Aquaponic Gardening

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As aquaponics grows ever-more commercialized, with the additions of kits, how will we keep ourselves from "stealing-peoples-ideas" (the quotation marks refer to the fact that nobody owns aquaponics) .  I'm thinking of selling shelf-ponics, after I do a million other things, but the "inventors" are the people at How would I give them credit, or if someone wanted to sell strawberry towers. Should someone simply mention how to build one on their website, and/or simply mention who thought-up the idea? I hope this gets resolved before suing happens, if it's an issue of course. (this emotocon is for fun

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Yes, Gentlemen's agreements are more likely in Aquaponics and as Kobus states, there really isn't much here that one is likely to be able to protect by patent. 


As for giving credit and the Gentlemen's agreement, well that is more just being good community members.  Basically, if you go trying to sell "barrel ponics" or "shelf ponics" as your own idea or using other people's pictures and such on your web site to make money without getting permission from the owners, you are likely to find yourself on one of the "good, bad, ugly" forum threads here or elsewhere since there are a fair few Aquapons that will come across new web sites and report you to others if you seem to be using some one else's stuff without permission.

This conversation is indeed very interesting! It mirrors my situation/system regarding IP.

I am stuck under a rock- Do I take the chance of exposing my design to it's fullest expression- and risk having someone else patenting or stealing my idea/invention? I have spent alot of time and money configuring and designing my table. I thought of it out of thin air as well. I have been commissioned to build several tables for people and have made some profit- Any supplemental income in this economy should not be looked down upon! Innovation should be rewarded! There is and will continue to be new innovations and different styles of growing fish and vegetables/herb together. It is just gardening! Who's to say what kinds of systems we could/should or shouldn't be limited to grow OUR food with? OWN YOUR CREATIVITY - Profit from IT!  Remember there are always going to be wolves in sheeps clothing on gods green earth. There are givers and there are takers. I want to share - but I want my fair share of what I deserve -  and so should everyone else - in my opinion....

once shown it becomes public ... share the ideas .. charge for the blue prints for the specifics ...
one has to wonder where the ideas come from ... the universe maybe ... I find that someone else planted a seed and it then gets improved upon depending on the situation ... tough call ... but maybe if one is to use it for commercial gain ... maybe add 20 - 50 ? bucks per job and send it to the one who provided the concept .. if you want my time and I don't have enough of it ... at least bring the beer :)

If we want to change the world ... have to change how we do things
The real dilema with patents is they restrict you from selling someones elses idea or product but they dont restrict you from imitating a concept for your personal use. I can only hope that operations like Nates towers or the Green acre Organics farm thrive and manage to sell enough to be viable. I really think the high end system like Nelson and pade are going to be replaced by less expensive models. I have helped build a system and plan on doing that for people in the future but I wont cross the line of stealing the idea of someone without monetarily rewarding them and getting their permission. The other side of this coin is that most people who garden are pretty handy by nature and will be the do it yourselfers. The market for kits or systems will probably be less that 10 percent of the population that gets into aquaponics. I feel for the above in that you have to expose your system to this demographic to gain exposure at the risk of losing sales to the do it yourselfer but hopefully you can sell enough to the other demographic to make a living and maybe a fortune.

Thanks for your wishes David.  We are absolutely finding a way to be viable, and it takes a lot of innovation, hard work and out of the box thinking but it is very possible.  You have a great point about high end systems.  Our system which is an incredibly value engineered derivative of the UVI system by Tim at Friendly, makes this possible.  A considerably greater start up cost or overhead would definitely make things difficult. 

As far as the majority of those getting into aquaponics being do it your selfers, that may be the case now, but I hope it isn't the case forever.  Really that allows for a very small demographic and I think most of us in this industry have hopes and aspirations that many more will join our ranks as backyard aquaponic gardeners.  That is where I think the systems such as the ones that Sylvia designs and sells will have incredible demand.  Although there is certainly great value in designing and or constructing a system yourself as TC pointed out, there are many that can't, don't want to, or don't have the tools or time, etc.  For these reasons, I am confident that there will eventually be tremendous demand for kits.  If we really hope to see aquaponics become mainstream and for everyone to grow some portion of their own food, then what better way then to make it easy and convenient.  Those with families and working full time jobs with little time will need the kit that can be literally thrown together on a Saturday afternoon as that is all the spare time they have.  I really see most of the folks in this community as pioneers shaping the way for this and much of the knowledge sharing that takes place will make that possible.  The graph alone that Terri shared shows aquaponics is growing rapidly and there is no indication that will slow down any time soon.  It is this growth and demand that will probably enable those developing kits to actually have something tangilbe enough to patent beyond cutting slots in a PVC pipe. 





We can get pretty philosophical pretty quickly about this stuff!

Information in this age of free information is pretty hard to own these days.  I don't mind moving into a new era where we all recognize that no idea is original and no idea can be owned.  This still leaves so many options for earning an income, but now it's more about the value in applying that idea than in the value of the idea as privileged information.

Most business is about convenience in some form or another.  Sure, we could all read a little about photography, pick up our cell phone and start snapping pictures, but there's a long way to go to being a professional photographer.  The opportunity cost of trudging through the learning curve of mastering a new skill is often more costly than hiring someone who is already a master.  You save more of your own precious and valuable time to focus on what you do best.  There would be no commerce at all if this basic principle wasn't true!

