hipi creator Su-Lin Chee has always believed in knowledge belonging to us all but nevertheless ended up applying for a “mini patent” from the Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt. She recounts the process–and her intervening thoughts–below.
Throughout this journey of creating the hipi sleek, protective hip bag, I have had a few ask me, “Are you applying for a patent for this?” and I had always answered “no”.
Of course, patents are great for inventors who want to have a hold on their ideas to tangibly market to future investors.
But my bag is no real technical wonder. It is easy enough to copy. I am sure several others would think of a stretch hip bag which lay flat against the body, was tall all round the body to effect a slimming look, with radiation protection and that could be zipped onto two widths. It’s something I eventually arrived at as an optimal hip bag design and I am sure others would arrive at it too.
The true challenge, I’d always thought, was the actual execution of the idea rather than the idea or design itself. It didn’t make much sense to protect the design itself.
Also, I don’t really believe in “intellectual property”. No one has a monopoly on ideas. Various individuals or groups develop ideas in parallel as improvements to existing conditions. Just because one party pips the other to the finishing line, does that mean only the winner should take all?
We all draw upon the world as we see it, building upon existing ideas, skills and technologies. Besides not reinventing the wheel, we wouldn’t pay royalties for it when designing a new car. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants, and they are not individual patent holders but the history of humanity as a whole. After all, the essence of learning is copying. That is how children, and ultimately we all, first learn.
Patents are just the state apparatus enforcing monopolies for big companies who have the capital to apply for and pursue patents to stranglehold the movement of ideas. Information wants to be free!
Also, if anyone wanted to copy my hipi, it would have to be a runaway success for anyone to want to do it, which to be honest, has until now been rather far off. And if that were to be the case, I would be so happy that I wouldn’t mind if someone copied it, I felt.
Since then, I have to admit, my startup has had to spend quite some money and effort, not just on legal aspects, but on the marketing of the product, introducing this concept to the world. That, I have to admit, I would like to protect, because it has been blood, sweat and tears getting this far.
The ultimate pragmatic truth however, was that I just didn’t want to stump up thousands of Euro on a patent. I had so many costs to pay for, and this was way down my priorities. Especially when a patent could be circumvented by just a small change in design.
A couple of months back, however, I was at a monthly Munich inventors group when several others urged me to at least apply for what is called a Gebrauchmuster, a utility model or so-called “mini patent”.
Like a patent, inventions (thought not processes) with new technical features are eligible for utility model protection. “Utility model protection is granted for technical inventions which are new, involve an inventive step and are susceptible of industrial application,” says the Utility Model Act.
Its greatest allure was that it was super cheap–just 40€–and with all the effort I was going through to market it, I thought it was actually worth a shot.
The way I understand it is, the 40€ protects your invention for three years. After that, you need to pay 210€ for three more years, then 350€ for two subsequent years, then 530€ for two more years, after which it can no more be protected.
Indeed, it was really quite a painless process. I downloaded the form off the internet (first Word document on top of first table), was hoping to get some help filling it out from the Deutsches Patentamt in the Innenstadt, but they were closed because of Corona.
Note that the forms must be filled out in German, unless you want to submit an accompanying German translation up to three months later.
Besides the PDF form with standard contact information and a short description of your invention, you add a few attachments, each taking up one page:
- Beschreibung where you describe your product, what problem it solves and the parts of the product
- A diagram of your product (I used Adobe Illustrator but you can just sketch, as demonstrated by their sample application, pic below)
- Bezugszeichenliste: A legend to your diagram
- Schutzansprüche: features of your product
For the application itself, it costs 40€. If you want to have it electronically filed (honestly I have no idea what this really means but I didn’t do it), it costs 30€ and a search if you want to check who else has come out with something similar, costs 250€.
I dropped my half-filled form out at the security desk and received a letter back, citing several areas in which I had not supplied adequate information.
With crossed fingers, I sent back a second form filled according to their example and requirements, and was super pleased to receive the actual mini-patent certificate, pictured below.
In the eventuality that the hipi becomes a runaway success, I am protected for only 10 years, as opposed to 20 years for a patent. Also, I believe that should an actual legal dispute ever materialise, proper examination of comparable patents and mini-patents would need to be made. And of course, all the various reasons why I don’t believe in patents still stand.
That doesn’t stop me however from rather admiring my shiny new Urkunde, with its large eagle watermark. And at the very least, I am using it for where I need help the most–marketing!