Mr Knoops, a sporty octogenarian from Bergen, used to cycle around 9,000 kilometres a year. It gave him mobility, independence and a healthy dose of exercise. Until he had a fall, lost his confidence and stopped cycling. The solution was in the hands of Bob van den Berg, the director of Tworby, a start-up company that makes a construction to replace the rear wheel of an existing bicycle with a two-wheel steel frame creating a stable three-wheeler. With this innovation, Bob aroused the interest of investor Shawn Harris during Dragons' Den, a programme on Viaplay. Shawn decided to invest €400,000 in the growing business.
Investors are important, especially for start-ups. And what investors look for is security. That is why a patent can help in the search for investors. A patent gives the lender more certainty that the investment is going to pay off.
Do not forget the patent A patent proves that you are the first with an invention and ensures that you can determine who is allowed to use it. This gives your products a unique competitive edge. It also allows you to state the fact that your product is patented in your communications, as a result of which people will consider your product to be innovative. In short: it is an important step, whereby it is important to ensure that the innovation has not already been brought into the public domain before the patent application is filed.
It is a classic example of a forgotten step in innovations: an inventor presents his brand new product at an exhibition and proudly announces that he might even apply for a patent. Alas! It is too late for that. Until you apply for a patent, the invention must remain secret. And an exhibition is anything but secret. Neither is an episode of Dragons' Den!
Fortunately, Bob did not forget this important step and obtained a patent before he pitched his innovation on the programme. "Quite early in the process of developing the Tworby, I had a lightbulb moment. When I was studying at TU Eindhoven, I once took a course in which patents were discussed and I remembered that you had to apply for one at an early stage. I discussed our plans with patent attorney Anne from EP&C. The collaboration was very pleasant from the start. A personal approach, combined with knowledge and expertise, guided us through the process. They helped us make strategic choices with regard to the patent. It was good to think ahead and consider the things you might run into in the future. Once the invention is in the public domain, there is no going back," Bob explains.
Better too soon than too late Patent Attorney Anne de Blécourt believes that Bob thought of patenting at exactly the right time: "Bob already had a prototype of the Tworby, he knew what he wanted to do with it in the future, but there was nothing about it in the public domain yet. That is a great time to talk about patents. You can always decide not to apply for a patent, but if your invention is already out there, it is simply too late. So it is better to apply too soon than too late. My neighbour at one point invented the chute that you sometimes see hanging from buildings during renovations. He was very enthusiastic about it and produced a flyer which he distributed. As a result of that it was no longer possible to get a patent."
A patent is important to investors The Tworby provides a lasting solution for staying mobile to elderly people, as well as people who are recovering from an injury or surgery and people with a progressive disease or non-congenital brain injury. It is a topical innovation as we have an ageing population and independence is becoming increasingly important. Because the Tworby makes it possible to turn virtually any bicycle into a three-wheeler, people are able to hold onto their own familiar bike, but have the stability of a three-wheeler. One additional advantage is that no raw materials are used to make an entirely new bicycle.
The investors in Dragons' Den also saw the benefits. Four of the five dragons made Bob an offer. But one of the first things they asked was whether Bob already had a patent on the Tworby. If you watch the programme you will see that this question is often asked before investors decide whether or not to invest. Anne explains why: "A patent represents value that is in your company. It is not called intellectual property for nothing. It has value just like any other property, only you often don't know what value that is yet. Investors are more willing to invest if there is a patent. They want to know: what your credibility is like and whether you are able to deliver what you believe in? But also: how easy is it for others to copy your invention? So the protection of an innovation is an important reason for them to decide whether or not to invest."
Mr Knoops Let's get back to Mr Knoops. He is 84 years old now and has had his electric bicycle converted into a three-wheeler with the Tworby. His, and all other Tworbys, are assembled at Voorwerkers. This is a place where people with poor job prospects work. This means that the Tworby not only contributes to longer, safer and more sustainable mobility, but also to employment. And Mr Knoops? He cycles long distances every day and enjoys his freedom and mobility.