1. Is your idea original?
First, find out if your idea for a product, service or invention doesn’t already exist. There is no point in going ahead with your idea, or in trying to register your IP rights, if someone else has beaten you to it. There are several ways to investigate:
- You can use several databases to check whether a trade name or design already exists, or an invention has been patented. The Benelux Office for Intellectual Property manages the trademarks register and the designs register; the European Patent Office manages Espacenet, where you can check if a patent has been registered.
- Search for similar ideas online and in shops. Your product or invention may already be for sale.
- Go to trade shows and browse (online) magazines and literature on the subject you have an idea for, to find new products and services. If you find nothing that resembles your idea, you may be reasonably sure no-one is working on the same idea as you are.
2. Perform market research
You have established that you are the only one working on your idea. But what if that is due to a lack of demand for it? Will people want to buy your product or service? Market research can help you find the answer to that.
There are several types of market research: you can conduct an online survey to find out what your existing customers think; you can conduct interviews with random respondents to get a better picture of the overall demand for your idea; or you can search the literature in your sector to find out which way the market is moving, and what the trends are. Depending on how thorough you want to be, and how much budget you have, you can also decide to hire an agency – or an intern.
If your market research shows that there is a potential market for the product or service you want to develop, you can go ahead. This will also make it easier for you to find investors.
3. What exactly do you want to protect?
Intellectual Property, or IP rights is the container name for the protection of novel (original, new) products and services and creative concepts, and the rights that belong with each type of protection. You can protect your product or service in several ways: for instance, if your product uses a novel technique, you can take out a patent for that technique. At the same time, you may take out a trademark and design registration for your product. Some rights you can only acquire by registering or submitting your invention. Other rights are granted automatically, for instance copyright. Find out which IP rights you want, or have, to register.
4. i-DEPOT: register your idea, develop it later
You cannot protect an idea for a new product, service or invention by claiming IP rights. IP rights only come into play after you have developed your idea. But you can register your idea in an i-DEPOT. The i-DEPOT stores your idea and dates it. This enables you to prove that the original idea was yours, and that you thought of it first.
5. You develop your idea, but you don’t register it (yet)
What if you have to share important information about your product or service with others before you register it? For instance, with investors, to get funding, or with members of staff, who have to develop it? In that case, you can ask them to sign a confidentiality statement (also called a non-disclosure agreement or NDA). If you undertake this kind of action to protect your company secrets, they will be protected by the Trade Secret Protection Act (Wet bescherming bedrijfsgeheimen, Wbb). If anybody steals or reveals your company secrets, you can take them to court.
6. IP registration: when your product or service is ready
You have developed your idea into a product or service. Now you can protect it by registering your IP rights. There are 3 options:
- Register the name or logo of your company, product or service in the trademarks register;
- Register a design or model in the designs register;
- Apply for a patent for your technical invention.
What does the Dutch word ‘octrooi’ mean? Is it different from a patent?
If you live in the Netherlands, you’ll often come across the word ‘octrooi’ instead of ‘patent’, especially in official documents and legislation. There is no difference between these two words, they mean exactly the same thing.
7. Market your idea
Once you have taken all the necessary steps to protect your product or service, it’s time to market it. The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK can give you tips and advice on how to do that.