In 2013, industrial designer McCauley Wanner and architect Ryan Palibroda founded ALLELES. Based in Victoria, B.C., this Canadian design studio specializes in the design and fabrication of fashionable covers for limb prostheses.
ALLELES products are now sold across Canada and internationally, giving people with a missing upper or lower limb a unique way to show some style. Their innovative covers made with FDA grade ABS plastic are designed based on the client's personal style; from the choice of colours, to the design and fit.
After completing their masters in industrial design and architecture at the University of Calgary and working in their field for a few years, they decided to promote their idea from an art project into a viable business. They knew from the start they needed to protect their intellectual property (IP).
Where they started
Looking back, Wanner and Palibroda recognize that the steps they took helped them better protect their business. They started their IP journey with an "aggressive" search of existing IP. "We wanted to ensure that we weren't infringing on someone else's idea," says Wanner.
They worked closely with a law firm that assisted them with their IP searches and strategy. "The law firm came back with a few recommendations. We weighed our pros and cons to come up with the best strategy for us," says Wanner. At the time, a grant from the Government of Alberta helped them secure funding for their IP protection.
While an IP professional can help in the development of a strategy, they can also advise on IP registration, licensing and other strategies that can maximize the value of a company's IP, and more.
Take the ideas you have seriously if you want to monetize them. Make sure to protect your IP."
"In the grand scheme of things, using professional help was very useful when we started," says Palibroda. "The cost of lawyers was high. Now it seems like it was a small price to pay to protect our idea."
Protecting their IP
In 2014, Wanner and Palibroda started the process of protecting their industrial design in Canada. They then pursued the protection of their trademarks.
According to Wanner, the trademark process was much more comprehensive than they realized. Registering a trademark protects it under the law from misuse by others, and provides an exclusive right to use it throughout Canada for 10 years (with the option to renew).
When it came to protecting their production process in Canada, they opted to keep it as a trade secret instead of using patent protection. "We decided to keep our process a secret as we didn't want it to be known", says Wanner. "We were worried about bigger companies stealing our idea."
Intellectual property education should be 'mandatory' in art and design school."
In Canada, there is no formal application or registration process for protecting a trade secret. Trade secrets can potentially last forever provided the information actually remains a secret. Once the secret is out, its business value is usually lost.
"I would not change how we did it," says Wanner. "Take the ideas you have seriously if you want to monetize your idea. Make sure to protect your IP."
Tips from the owners of ALLELES:
- Do your research! Be thorough when you start to avoid being sued or having to rebrand.
- Consult with an IP professional. It's a small price to pay to avoid costly mistakes.
- Consider protecting your trademark.
- Explore federal and provincial government resources and programs that support businesses.
- Intellectual property databases
- What is a trade secret?
- Hiring an intellectual property professional