Q: Is there somewhere on the net I can look for products across a range of countries in Europe?

A: Try Europages, www.europages.net which you can search by product or company and then narrow down by country.

Q: I don't know how to go about discussing my idea for a business with potential investors without giving too much away. I'd hate to have someone steal the idea.

A: At some point you will have to trust someone, as we all do, or no business could be done. If your first discussions are with any reputable organisation then you need have no fears. We all offer confidentiality and it is in nobody's interests to rip anyone off.

Intellectual property, which is what you are concerned with, is complicated and Business Link can help.

In discussing your idea you may well find that it is not unique and has been done before. This may be disappointing but better to find out before you have invested too much time and money in the project.

You can ask people you talk to if they are willing to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure contracts. You could get your solicitor to draw one up and draft texts can be found on the internet or at M4 Business Resource.

Q: My ideas have now reached the stage where I have made a prototype and I want to tell the world about it. But should I protect the invention first?

A: If you want to patent your invention then you should exercise a little caution before publicising it as something called prior disclosure could affect your ability to patent. You can get information on the Patent Office's own website: www.patent.gov.uk/patent/index.htm

Again, get advice, talk to Business Link about intellectual property. See if a patent agent could offer help, for which they will probably charge, or contact one of the groups set up specifically to help inventors. You can get details from the internet or from M4 Business Resource.

Helpful search tip: To find the top companies in a sector try www.google.co.uk and use a range of numbers eg "top 10..50 advertisers", then pick from the results.

For help with a business information query, visit or contact: M4 Business Resource, University of Bath in Swindon, Oakfield Campus, Marlowe Avenue, Swindon, SN3 3JR. Telephone: 01793 328832

Fax: 01793 328844

Email: info@m4br.org.uk

  • With Edwin Deady of M4 Business Resource