So you’ve got a great idea, an idea you’re certain will contribute to a more efficient and more productive agricultural industry, if only your idea could find its way to the market.

But before telling your friends and potential customers about your great idea, pause for a moment, and consider the consequences of doing so without having adequate intellectual property (IP) protection in place.

Whether your idea relates to a new product or a new method, chances are it will need funding for further development before it’s ready to enter the market.

That funding might come from a venture capitalist, an angel investor, a bank, or a rich uncle, anyone who’s willing to accept the costs and risks associated with commercialising a new technology.

Now, consider your chances of attracting that funding when there’s nothing to prevent copycats from flooding the market as soon as your invention is launched, thus diverting sales and driving down revenue. I’d say you’ve got two chances, and neither is very promising.

But what if you were able to secure a period of market exclusivity and prevent competitors from copying your invention, no matter how successful it was?

That’s where patent protection comes into play. The quid pro quo of the patent system requires that patent holders adequately describe their invention to the public, and in exchange, the patent holder is granted certain exclusive rights to exploit their invention for a defined period.

IP protection, including patent protection, is a priority for investors and a cornerstone of successful exit strategies. A routine aspect of investor due diligence is an interrogation of a start-up’s intellectual property position.

To be eligible for patent protection, an invention must satisfy a number of criteria, including that it be novel. That means, if you’ve spilt the beans too early, you may have jeopardised your ability to obtain meaningful patent protection. It might sound counterintuitive, but in many cases, the surest way to prevent a great idea from finding its way to the market is to tell people about it, without first ensuring adequate IP protection is in place.

So you might be thinking, “okay then, I’ll just draft a patent myself”. Well, you could. But patent drafting is a bit like performing a root canal – you can do it yourself, but it’s not recommended. Best speak with a professional. Many patent attorneys will be happy to chat about your idea free of charge.

IP protection doesn’t have to mean putting the brakes on the development of your invention. On the contrary, a well-crafted IP strategy can accelerate commercialisation, and ensure your idea becomes a commercial success.

By: Michael Christie Ph.D – Patent Attorney at K&L Gates

This story was first published in Leading Agriculture magazine.