Monthly Archives: December 2013

10 Points on Mazzucato’s Rethinking the Idea of the State

These points are from an article by Mariana Mazzucato published in the Observer on 15 December 2013 called ‘Let’s rethink the idea of the state: it must be a catalyst for big, bold ideas’.

1. The function of the state in innovation is not to do things better than others are doing, but to do those things which at present are not done at all.

2. Governments are capable of dreaming up ‘big mission’ projects like putting a man on the moon which lead to development of new technologies which otherwise would be difficult to do.

3.  The idea of the government funding the ‘public good’ must be recognised and acknowledged. Transport, healthcare, research and education need to be done by government.

4.  Pfizer moved its R&D lab from the UK to Boston because of the £32bn a year that the US NIH spends on biomedical knowledge.

5. All the technologies that make the iPhone smart were pioneered by a well-funded US government: the internet, GPS, touch-screen display and Siri.

6. Public funding should today be used for new missions around climate change, ageing, inequality and youth unemployment.

7.  A new narrative is needed to describe the role of government, and its entrepreneurial and risk-taking role should be acknowledged and appreciated by finding ways of it benefitting from its investments.

8.  Recent successes with BBC’s iPlayer and Government Digital Services’s website show what can be achieved when brains and knowledge operates within the government sector.

9.  Competences and dynamism must be developed within the public sector rather than taking the mindset of axing as much as possible.

10. The ability of government to do ‘big’ things must be recognised and that means forward-thinking public spending is crucial for a creative, prosperous society.

You may also wish to see related articles Top 10 Topical Issues in Commercial Biotech and Problems of Patenting and Commercialising University Research.

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10 Points on Using Online Patent Databases

This post is for those that are not familiar with online patent resources and how they can be used by individual inventors or small companies. We advise always discussing a new invention with a patent attorney.  However it is also possible to find a lot of information online which will help in decision-making about whether to file a patent application.  This post is written from the perspective of a UK-based Patent Attorney advising UK-based individuals and companies.

1.  Online Databases of Patent Cases

The following 5 sources provide good searchable databases of existing patent applications and patents:

Google Patents

The European Patent Office

Espacenet

The US Patent and Trademark Office

– Patent Scope at WIPO

2.  Is it New?

Many ideas are not patentable simply because they are not new. Searching patent databases will allow you to see whether your idea is new.  If a published application or patent describes your idea it will be more difficult for you to obtain patent protection. You may still be able to obtain patent protection for a narrower, more specific, form of your idea.

3.  How Might the Idea Be Described in a Patent Specification?

Finding examples of patent specifications in your technical area will show you how an invention is defined in the ‘claims’ and how it is generally described in a patent application.  That can help in thinking about the idea in the right way, and may help you to distil the idea into what new products and activities can be claimed.

4.  Existing Patent Specifications are a Resource for Ideas and How to Apply Them

Well written patent applications can be filled with ideas for how to use ideas in different ways.  By reading existing patent specifications you may come up with new ways of thinking about your idea which may help you to think about how broadly you would want patent protection.  It may also allow you to identify other technologies which could be used with your idea.

5.  Are Companies Filing Patent Applications in Your Technical Area?

Unfortunately there are certain technical areas where patent protection can be difficult to get.  Many apps for mobile phones cannot be protected by a patent, though advice from a patent attorney should be sought on a case-by-case basis because it is a difficult judgment to make.  In addition patent filings are sometimes not the best way to proceed commercially. It may be better to rely on the approach of keeping your invention a secret.  So, if you are unable to locate patent filings in your technical area you may wish to think about why that might be the case. Is it because this type of technology is not patentable or is it because companies in this area do not consider patents to be commercially useful?

