first signs of success we knew how important it was going to be, so we set about protecting this newly created IPR in the best way we could. To this end, we were incredibly fortunate in finding and bringing on board an excellent commercial lawyer to help establish the company on a strong legal and commercial footing from the outset.
I am not a lawyer so this blog on IPR is from a practical perspective of our journey from a small SME, not a legal view. However, it became quickly apparent from our interactions with other defence companies that we seemed to be establishing quite a unique legal and commercial function for an SME and one that was forward thinking - particularly with regard to protecting its IPR. Our legal and commercial team has now expanded carefully into a group of like-minded, commercial thinking individuals who are very adept at ensuring that Inzpire identifies and protects all of its IPR to help drive forward its business objectives. After all, it is IPR that reflects a company’s unique creativity and can help to generate a large proportion of a company’s revenue if managed carefully.
In the early days, we identified the relevant IPR inherent in our products and services and got on the front foot in ensuring that we protected our ownership of it through careful negotiations and contracting with customers and other third parties we were engaging with. Before we had any customer contracts on our books, the protection of our IPR was something at the forefront of our minds when entering into NDAs and other types of agreements that enabled us to pursue business opportunities and bring them to fruition.
The decision to develop our first products in support of our customer’s operational requirements (some of which were very urgent involving short timescales to contract) saw us creating software based systems which we managed to pitch successfully against and win contracts over huge defence companies whilst protecting our IPR through establishing appropriate licensing arrangements. Given these successes, we decided to investigate the heavyweight of IPR, the Patent, through the UK Intellectual Property Office. It soon become apparent that achieving a patent for software in the UK was going to be quite the challenge, far more than for more traditional engineering/technological applications. However, through professional Patent legal advice, the consensus was that we had enough patentable evidence for a strong application so we went ahead. The process was lengthy, complex and expensive summarised by the present day health warning on the front page of the Patent application which starts…. ‘Before you apply, Patents are the most difficult form of Intellectual Property to obtain and the most expensive for you to enforce’. They quote that only 1 in 20 are successful without professional assistance so it is not to be taken lightly.
Rather than pursue the lengthy patent application further we opted to protect our IPR by other means, in particular through innovative contractual arrangements, clear external communications and by registering our IPR where appropriate. This included, for example, registering our “GECO” software and other business names and devices as trademarks enforceable across the EU. In parallel to this, we had to innovate at a rate faster than our competitors if we were to stay out in front and hope this would secure us as the go to for innovation in the military Mission Support market. Recruiting an agile and highly gifted team with an intimate understanding of our market domain was key to achieving this, so we did and they delivered. Bolstering this approach with the strongest IPR protection available would place us in an enviable position as one of the most innovative defence companies in the market.
Set out below is just a flavour of some of the products that we have developed where IPR has been very important:
Tornado Electronic Performance Planning Aid (TEPPA)
In 2009 Inzpire developed a system to automate the calculation of safety critical aircraft performance information to maximise Tornado GR4 operations in the challenging desert conditions of Afghanistan. Inzpire secured an urgent requirement to deliver this and this was so popular that it went on to be used for training and operations all over the world until the Tornado went out of service in 2019.
This capability was then further developed to accommodate all aircraft types (fighters, transport and helicopters) and is now an integrated application in the GECO suite of Mission Support System solutions.
During the Afghanistan conflict, a further urgent requirement sought a cockpit tablet solution (DIGIMAP) to deliver a digital mapping referencing system to enable rapid air support to ground forces in contact with the enemy. Inzpire secured this requirement through competitive tender and was soon delivering to enhance Tornado GR4 and Apache who were previously reverting to cumbersome paper maps. This solution was subsequently used in Libya on Op Ellamy on the same platforms with the addition of Typhoon. The rapid capability development and fielding attracted recognition at the highest levels within Defence.
GECO Mission Support System (MSS)
GECO MSS is a next generation Mission Support System designed to support the needs of the modern military aviator through all phases of their mission. It delivers pre-flight planning, mission rehearsal, mission execution (cockpit mission tablet) and a full mission debrief. Uniquely, this is all delivered through a single system that is fully configurable for all aircraft types: helicopters, fighters, special mission and transport aircraft. Inzpire secured its largest MOD contract to date at that time to supply the GECO MSS for all RAF Puma Helicopters and was awarded the Queen’s Award for innovation. This ground-breaking system beat all competing defence companies on innovation, technical, commercial and financial grounds surpassing all expectations of such a system.
Inzpire continues to evolve with many exciting and innovative creations in development. We are constantly assessing the competitive landscape with an eye on the most appropriate means available to us to protect and exploit our valued IPR in meeting Inzpire’s business objectives.
Phil joins us as a principal training consultant having spent 20 years as a training specialist in the MOD.
Our team are here to help. If you have any questions, no matter how big or small, please get in touch.