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Showcasing your innovations at the Field Days – the good, the bad, and the ugly

In all countries, the general rule of thumb is that to obtain valid patent protection for an invention, the invention must be novel (new) when a patent application for the invention is filed.  This means that you must not have disclosed your invention before you file your patent application.  The same rule applies to designs that are to be protected by a design registration. In New Zealand, there are some limited exceptions to this general rule.

One of the exceptions relates to the public disclosure of an invention at a “Gazetted Exhibition”, which is an event that the Commissioner of Patents and Designs has declared to be an Industrial Exhibition for the purposes of the Patents Act.  In short, if you disclose your invention or design at an Industrial Exhibition, you can still obtain valid patent protection or registered design protection in New Zealand by filing your patent or design application within six months of the opening of the Exhibition.

The Commissioner of Patents and Designs has declared that both the Central Districts Field Days (from 1 March 2013 to 13 March 2013 inclusive) and the Mystery Creek Field Days (from 12 June 2013 to 15 June 2013 inclusive) are Industrial Exhibitions.  It follows then that disclosing your invention or design at the Field Days may not prevent you from obtaining valid patent or registered design protection in New Zealand.  This is good news.

But beware.  The bad news is that the exception applies to New Zealand only.  This means that in most other countries, the public disclosure of your invention or design at the Field Days will destroy your ability to obtain valid patent or registered design protection overseas.  Some countries provide grace periods (typically 6 or 12 months) within which you may obtain valid protection even if you have publicly disclosed your invention or design before you apply for patent or design protection (regardless of whether or not that disclosure was at an Industrial Exhibition).  However, most countries do not provide grace periods. So, by showcasing your invention or design at the Field Days without first applying for patent or registered design protection (as the case may be), you will lose the ability to obtain valid protection in many overseas countries.

Although you might not want to manufacture or sell your innovation overseas, you may like to sell the rights to enable someone else to do so.  Why not licence the innovation and gain a revenue stream that you would not otherwise have?  Again, beware.  By losing the ability to validly protect your intellectual property in many overseas countries, the value of your innovation to investors or would-be purchasers and licensees might be significantly reduced or eroded entirely – an ugly truth faced by many who have trodden this path before.

If you want to maximise the leverage of your invention or design without falling into these pitfalls, we strongly suggest that you ask your patent attorney to advise you about how best to safeguard your innovation.  Any application for protection should be made before the Field Days, and you should allow your patent attorney a reasonable time frame in which to fully advise you – the sooner, the better.

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