6.  Will it be Difficult to Get a Patent?

If you find many patent specifications which describe technologies that are similar to your idea you may find it difficult to persuade Patent Offices to grant a patent for your idea.  Patent are granted for inventions which are new, but also inventive.  That means they must contribute something that is more than obvious over what is known.  However bear in mind that ‘inventiveness’ is difficult to judge and requires patent attorney advice.  If you do locate existing patent cases that are close to your idea then it is possible these will also be considered by Patent Offices when they are examining your patent application.  You may wish to think about how you could argue your idea is inventive over such cases.

7.  Freedom to Operate

Bear in mind that other people’s patents may cover your products and activities.  Therefore if you are going to be carrying out your idea yourself you’ll need to establish that you have the freedom to do so.  In the UK you can only be sued based on a granted patent.  Therefore if you are searching patent databases to discover whether you have freedom to operate you need to bear in mind the difference between patent applications which are not granted and patents which are.  In particular the claims of patent applications may change (normally becoming narrower) before grant occurs.

8.  Potential Customers, Collaborators, Investors and Licensees (or Lack of)

Identifying parties who are filing patent applications in your technical area could be commercially useful in many ways.  Such parties could be potential customers, collaborators or investors.  They could also be interested in buying your patent application or patent, or in taking a licence.  Conversely if you do not find parties filing in your technical areas then this indicate a lack of commercial interest, and you may find it difficult to sell or licence your patent case.

9.  Likelihood of Attack on Your Patent Cases

Monitoring the behaviour of parties in your technical area may also give you an indication of how likely it is that your patent cases could be attacked by competitors.  Patent cases can be attacked before and after grant, for example using third party observations and opposition procedures.  Patent databases can be used to see how often patent cases in your area are attacked and may allow you to identify companies with aggressive patent policies.

10. Competitor Activity

Parties filing patent applications in your area could be potential competitors.  Their patent filings may give you an idea of their areas of interest, the directions they are taking and how fast they are progressing.  Knowing about their patent cases will also allow you to consider whether you wish to attack them, particularly if they are relevant to your freedom to operate.

You may also wish to see related articles Advice to People with Ideas and Advice to Scientists Setting Up a Company.

10 Observations on Different Types of Research

We have worked with university tech transfer offices, small research companies and investors. Here are our observations on different types of research.

1.  Ground-Breaking Patentable Research

When scientists opens up a new area of research in their work, it is more likely to be distant from the prior art, and that will allow broad patent claims to be obtained.  In addition the work is less likely to be covered by the patent claims of third parties, and so there are less freedom-to-operate issues.  However such research tends to be done by scientists who are more ambitious and willing to take risks.  Ground-breaking research is also more likely to lead to disruptive technologies.

2.  Follow-On Patentable Research

Follow-on research tends to build on ground-breaking work.  It may represent important development of a technology and therefore be necessary.  However there tend to be more problems obtaining patents as the previous ground-breaking research will be relevant prior art, and only narrow claims might be obtained.  In addition there may be freedom-to-operate issues due to patents directed to the ground-breaking work.

3.  Commercialisable Research

Tech Transfer Offices are in the position of having to identify research that will attract commercial interest. In our experience they only succeed in finding commercial partners for around 5% of their patent cases.  The markets are not necessarily the most-informed or wisest decision-makers, often following trends and being shy of areas where there have been a lot of failures.

4.  Patentable Research That Cannot be Policed

Sometimes it is possible to obtain a patent for an invention, but due to its nature it can be difficult to police infringement of the patent.  Screening methods which identify useful compounds are an example of this, where it is impossible to tell from the marketed product how it was identified.  These considerations apply to many research tool inventions, and so the commercial reasons for filing a patent application must be reviewed carefully to ensure the patent will provide value.

5.  Risky Research

Some types of research are simply not successful.  Promising drug candidates will often turn out to be ineffective in clinical trials.  These risk considerations should be properly understood when investing and when deciding whether to file a patent application.

6. Competing Technologies

It must be remembered that successful research is often difficult to translate into commercial success because the new technology must displace existing technologies, and if that is not economically feasible then customers may decide not to invest in the new technology.  At the moment this is particularly true with new drugs which are not substantially better than existing drugs.

