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Designer-makers should take extra care with their IP

Nicole Jelbert, founder of Nicole Phillips England takes inspiration for her carefully crafted designs from English country life. Like so many flourishing British ventures, design is at the heart of her business - and as she discovered the hard way, needs protection just like any other valuable asset.

There
are many great British designers who capture the essence of English country
life in a unique and quirky way. Their hard work and creativity brings rural
chic into our homes and is not only loved by consumers here in the UK but
across the globe. Nicole Jelbert, founder of Nicole Phillips England, is just
one of these designers.

 

The
picturesque landscape and idyllic countryside of West Sussex is the perfect
backdrop for her range of kitchenware and home furnishings. Nicole creates the
fabrics and textiles based on her own designs (she is a trained ceramic and
watercolour artist). She then prints them onto linen and cotton.

“I
started the business in September 2012 and launched in March 2013 at the
Country Living Show in London,” recalls Nicole. “I design the products and
manage production, while my husband looks after IT and the website.”

But,
this isn’t Nicole’s first venture into the business world. Before founding
Nicole Phillips England, she was running a successful pottery business.
Unfortunately, this fell foul of the curse of being a small business competing
against the big market leaders.

“I
presented some of my artwork designs on ceramics to a major London department
store. They copied my designs using their in-house team to produce the products
themselves instead of working with me. When I found out I felt devastated and
literally like my breath had been taken away.
 
“Just
before receiving the order, they suddenly changed their mind without any
explanation. Several months later I visited their shop only to discover designs
so similar to my own. It made me feel physically unwell.”

Finding
out her designs had been copied didn’t just have a personal impact on Nicole.
It also had a devastating effect on the business and its prospects.

“I’d
started to prepare to make my new range of products on a larger scale and had
spent a lot of money and time preparing for the order. This would have been my
big break that would have put my name out there in high regard.”

Not
giving up, she took on board the lessons learnt from this experience and
created Nicole Phillips England. Her earlier misfortune showed her the
importance of design protection and so she made the decision to seek
professional IP advice.

“If
you’re starting out in business and unsure how to protect your IP, find a good
attorney who can help you,” she recommends. “We work with a trade mark attorney
who helps us with advice, wording and applications.
 
“My
husband (the other partner in the company) has also had dealings with the IPO.
He says that they have always been very helpful on the phone when he’s needed
help.”

The
company now holds the name 'Nicole Phillips England' as a registered as a trade
mark. It also has 24 registered designs for some of their most popular and
recognisable patterns.

“Now
we've registered these designs I feel more confident promoting my products,”
explains Nicole. “Everything is digital these days and it’s important to know
we have some protection. It also looks more professional to show a registered
trade mark and designs on our products and website.”

The
thought of her designs being open to copycats fills Nicole with dread. She is
aware that a large competitor recreating her products could harm the future
prospects of the business.

“If
someone copied my designs I’d be very upset. I’ve created a unique and unusual
look and generated a great deal of interest from shops and the public. It’s a
great fear that someone might just copy a design and mass produce it in China
or India at a fraction of the cost.
 
“The
business is like my baby to a degree and I feel very protective of it. We have
invested a great deal of time and money so it’s important to stack the odds in
our favour whenever possible and IP helps us to do this.”

On
1st October 2014, the Intellectual Property Act 2014 came into force. The Act
includes changes to design law which now make it a criminal offence to
intentionally copy a registered design. Nicole sees this as a great step
forward for designers.

“The
new design law changes look to be very helpful for companies like us,” she
enthuses. “The significant consequences of infringement should help protect
further all the hard work and creative effort we put into our designs.”

To
continue the company’s success, Nicole is looking to expand further into the
retail market in the UK and abroad. Protecting her designs will no doubt help
her find a place in these markets. As her portfolio grows, the brand will
undoubtedly become much stronger.

 

Nicole
is keen to stop others from falling into the trap of poor IP management. After
experiencing its devastating effects firsthand, she has lots of advice for
other designers.

“At
the least you should consider trade marking your company name,” she advises.
“Carry out a search on any name ideas you have in the early stages of your
business, just in case someone else is already using it. They might contact you
after a year or more of trading and insist you stop.
 
“If
the design of your product can be protected then you should do this too. The
cost isn’t too bad and it gives you peace of mind should anyone try and copy
the design.”


IP Equip

 

Could
your business benefit from registered designs? IP Equip is a free online training
tool which can help you learn more about IP rights and the impact they could
have on your business. IP Equip is part of ‘IP for Business’, a free online
range of business support tools designed to help you better understand, protect
and exploit your IP assets.

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