Tom Lawton • British Inventor

Tom’s Fantastic Floating Home

Last summer I took a few months out of my regular work to build a Fantastic Floating Home for Channel 4 Factual Entertainment. The result is played out in a 3 x 60 minute TV series that airs at 7pm on Sunday 27th July on Channel 4. ‘Tom’s Fantastic Floating Home‘ is my first TV commission and while I’ve never really striven to be on the telly it’s amazing what can happen in life when you say YES to things that normally you wouldn’t dream of. All I want is to inspire people to dare to dream, to live a colourful, unconventional life that’s fuelled by imagination – the premise of the show is that I look at the world through the eyes of my six year old Barney (who is the show’s real star) and together we put our own inventive twist on life. We’re only here once and life really is what you make it. So I am thankful to myself for having had the balls to actually do it (I deliberated so much about this) and allow a film crew to follow me for five months through triumph & failure. Whatever comes next for me I don’t know but all I hope is that if you watch it, you’ll see it for all its positivity & I hope it inspires you. It’s more fun to create than to consume. All power to you & your glorious imagination!

I have loads of photos & bubbles of the whole experiment so follow me on twitter using the hashtag #floatinghome

We also made 4 short films about inventing stuff to accompany the show. These can be found on C4′s official web page for the show

It’s nice to have made it into the local paper too – you can read the full article in the Western Daily Press online here

I did a Q & A with Develop 3D Magazine also

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Are your designs safe?

I recently contributed to a feature in Develop 3D magazine about protecting your designs. I have included the full words I wrote below.

I’ve never held much faith in the power of registered designs to protect anything other than bold, visual designs – Rob Law’s situation with Trunki only reinforces this.  Just by completing the application process it’s evident that they are too lightweight to capture any true characteristics of a fully realised ‘original’ product design, which of course is likely to take a 3D form & be made up of a clever combination of many design considerations that go way beyond just its appearance.

But neither do I have any love for the patent system, for its prohibitive costs & drawn out process seem to favour only those businesses who have the resource to fund &, as importantly, then enforce their rights. Very often also, it’s possible to conceive a design that’s innovative & original but is not necessarily patentable.

I think in most cases innovative product designs sit between these two places.

What adds to the frustration is that most investor parties regard a patented product or technology as being imperative to a business case. But the time it takes between a patent application & worldwide grant can be years – technology, markets, trends all change at lighting pace, which can make patents redundant by the time they are granted. Good for a business case, but in reality, often a pointless waste of money!

I have to make a strategic decision about IP that exposes me to incredible risk (I do accept that comes with the territory) – but let’s say, I have a clever design, no one has done it, but I haven’t proven the market – so it’s not yet possible to build a business case. Do I start to patent it now only to face escalating costs that start in 18 months? Or do I take a flyer and attempt to get lightweight protection via a registered design, which will be published in the public domain almost immediately, allowing competitors to gain sight of what I am doing, well before I am able to manufacture & sell the product and then not really mean anything when challenged by a copycat? Or do I do neither & focus on the quickest & best route to market? Or all the above? Truth is every case is different as is every design but my decision always comes down to one of cost. This means typically I cannot afford to take a corporate approach and protect all of my work. Unlike other creative industries of course, product inventors, have to apply & pay for the right to own their work & they stand alone if they are challenged.

At the start of my career I was advised that my product’s trade name would be my most valuable asset. It’s true, trademarks are easier to protect & enforce, but it’s impossible to create a brand without products to build it around.

So, for fear of just continuing an age old rhetoric, the whole system appears old fashioned and stacked in favour of bigger business, having a stifling effect on SME innovators like myself.

Recently I have experienced a new phenomenon also, first to Kickstarter. While this means nothing in the true eyes of the law I have had patent infringing products appear on Kickstarter, who don’t get involved in such disputes, allowing a third party to gain public notoriety & pre-orders for their product before I have had a chance to build my own story. This becomes an excruciatingly painful especially as they can benefit from the gains of appearing ‘first in market’.

So I think we need a new middle ground – something deeper than a registered design that perhaps can be extended into something like a patent, as a product evolves & business grows. Something that acknowledges a designer’s original work beyond its exterior form. Something that a final year student, SME or independent inventor could actually afford to protect & maintain – in the UK at least, where the design was conceived. When I left university I was paying a patent attorney ten times more per hour than what I could earn in an hour. I don’t know how I even started? Oh, I do, I got further into debt.

Until then I will keep date stamping my sketch books, registering a few designs & reluctantly near-bankrupting myself with patents and mainly keeping secret most of the clever designs & ideas I have while fighting to actually survive, let alone thrive in business.