7.  Essential Non-Commercialisable Research

Certain types of research are needed simply for the advancement of science, but there has to be an acceptance that there is little chance that patents or commercialisation will be possible.  Clearly public funding is a very good way of ensuring such research is done.

8.  Research in the National Interest

Clearly every government must review whether or not it needs to fund certain areas of research to further its national interests.  That may be for the purpose of ensuring its own food security, for example, or to develop a research base in an important area.  However research is not always the best option.  For example it may be better for certain countries to have more mobile clinics rather than funding expensive research into new treatments.

9. Researching Appropriate Technologies

Where solutions are being developed to solve certain problems, there must be choosing of the most appropriate technology.  Cost, ease of maintenance and repair, and ability to operate optimally in local conditions all need to be considered.  High tech solutions may not always be the answer.

10.  Research That Does Not Duplicate Efforts

A lot of research is duplicated around the world.  The internet provides a new means to assess what research has already been done by other organisations and how best to make use of that.  For example pharma companies are presently offering their existing compound libraries for testing against new diseases.

You may also wish to see related articles What Do You Need to Know About Commercial Biotech? and What is Wrong with Big Pharma R&D?

10 Observations on ‘Combating Transnational Intellectual Property Crime’ organised by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce

This conference was held on 12 December 2013 in London.  We attended because we felt it would provide insights about topical IP issues in the Middle East.

1.  Keynote speakers included Ministers for Justice from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the UK Minister of State for Justice, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property and Cherie Blair.  So it was clearly both a diplomatic and IP conference.  It showed that IP issues are taking a much higher profile in International relations and even countries in the Middle East are accepting that the implications of the knowledge and digital economy affects every country.

2.  The WTO and TRIPS were essentially the driving forces for Middle Eastern countries providing IP rights and methods of enforcement.

3.  Saudi judges and legal practitioners in the area came across as very aware of the correct balance needing to be struck between IP rights holders and third parties, and there were clearly mechanisms in place in Saudi Arabia to regulate prices and to keep in check the behaviour of IP holders.

4.  The topic of whether infringement of IP rights should be a criminal act was mentioned by several speakers, and clearly there are counter-arguments to this.  It was clear that whilst the overall tone of the conference was very supportive of IP rights holders, there were also moderating voices.

5.  It was clear that enforcement of IP rights was within Islamic legal principles.  There was also an understanding that it was in the national interests of Middle Eastern countries, though this is probably a complex conclusion to establish.

6.  Morocco is keen for its population to take much more advantage of IP rights, particularly for handicrafts.  It recognises that it is exposed to open competition and operates within a knowledge economy.

7. Many consumers do not presently see anything wrong with illegally downloading films and music or buying fake luxury goods.  Consumer education was seen as a priority.

8.  Cybercrime and security were seen as areas of concern.

9.  It was noted that the controversy of pharma patents making drugs expensive in the developing world was harming support for IP rights holders.

10.  We noted from people that we met at coffee that the Middle East is attracting UK IP lawyers. D. Young & Co., a UK patent firm, has opened offices there recently.

You may also wish to see related articles Top 10 Controversial Patent Issues and Top 10 Uncertainties in Patents.

10 Patenting Scenarios

Here are 10 different, potentially overlapping, scenarios in which patent applications might be filed or assessed. Each scenario requires different strategies and therefore a patent attorney needs to recognise which scenario is applicable when they draft, advise or assess.  We have provided only brief comments on each scenario since the actual strategy will obviously be more complex and will need to be tailored to the specific commercial situation.

1.  Tech Transfer Office.

When drafting for a university tech transfer office it is important to bear in mind that there will almost certainly be a disclosure of the invention by the inventors soon after filing. Therefore the strategy could essentially be to claim as broadly as possibly as downstream filings may not be possible.

