Dragons meet their match at IP Office

23 March 2010

Inventor Andrew Harsley thought he had hit the jackpot when he won investment for his cable-tie product on the BBC's TV programme Dragons' Den, in which budding entrepreneurs bid for financing from the show's panel of "dragons".

Two of the notoriously hard-to-impress judges, Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan, invested £150,000 ($210,000) in the product, reassured in part by Harsley's UK patent, which was registered in 1999.

But in an opinion published last month, the UK IP Office found that Harsley's RapStrap product probably infringes two claims of a patent granted to a company called Millipede in 1999. What's more, Harsley used to work for Millipede and is named on the original patent.

Office opinions are not binding and Millipede will have to take court action if it wants to enforce its rights but they are based on thorough review of the patent and alleged infringing material which, in this case, included an article in the Daily Mail newspaper. The position therefore is that Harsley's invention, and the Dragons' investment, is looking vulnerable.

Ilya Kazi of Mathys & Squire told Utynam: "There is a lesson here: you can't forget about the past. The patent wasn't the whole story. It is surprisingly often that people shoot themselves in the foot with prior art."

Extract from Managing Intellectual Property
N° and issue date : 90401 - 01/04/2009
Page : 138

Click here to download the pdf.