Gem of an idea to boost North-East business | 05 August 07

A pioneering scheme is being launched to unlock the multi-million pound potential of the North-East’s hidden business treasures.

Newcastle-based law firm Ward Hadaway and the University of Northumbria are joining forces to create a service designed to help companies in the region make the most of their technology and processes.

Ideas-lab will aim to uncover the hidden value and potential that businesses may not realise they possess and then maximise the returns from those discoveries.

This could come from new ways for companies to make more money from their existing technology, from ways of producing their products in a more cost-effective way or from getting returns from technology they are unaware of.

Alex Shiel, partner and head of intellectual property at Ward Hadaway, said: “Companies could be sitting on a goldmine without knowing it.

“Ideas-lab will look to identify the potential of companies’ technology and then examine ways to make the most from that, whether by patenting a process, trademarking a design or changing the way they make their products.

“This is the first scheme of its kind in the country. The North-East has been renowned as a centre for invention and innovation for centuries – and we believe that there is a lot more out there.”

Alex and other key members of the Ideas-lab team – experienced inventor and industrial design consultant Tim Moor and University of Northumbria school of design principal lecturer Stuart English – have proven track records in helping businesses develop, protect and exploit their intellectual property and technology to the full.

Under the scheme, Ideas-lab will visit businesses to look at how they carry out their work, what processes they use, the way they develop new products and what intellectual property they currently have.

A report is then produced outlining the lab’s findings, offering new ideas on how to boost revenue and suggesting ways of developing and protecting their intellectual property.

Stuart English said: “Most companies are too busy thinking about the day to day running of their businesses to consider new ways of making money from their technology.

“They could be just one step away from transforming their business and we hope that Ideas-lab can act as that missing piece in the puzzle.”

Tim Moor, whose latest invention of a new-style baby bottle is set to be launched in eight countries, added: “This is a great opportunity for businesses to make more of what they’ve got and for the North-East to show the rest of the world what a dynamic and innovative place it is.”

The service is free and confidential and is being backed with funding from regional development agency One NorthEast.

One NorthEast Director of Business and Industry, Ian Williams, said: “Innovation and productivity goes hand in hand and universities working with private companies can only assist this process.

“The ideas, technology and know-how to further develop the region’s knowledge economy are all out there and initiatives like Ideas-lab help link up all those elements.”
Further details on Ideas-lab are available at www.ideas-lab.co.uk

Ideas in action
The potential of new ideas to transform a company can be seen by Stuart English’s work in the 1990s with a plastics moulding business.
At the time, the company was manufacturing VHS video cases and Stuart was acting as a design consultant there.

“I happened to have been over at Philips looking at the development of CD and DVD technology so we suggested this company should start looking at producing CD and DVD boxes,” he recalls.

“I remember saying ‘wouldn’t it be great if you were able to push the middle of the box and the disc would just pop out.”

The first designs from this idea were produced in 1992, the first patent filed in 1994 and then internationally from 1995 onwards as the development and licensing of the innovation became the company’s primary – and lucrative – business.

“It had initially been a plastic moulding company, but changes in technology led to the opportunity for a new development,” says Stuart.
“It was just a little idea to make boxes simpler to use, but it took off around the world.”