2.  Sole Inventor

In the classic situation of an inventor who has an idea independently of a research company and with little funds, one must give realistic advice about whether a patent application is worth filing at all.  Filing an application and then selling it quickly is highly unlikely to happen and if this is the plan the inventor should try and identify potential buyers when thinking about how to proceed.

3.  A Scientist Setting up a Company

All decisions need to be taken very carefully as the early filings which are done when there are few resources may turn out to be the most important in value.  Ownership issues and the relationship to research done previously at another company or in a university need to be clear-cut.

4.  An Early Stage Company

There has to be a clear idea of when a product will be launched and how this fits into patenting timelines and building up a patent portfolio.  Competitor activity should be monitored, but it may be too early to know what patent strategies should be pursued against competitors.

5.  An SME Selling a Product

Having multiple layers of protection for the product, having freedom to operate and having patent cases that can be used in negotiations may be important.  Clearly it may be important to build up a strong defensive position and be aware of the possibility of cases being opposed or litigation happening.

6.  Strategy for a Large Company

Building up portfolios in areas of interest and ensuring that defensive portfolios are in place for important areas.  Having a detailed picture of third party rights and the freedom to operate landscape, and if necessary being prepared for oppositions and litigation by third parties, and in turn assessing how aggressive to be against third party patents.

7.  A Company Looking for Investment/Collaborators

The portfolio must be maintained with the knowledge that it will undergo due diligence.  Clearly regular filings each having a specific commercial purpose and showcasing the research the company has been doing will look more impressive to investors.

8.  Technology Sector

One should recognise the extent to which patents add value in the technical sector which the company operates in.  Many ICT companies may find that trade secrets and first to market advantages outweigh the benefits provided by patent.  However in other areas, such as biotech, patent protection is the norm and is integral to creating value.

9.  Taking Over a Company

Beyond the initial identifying of outstanding deadlines, the patent portfolio will need to be assessed quite soon to determine whether it needs fixing in any way, in particular whether new filings are needed in view of available research data or whether any existing cases should be abandoned.

10.  Investing in a Company

When carrying out due diligence, beyond determining whether there are problems (such as ownership issues) and looking at territorial coverage, it is important to see how adequately the portfolio protects the product.  Is broad coverage provided? Are the claims likely to be valid?  Are there multiple layers of protection?

You may also wish to see related articles Biotech Due Diligence Advice and Patent Advice for Research Companies.

Top 10 Websites About Science Policy and Commercialising Research

We’ve chosen these websites as useful science resources on the internet.  They relate to how governments and other institutions are thinking about science policy, science projects they are funding and research that is available for commercialisation. We have not listed websites from specific universities or research institutes which are also a rich resource of information about commercialisable science.  We are UK based and so our perspective is admittedly a UK and European one.

1.  The United Nations’ Science Page (see here).  This is about science which is relevant to the UN’s policies.

2.  The European Union’s Science Projects (see here).  This is the science being funded by the EU.

3.  US Government website (see here).  There are clearly a lot of science related US government websites.  This one shows science which is being funded by the US government.

4.  UK Research Councils’ website (see here).  This is a portal that provides a search facility for publically funded research in the UK.

5. UK Parliament Research Briefings (see here).  This is a useful indicator of what the UK government wants to know about science.

6.  _connect Pipeline (see here).  A searchable portal for finding technologies from UK universities and research institutions.

7.  Bilat (see here).  A portal about projects involving countries that have science and technology agreements with the EU.

8.  Japan Science and Technology Agency (see here).  The JST is implementing the Japanese governments Science and Technology Basic Plan.

9. The Russian Government website (see here).  This is not a science portal as such, but does have a lot of information about Russian policies towards science.

10. Science Europe (see here).  This provides policy information about science in Europe.

You may also wish to see the related articles What Do You Need to Know About Commercial Biotech and Problems of Patenting and Commercialising University Research.