I feel for Rob. I have been ripped off in every way possible. It’s hard enough getting a product to market yet alone having to fight copycats to keep your market space, but at least he has got this far & is thriving. Thinking ahead of the rest & being original is the best strategy there is & at the end of the day we all have competition to keep us on our toes. That’s never a bad thing.

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At last I’m off the naughty list

I’ve had a bit of good luck. In the past few months I have been honored by being grouped with some amazing companies and individuals in a couple of exclusive lists. Last summer T3 Magazine put BubblePix at #13 in their list of Top British Tech Companies (ahead of, ahem, Dyson & Aston Martin) and then I made made Shortlist’s Brit List of 50 folk that are doing something cool, new & relevant. I didn’t get around to mentioning these previously but the latest hall of fame I have entered is pretty close to home & something I am really proud of – and bless them, they made me a rocker! ‘Rock The Cotswolds‘  is a great initiative set up by Oli from Neon Play & supported by Cotswold Life and whole host of other great local organisations.

It’s easy for folk to have a perception of the Costwolds (and surrounding countryside shires – I’m a Somerset boy and a Wiltshire lad) as being, well, beautiful, but nothing much more than quaint, rural, quiet and er, that’s it. As the world races on to become a more urbanised place there’s a counter movement of people using advantages of technology to be as creative & productive but… not in the city! As a kid I learned that living in the sticks really meant that life was what you made it… without distraction but with plenty of freedom and as a base to adventure out in to the wider world I choose to make it here (with London 75 mins by train & Bristol 30 mins in the car I can hardly say I’m remote but we are worlds apart – and that’s what I love). Thankfully I’m not here on my own and that’s what Rock The Cotswolds celebrates – there are a host of brilliant, creative, innovative, progressive, exciting people doing all sorts of amazing things all over these dry stone walled valleys. So don’t you go thinking we’re like simple or sumit.

Thanks to Oli for taking this initiative & creating the opportunity for us to recognise what a buzz we have going on.

I can already think of dozens of people who should also be honored with the above, but that’s the beauty of this, there’ll be a next year and a one after that… I am already nominating…

You don’t get much more quintessentially Cotswold than my beloved Castle Combe. Bubble selfie above shot with a BubblePod, invented in Malmesbury, funded globally.

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Making ideas happen at Develop 3D Live

After being a cover star for the magazine with BubbleScope, Al Dean at Develop 3D kindly asked me to do a talk at their live event. The theme I chose was making ideas happen. I loved it.

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Handlebars that honk!

Simple ideas are so often the best. A friend & I created Honkies,  available from Microscooters in the spring of 2014.

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BubblePod – Professional 360º images in less than a minute.

This is BubblePod.

It’s so simple. Check out our Kickstarter campaign for the details. If you get in early it’s also only £15 – including Pod, App and unlimited sharing infrastructure! I’ll add more here when I catch up with myself. There’s so much rolling off the drawing board right now I can barely keep up with my own sketch book but this one is a pet project that I really, really can’t wait to see in production…. mainly so that I can see all of the bubblr community’s new bubbles.

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Channel 4 has commissioned me to build a floating home of the future

This is one of those best kept secrets that some how I managed to keep. I’m utterly thrilled to say that Channel 4 have commissioned me to design & build a fantasy floating house and to populate it with a myriad of inventions from the most colourful and experimental corners of my imagination. To say I am over the moon is a understatement. It’s going to be an incredible & challenging summer but there’s nothing like jumping in at the deep end (I’ve obviously never built a home or a boat before). I won’t be running a diary as such… but I will be archiving my bubbles and come the autumn you’ll all be able to see what comes of it by watching this prime time Channel 4 series unfold.

Oh, here’s the official press release and of course, I’m honoured to have my son Barney at my side as co-creator.

Of course, Barney & I collaborate together all the time on all manner of things, like the painting below… so goodness knows what’s going to come out of this latest experiment?

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So the town suffered some serious floods these past few days. The shot below was captured by a drone that took off from behind my home. I guess you could say that we experienced a hundred year event.

While the nation’s media came to town like a circus I shot a few bubbles like this one to give a full picture as to what was going on. I also had a chat with local BBC Wiltshire reporter Cheryl Dennis which is recorded below.

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I’m Tom Lawton. I’m a designer & inventor based in the beautiful West Country. I love ideas and I love making them happen. This is my blog where you’ll find a pretty up to date account of my projects, my adventures and other musings.