Case study: Bruce Bell, Wilson & Bell Architects and Designers
Company: Wilson & Bell Architects and Designers
Innovation: The Facit pre-fabricated timber building system
Designer Bruce Bell and his business partner, architect Nick Wilson, first met while both working on a number of cutting-edge projects at Norman Fosters architectural practice in 2000, including the winning competition entry for the Greater London Authority building, the Millennium Footbridge and Norman Fosters’ own home in the south of France. Nick went on to work at Buschow Architects and MacCormac Jamieson Pritchard, while Bruce took time out to complete a masters at the Royal College of Art in London. It was there that he first experimented with the digital fabrication techniques that would, seven years later, become the Facit pre-fabricated timber building system.
‘We spent many years in research and development (R&D) in house manufacturing technology before we finalised the materials for the Facit house-building system,’ says Bruce. ‘At the time of development, I was aware of the importance of IP to protect our innovations, particularly as we were planning to set up a company to produce and market the system. However, I realised that my IP strategy needed a bit of a rethink after visiting an IP advice session at Own-it, a couple of weeks ago, where I ran our proposed approach for registration and enforcement past the Own-it lawyers. Some aspects they agreed with, but the lawyers also picked up on a number of aspects that I’d not thought about and so needed to address moving forward.’
Building on innovation
Bruce emphasises the importance of understanding all the different aspects of IP while formulating a business strategy that protects and builds on innovation. ‘IP is much broader than most of us generally realise. We think of it as simply patents, trade marks or copyright, but there’s much more to it than that; for example, when it comes to building a brand or the know-how involved in creating or building a product.
‘For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it’s important to create a robust strategy factoring in all the differing elements of IP rights,’ adds Bruce. ‘Many SMEs are scared of the prospect of their ideas being infringed or stolen by a larger competitor, but if you don’t have a strategy that embraces your IP then you’re not going to be able to develop your business, let alone protect your innovations from infringement.’
Bruce says that it was the advice from Own-it lawyers on branding that he found the most helpful during his one-to-one session. ‘We spoke about how building a strong brand could help validate our IP and so help protect us from infringement. By establishing ourselves as a brand leader, it’s much easier to commercialise and protect our ideas.’
Some aspects of the Facit building system are still in development and it has only been recently that the team has begun to work on commercial projects at all. However, the house-manufacturing system has already proved to be a great success, and was showcased in the House that Kevin [McCloud] Built at the Grand Designs Live exhibition in May 2008.
‘That’s why it was such a good time to come and see the Own-it lawyers,’ says Bruce. ‘We were just beginning to enter into commercial agreements and publicise the Facit system. We wanted to make sure that we had a robust IP strategy in place before doing that.’
Interview by Emma Jones, Own-it (UAL). Pictures provided by Wilson & Bell Architects and Designers.