Clever thinking about future revenue streams can lead to smarter
design choices and complementary intellectual property
Take home printers for example. We buy them because they have
lots of clever technical features and they are cheap. Because they
are cheap, the main revenue stream to the manufacturer comes not
from the printer purchase, but from consumables - like ink
A printer is something most people use, so it's a good
example to focus on conceptually when we talk about the design of a
consumable. But there are many examples which are equally
If you have designed a product where an ongoing revenue stream
could be a consumable, then care needs to be taken to secure that
value. There is no point in creating a market for someone else.
How do you secure value?
Firstly, have something about your base product that will
attract a consumer to purchase it - whether brand, features or
look. Lock that in with appropriate trade mark, patent or design
Next look at what you can do to make your consumable unique to
In the case of ink cartridges, it may be the delivery mechanism,
or the interface between the cartridge and the printer. If unique,
then find the appropriate form of protection.
For example, the physical shape of something like the latch
mechanism on the cartridge can be protected with a design
registration - in countries that allow registration of purely
If there is functionally something different, say the
chambering, then a patent is an option.
The consumable itself (such as the ink) could be altered - say
by including an additive. If so, the printer could be designed to
check for that additive in the ink before it prints - thus ensuring
exclusivity in the supply of ink. Various IP strategies could be
Some strategies include:
Keeping the ink formulation a trade secret (if difficult to
analyse) or patent it if inventiveness can be illustrated.
Keep the control algorithm of the printer a trade secret as
above, or patent if appropriate.
Patent the sensor if unique - although practically you may not
want to design that as well.
It should be appreciated, there are many integrated design and
IP strategies which can be employed to maximise returns from
innovation. But it requires thinking about possible revenue streams
early on. The start of the process is to demand "Show me the
This article was written by Kate
Wilson, a Partner in the Hamilton office. To contact Kate,
please email her on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07 957 5660.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
James and Wells is the 2010 New Zealand Law Awards winner of
the Intellectual Property Law Award for excellence in client
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