10 Points from IPO Patent Decisions in 2013

This is about decisions of the UK Intellectual Property Office.  These cases were mentioned at a CIPA event on 27 November 2013.  The decisions are not binding on the courts, but they illuminate how the IPO is thinking about issues.

1.  Ex partes decisions often concern objections raised by Examiners, though they can also be about other matters, such as SPC’s.  There were 63 ex partes decisions issued between November 2012 and November 2013. 36 were about excluded matter (of which only 1 was allowed), 10 were about inventive step, 7 were about sufficiency/industrial applicability and 6 were about added matter.

2.  There were 50 inter partes decisions in November 2012 to November 2013.  35 were about entitlement and inventorship, 4 were about revocation and 4 were about amendment.

3.  The IPO has seen an increase in cases relating to business methods.  IPO practice on identifying business methods is to look at the nature of the contribution and whether it is technical. The use of a computer is not in itself enough to make an activity inherently technical.

4.  Specific Business Method Cases:

– In Aueon Inc (BL O/248/13) a method of generating a list of cancer drug treatment options based on the molecular markers on the tumour and other patient information was held to be a computer program as such as the contribution was essentially an improved method of interrogating a database and ranking treatment options.

– In WMS Gaming Inc (BL O/260/13) a gaming system in which a player could use funds from a third party in a wagering game was held to be a business method.

– In Visa USA Inc (BL O/149/13) enabling electronic payments where the software resolves incomplete seller information was held to be a business method.

– In LexisNexis Risk Solutions Inc (BL O/111/13) an improved method of data analysis for detecting mortgage fraud was held to be a business method.  In LexisNexis Risk Solutions Inc (BL O/281/13) a database for calculating insurance premiums was also held to a business method.

– In Shop.com (BL O/489/12) a web-based tool allowing gift recipients to choose gifts was held to be a business method.

5.  YKK Europe Ltd (BL O/006/13) concerned a lost reminder to file a Form 10.  After publication a reminder for a Form 10 was issued.  There was no response from the Applicant and 14 months after the application was deemed withdrawn for failure to file the Form the Applicant asked when the examination report would issue.  The Applicant believed the Form 10 had been filed and did not receive the reminder.  It was held that Rule 107 relating to procedural irregularity could not be used to remedy the situation as it was not clear the IPO that done anything wrong.  It was also held that Rule 111 relating to delays in communication services could not be used as failure to file the Form F10 was not ‘wholly or mainly attributable’ to the lost reminder.

6.  In Genzyme Corporation (BL O/418/13) the IPO held that in view of Article 297 TFEU saying that EU decisions take effect upon notification then an SPC term must be calculated from the date of notification (not issue) of the marketing authorisation.  That means an extra 2 to 4 days of SPC term due to the time taken for notification to occur.  This decision clearly does not apply to UK marketing authorisations.

7.  In International Stem Cell Corp (BL O/316/12) the IPO rejected a case concerning a parthenote, an embryo-like structure that can be formed from an unfertilised human ovum, on the grounds it related to use of an embryo.  This was appealed to the High Court which has now made a reference to the CJEU.

8.  In Sonomatic v Flexlife (BL O/001/13) a post-grant amendment was opposed and unusually the IPO had to consider whether the amendment did ‘more clearly distinguish’ over the prior art as the patentee said, though validity cannot be put at issue in such proceedings.

9.  In Opinion 31/12 (Adams’ Patent) providing a ‘heavy metal’ barrel for a dart with a patented stem-barrel weight ratio was found to be supplying an essential element under s.60(2).

10.  In a Review of An Opinion on O’Hare’s Patent (BL O/449/13) the Opinion was set aside because the Hearing Office had construed ‘comprising a plate with substantial oval apertures’ wrongly.

You may also wish to see related articles 10 Points on Data in Patent Applications and Top 10 Tips on Getting Difficult Cases Through.