BDI Logo3British Design Innovation (BDI) represents many of the leading industrial designers, service designers and innovation professionals in the UK. Among other initiatives, BDI developed the Open Innovation Challenge™ (OIC), an innovation process model utilised to support knowledge-based propositions originating in the commercial design sector which contain inherent value in both hard and soft IP. OIC not only supports designers’ trading activities with corporate brand owners seeking external innovation, but also reinforces the status and differentiation of their propositions from crowd-sourced ideas.

It was back in 2004 that BDI introduced the concept of Knowledge Transfer to its members and those seeking to engage with them, highlighting the crucial role it plays in professional practice and commercial transactions. The knowledge transfer principle now regularly crops up in creative industry initiatives and communications, and paid-to-think design firms are grasping the value of knowledge as a trading commodity. However, brand owners seeking to bring external innovation into their businesses are still struggling with the concept of paying for it, or separating knowledge- and solution-based propositions from those that are simply ideas unsupported by in-depth knowledge or know-how.

Unfortunately, in order to communicate the value of a proposition based on customer- and sector-led knowledge and know-how, it is often necessary to demonstrate or pass on a good deal of the knowledge supporting it. Even under stringent conditions of commercial confidentiality there exist otherwise intelligent individuals who believe it is fair to claim someone else’s knowledge and rationale as their own, and utilise it to produce very similar – and sometimes identical – propositions under their own label.

If the text were a story and the product a book, such activities would be denounced as plagiarism in the publishing world, and source credits would be a minimum requirement in the digital and visual industries if copyright infringement claims were to be avoided. However, innovations translated into new market applications for products and services are invariably knowledge- and research-based. Such pre-patent concepts (including unprotected designs, 3D applications, service design, business models and processes) are consistently purloined by others on the basis that ideas cannot be protected. But these are not merely unsubstantiated ideas – they are tradable knowledge-based solutions developed by professionals with know-how. Under these circumstances, utilising and commercialising someone else’s work is surely knowledge theft?

It is accepted that knowledge transfer has a tradable value. Universities consistently trade and transfer knowledge commercially with industry (an activity encouraged, promoted and funded by the government). Knowledge-based professional Originators are no different to universities apart for the fact that they have the know-how to take knowledge a step further and translate it into market applications in the form of user-led products, services and propositions.

Good business ethics, a strong personal morality and best professional practices alone cannot protect professional Originators (who include scientists and industrial designers) from those with few qualms about replicating others’ work, for recent history has shown that such attributes do not always reside in rogue individuals employed by commercial businesses. And plagiaristic activity – intentional or otherwise – is rife within a public sector that appears to predominantly employ individuals of high intelligence but little or no commercial experience. Many naively believe that the words ‘public domain’ mean ‘free to all’. They don’t.

In a global market where the internet and ‘crowd power’ now hold sway, the existing copyright system is a long way away from providing the protection required to stimulate an open innovation society. Current IPR protection is incapable of drawing a distinction between undefined early-stage ideas on the one hand, and fully-rationalised knowledge- and solution-based propositions on the other. We need a new IPR category in order to protect the latter.

In innovation, all skills have a value. Don’t they…?.

If our society were solely populated by creative Originators with equal skill sets and the money to bring new innovations, services, products or propositions to market, nobody would need partners and everybody could more easily protect their ideas, knowledge, know-how and commercial positions. In the real world, of course, skilled Originators are a minority who need route-to-market partners to assist in the commercialisation of their work. (We at BDI call this a ‘division of labour’ model, based on the precept that no product, service, process or proposition ever comes to market without the shared expertise of several key parties.)

So why do some with route-to-market skills find it acceptable to exploit the Originator before the idea, and expend so much time and money doing so at the risk of their reputations? Such futile behaviour blocks true innovation because professional ‘ideapreneurs’ – the innovators, originators and creative businesses – are at the mercy of those who are not themselves innovative.

I mentioned knowledge theft earlier. This is a difficult subject to conjure with. The majority approach has arguably been to give knowledge away for free in order to demonstrate expertise, in exchange for professional status, commercial engagement or public relations coverage. However, it becomes an issue when knowledge is used to support the rationale, narrative and validation of an innovative concept (be it a product, service or business proposition), and that knowledge is then ‘lifted’ and applied to the commercial benefit of another individual or organisation – who rarely attribute source credits and all too often repackage it as their organisations’ internal creation.