That leaves a lot of opportunities for folks to make an good honest living in aquaponics.  If you can save me time and energy, I will hire you to do it for me....whatever 'it' is.  :)

The exception to this is those folks who love to learn new things.  You know who you are!  ;)  But even those DIY folks will want to purchase kits and parts and bundles and manuals, etc. etc.

To sum it up, everytime I see someone try to own a thought, they suffer and struggle and are never happy.  Better to make your fortune putting that thought to good use!

I think that the gray-area ends when the mission is simply to make money; a mission of spreading aquaponics, and all the good it brings, would be more acceptable.

We will likely have to wait for the economy to lift (ever?) before kits and installations become an option.  I get asked to supply a tender for a small piece of woodwork or whatever for a garden (nursery friend of mine) and if I dare add more than 30% of material cost for labour and electricity people simply are not interested.  No worries about my tools or the time required to make it.  If it does not cost the sum of the parts, most people here refuse to buy it.  Good kit components are worth their cost, but I see a greater future in having those components (towers, fish tanks, beds) available and being able to supply the consumables than moving a stack of kits per month.  I have glass fibre beds in my research system and after 18 months they are still spotless, clean easy and are light enough.  Tell someone what one will cost (I have 9 in there) and they normally turn and run.  Thing is, you may save a bit in the short term by being capable of DIY, but once you calculate your own time and material costs in there, it makes little sense to want to make ALL of the components.


As I said up front, the likely money in AP lies in convenience supply, and having good components (Supporting Averan).  The hard to get stuff or having it all under one roof.  I have designed and built many components but will not waste time on patents.  Making a glass fibre pattern and mould will scare most people off trying to copy my beds.  The PVC stuff is another story...............................

What a fascinating conversation this has been!  Thanks for starting it, Eric.  I'm saying "yes, yes, yes!" to what both Gina and Averan have said and would like to expand on it a bit as someone who is working hard to eek out a living in aquaponics and in kit manufacturing (not quite there yet...but hopeful!) and who has some new kit designs in process for release this coming fall.  I too believe that there will be a place for high quality kits as the market for home aquaponics matures.  While this community is full of incredible DIYer's, we are all the early adopters in a very, very new industry.  I believe that the next wave will include more who are interested in the end result...but not so much in the design/build phase.  That said, I am not a big believer. in IP.  Patents are not only expensive to file, but they are expensive to prosecute if they are violated!  If you aren't going to uphold your patent then there is no point...and given today's trends towards open sourced development why even go there?


So, rather than patenting what we do and holding it close-to-the vest, my husband and I believe that what we are really selling is our experience, and the convenient, easy customer experience that can only come from in-depth development.  We know we build systems that will work well, and surround them with excellent installation and operations guides, and excellent customer support.  We back our systems with our reputation...not a legal document.  I think that is how to win in the transparent market of today.


And as media based APers we absolutely stand on the shoulders of giants, such as Murray Hallam, Joel Malcom, and the Speraneos.  And other's will copy what we do...but the I think (or at least hope) the market will reward those that keep their eye on their customer's needs first...and not on protecting intellectual property.  My 2 cents.

Sylvia - I think the Murray Hallam example would be interesting to follow up.  Does he supply info on which parts of his line moves fast and which are occasional sellers?  I think what he does and what you describe is very much what I am trying to picture as well.  Once someone has a system, there are many additions, changes and modifications that take place.  You also need the consumables.  Supplying good service and back-up probably ensures more sales from smaller items than the original starter kit.  I also think that you are basing your kits on a standardised set of components that are impossible or not easy to manufacture to the same quality, such as the tanks and beds.


South Africa is notorious for being a place with horrible customer service, thus anyone that makes time available to help install or troubleshoot is likely to get good word of mouth references.  Not sure what the US is like.  Only thing that concerns me here is that, while most people do not like the sight of a ibc tank on their patio, they are shy of buying more expensive alternatives. 

Murray is an excellent example of a successful aquaponics business man.  He provides a high quality system that is tied to his great reputation, backs it up with great service and a full line of components.  While not everyone will pay for quality, the question is will enough people pay for quality to make your business viable...

On the nose, Quality is key at this point.  Of course so is reputation, at least to anyone who will ask around before buying from some one.


And if you are going to sell kits, you also need to have all the parts needed for the kits and most of those you can sell separately to the DIYers.


As for IP.  Well most of the ideas of the different kinds of Aquaponics systems are far too easy to come up with independently but I would still frown on anyone who tries to "sell" barrel ponics as their own idea without giving credit to Travis, or the shelfponics and garden pool.  Now neither of those are likely to be patentable and I don't expect either of them would be profitable enough to make it even worth it but just trying to be fair to the people who went public with the idea first.


On the other hand, books are IP too.  And there are many people out there in this day of information that will insist that once a book has been written, it should be freely available to download for anyone who wants it.  (Kinda like asking for some one to post the parts list for the tote ponics DVD.)  This I kinda have a problem with since if no one is going to pay for books, or music, or movies, or software, well then it gets really hard to pay to have them made if you are simply having to give them away for free after the fact.  It gets really hard to justify the investment in making them in the first place if you can't make any of the money back.  Just because people might get something for free, it doesn't mean that they will not hold the author responsible if they don't understand it and will still expect the author to spend more time answering questions.

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