TRADEMARKS, FRANCHISES AND THE LAW: MidTECH AND SOLIHULL APPROACH
Solihull Approach is a training method for practitioners working with families, children and young people, developed from within the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. A few years ago, they were experiencing a problem that many might feel would be nice to have. “We’d gone national,” explains Hazel Douglas, a clinical psychologist who is Director of Solihull Approach.
“That meant we needed trademarks, intellectual property agreements … but we had no idea how to do that.”
The Solihull Approach began life in 1996 as a fresh new method of training health visitors supporting parents of children experiencing sleep, , feeding, toileting or behaviour difficulties. Its founding assumption was relatively simple: building relationships between staff and patient, and patient and family, is key to ensuring emotional health and well-being.
Hazel Douglas has been with the project since those first meetings. “There is a large body of research about how people listen and relate to each other,” she says, “and we developed the Solihull Approach as a means of up-skilling staff so that they’re more effective in working with families and children.
“People in professions are trained to give advice – but it’s often difficult to make it heard. We now have in place a strong theoretical model which educates people in how to understand their relationships and in that way increase their well-being .”
Trademarking Your Idea
Indeed, the approach was so successful with the health visitors who first utilised it that it very quickly began to be applied more broadly, becoming an integrated model for all sorts of practitioners, from midwives to firefighters. Hazel and the team wrote their own material and produced their own course packs, and these have since been used to think about the behaviour of children in a more holistic, relationship-based way.
This success posed challenges, however: as Solihull Approach grew and began to be disseminated ever more widely, questions of ownership inevitably arose. The ever-increasing patient benefit being delivered by Solihull Approach’s wider adoption was great news; but for those, like Hazel, who had devised the method the question of rights to the ideas behind it became critical.
“We got in touch with MidTECH through our Trust, the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust,” recalls Hazel. “They very quickly got to work.”
In essence, as Hazel remembers, MidTECH became Solihull Approach’s de facto in-house IP specialists. “They explained the process of registering a trademark so clearly that we could it ourselves. That advice was absolutely crucial, and MidTECH were able to work with the lawyers who inevitably became involved. I’d always recommend others take this sort of advice, too.
“Not only that, but we recently needed our trademark to be appropriate to new activity in China: without MidTECH, we wouldn’t have known whether or how to extend ours to cover a range of much less obvious classes in order to protect us in challenging international markets. There’s no way we could have done that ourselves.”
Franchising Your Model
In addition to trademarking Solihull Approach, and thus protecting Hazel and her team from copy-cats looking to steal their work, MidTECH enabled them to establish a framework for establishing franchises. Via an intensively consultative process, MidTECH worked extensively with lawyers on Solihull Approach’s behalf to devise a set of proper legal agreements which could govern these sorts of arrangements.
The security this provides to Solihull Approach in their efforts to spread their successful model ever further can’t be underestimated: on the day we touched base with Hazel to write this article, the Trademark Office had called her to highlight a new trademark which had the potential to infringe upon Solihull Approach’s. Needless to say, she turned immediately to MidTECH for advice on liaising with her lawyers, the Trademark Office – and assessing the potential clash.
“This sort of area just isn’t our area of expertise,” Hazel emphasises. “We didn’t – and don’t! – know what to do in this area. We’re healthcare experts rather than lawyers or intellectual property specialists.
“That’s why it’s so helpful to be able to access people who do know this world, who are experts. It gives you the confidence you need to innovate and expand.”