The arguments for such knowledge theft invariably include the line: “Well, ideas can’t be protected, so if they’re presented in the course of seeking commercial engagement they’re fair game!” But continuing along such a dismal path can only result in the existing barriers to innovation between Originators, route-to-market partners and industry becoming even more difficult to break down.

In order to dismantle these barriers, knowledge and know-how value needs to be addressed in the paid-to-think marketplace – in other words, by those who have proved their value and earn their living as professional Originators. But it also needs to be supported by a new trading model (and IPR system) that enables the appropriate trading of fully-rationalised knowledge- and solution-based propositions between Originators and route-to-market exploiters, to their mutual benefit. Which ultimately benefits the customer and consumer, of course.

Knowledge alone has little value unless it can be translated into innovative products, services and propositions by those with the know-how and skills to do so. When they do, professional Originators should not be continually exploited and undermined – and yes, cheated – out of commercial benefit. Such behaviour can only stifle innovation and crush the spirit of the very people the government professes to support in an attempt to turn the UK economy around.

If the powers that be, from the government and the Intellectual Property Office on down, really want to build a strong knowledge economy, they need to take these issues on board and find the ways and means of resolving them.

© Maxine J Horn 2010. All rights reserved.

MaxineJHorn_bw1Maxine Horn is CEO of British Design Innovation and lead author of Delivering the Innovation Dream: The BDI Report, delivered to HM Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on 18 March 2009.

FOCUS ON CHINAOur very good friend the IPKat has flagged up a useful website for all those either working with Chinese companies or planning to work in China The China Intellectual Property Help Desk for SME’s. The best thing about this website is that you can email a specific question pertinent to your business and you will get a tailored reply. In the same way that you focus on strategy for other aspects of your business, HR, marketing, sales it is equally important to create an intellectual property strategy, after all it is the lifeblood unperpinning most businesses in the UK.

An effective IP strategy will result from an IP Audit and involve all staff in terms of IP awareness and the introduction of systems and procedures related to the management of IP which will affect the roles and responsibilities of most employees. Adequate protection through all the development processes from the seed an idea to market reality is a key consideration. Effective communication of an IP strategy through all communication platforms across the whole supply chain as well as internally and to competitors will reinforce your company’s stance on IP. There is no better communicator of an IP strategy than when accompanied by the Member of ACID logo.   Click on the link below to view the website.

The China Intellectual Property Help Desk




As part of ACID’s improved Membership Benefits program you now have your own dedicated Members Area on the new ACID website.  There you will find a range of fact sheets on subjects relevant to your business, which are available only to current ACID members. You can add additional contacts that you wish to have access to the fact sheets and downloadables such as the ACID logo or the Design Data Bank form. Send us your contacts details to include

  • the contact name
  • position
  • e-mail address
  • telephone details

To find out your log-in details, or to register new contacts, please e-mail and we will e-mail your log-in and password back to you.  Once you have this information, go to  where you will find our Main Site and links to our Newsdesk, the Mediate to Resolve service, your personal Members Area and ACID Trading – where a whole range of deterrent merchandise and standard legal agreements can be purchased online.

We hope you will find our new internet facilities easy to navigate with fast access to the information you require.

Over 100 delegates representing all aspects of the contract furnishing industry across the UK gathered in London on 3 March to consider the implications and business opportunities presented by the coming London 2012 Olympics

Held at the imposing BERR Conference Centre on London’s Victoria Street, the seminar was hosted by the British Contract Furnishing & Design Association (BCFA) in partnership with Business Link Kent, and carried endorsement by the BFC, FIRA, OFAS, BIDA and ACID.


In addition to providing practical advice on the exacting requirements and timescales involved in qualifying to tender, the seminar also addressed key issues like innovation, design and the post-2012 legacy. ‘I realise that 2012 seems like a lifetime away,’ explained BCFA Managing Director Colin Watson, who chaired the seminar. ‘but, in a design-led sector such as ours, we must continue to adopt the long-term view. It is essential that we encourage our members – and indeed the industry at large – to maximise business opportunities during the run-up to the London Games.’

Opening the formal presentations was Mary Nicholls, Nations and Regions Coordinator with the London Development Agency, who gave an overview of the general principal of the Games and the need to leave a lasting legacy and a positive sporting ethos. Derek Wilson, Head of Design & Overlay with the London Organising Committee for the Olympic & Paralympic Games (LOCOG), then spoke on the Olympic heritage, giving delegates a preview of some preliminary plans whilst stressing the importance of this unique opportunity to demonstrate British design creativity and innovation to the rest of the world.

Next to the platform was David McKay, Head of Procurement with Bovis Lend Lease, who talked about the huge scale of the project, particularly in terms of the materials required. David also highlighted the post-2012 legacy of the building work, giving delegates an insight into the plan to convert the Olympic Village into real homes with a school, health centre, hotel and shopping centre. Finally came Kevin Ma, Marketing & Business Engagement Manager with the London Business Network, who took delegates through the CompeteFor web site. His valuable explanation showed how the site works for suppliers and buyers alike and emphasised the need for early registration in order to access the stream of updates on bidding opportunities.

After a lively panel discussion, the BCFA’s Colin Watson closed the seminar by reiterating the scale of the task ahead for those organising and delivering the Games. ‘They are part of a huge team opening up an opportunity which really will come only once in a lifetime,’ he stressed. ‘and they need the support of our industry – our creativity, our experience and our ability to deliver. London 2012 is a world showcase and one in which everyone can participate.’

The BCFA has now opened a helpdesk to answer queries relating to 2012 preparations. Contact Peter Smith at the BCFA on 01494 896790, e-mail or visit


The panel at the recent BCFA-hosted seminar on the opportunities presented by the London Olympics for the UK contract furnishing sector comprised (l to r) David McKay of Bovis Lend Lease, Derek Wilson of LOCOG, Paul Tobin of Business Link, Mary Nicholls of LDA and Kevin Ma of London Business Network.
Image of COLIN WATSON & Dids Macdonald

ACID, (Anti Copying in Design) has formed a partnership with the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA) to help raise the profile and value of intellectual property (IP) among BCFA membership.

This move is part of an on-going campaign by ACID to actively support trade organisations pan-industry. Through IP education - how to protect your designs and how to integrate IP as part of a corporate or marketing strategy – ACID will advise BCFA members on creating a safe trading environment by safeguarding their design equity when tendering or pitching for business.

Says Colin Watson, CEO, BCFA, ‘We are committed to raising awareness of UK design and protecting it within the contract furnishing industry. The timing for building a partnership with ACID could not be better as many of our members will be taking advantage of terrific new business opportunities including the Commonwealth Games and, of course, the Olympic Games in 2012. We are delighted to be joining forces with ACID and, as a result, we will be able to offer our members a real chance to develop their own IP strategies’.

Endorsing the new, stronger relationship with the BCFA, Dids Macdonald, CEO of ACID added, ‘The design and interiors industry is supported by influential trade organisations including the BCFA - the first to take advantage of ACID’s Trade Association module. The module is bespoke according to the market sector and includes an introductory one year 20% discount for new members and subsequent group membership discounted fee, seminars, tailored IP advice through regular web and newsletter features, industry standard agreements, and IP clinics plus over 30 ACID membership benefits including initial free IP legal advice and the use of the free ACID design bank. I strongly advise any trade association which is committed to design protection and IP education to talk to ACID’.

IPAN logo

The IP Awareness Network IPAN was formed in 1993 to bring together the separate IP awareness ideas, activities and concerns of a broad range of professional, educational and business organisations. IPAN now has over forty member organisations with the UKIPO having observer status. On joining the group Dids Macdonald, ACID’s CEO said, ‘When IPAN approached ACID to join this group I saw it as a great opportunity to raise awareness about design issues within the group to reach a broader audience of key stakeholders within intellectual property in the UK’.

CRAFT CENTRAL logo Craft Central (formerly Clerkenwell Green Association) has announced another opportunity for six exceptional designers to receive bespoke training and a financial award to develop a new product. Craft Central is dedicated to providing a range of support to the craft and design community and Bright Ideas 2008 will enable six exciting new design products to make it to the marketplace. ACID is committed to educating and supporting new and innovative designers and in 2007 were contacted by Craft Central, a registered charity, which offers support to designers. ACID agreed to offer one years free ACID Membership to the Craft Central Award Winners and are delighted to announce the extension of this support for 2008.

For further information visit the Craft Central website