The World Intellectual Property (IP) Day held each year on 26 April is an opportunity to highlight the critical role that IP rights play in encouraging innovation. To mark World IP Day 2022, we’ve interviewed some of Kilburn & Strode’s trainees, as this year’s theme is about IP and Youth: Innovating for a better future.
Ingenuity and creativity can be key to driving changes needed for a more sustainable future. That’s why we asked trainees from each of our firm’s practice areas, Life Sciences & Chemistry, Tech, Engineering and Trade marks, for their thoughts on what attracted them to the world of IP, how to inspire positive change and one particular invention or product that has impact their young lives.
Q1 - What’s one key thing about intellectual property that you think everyone should know – and why?
Joseph Etherington: Patents are not about secrecy, but about disclosure.
For those unfamiliar with the world of intellectual property, patents may be thought of as a way to protect one’s innovation through Scrooge-like secrecy and greed. This was certainly my perception before I began researching this field of work.
In fact, the converse is true. A requirement for a patent application is that all essential features of an invention must be described so that others can put the invention into effect. Although a patent does allow the proprietor to control the exploitation of the invention (where/while the patent is in force), the details of the invention are in the public domain*.
What are the consequences of this? A full disclosure of an invention may incite others to create alternative or improved versions of the invention. In other words, a patent is an important and effective way of promoting step-by-step innovation with progressive improvements over time.
*There is a caveat here – the rules are different if a patent may be prejudicial to national security and “secret patents” do exist.
Hal Cowling: Quite how much of it there is. There is a famous story that the commissioner of the US patent office in 1899 said “everything that can be invented has been invented”. This is most likely a misquote that instead finds its origins in an 1899 comedy magazine, but the phrase lives on in the internet as many people ask: “Will we ever run out of truly new ideas?”
Certainly not any time soon. I’m reminded of Google’s statistic that 15% of search queries every day have never been seen before. People are coming up with novel ideas (or search queries) continuously each day, which translates to IP. Both the European and US Patent Offices have seen an increase in patent applications over recent years. There is a constant drive for innovation, further incentivised by the IP system, which leads to an outpour of intellectual property and a steady growth in the world of Tech.
Josh McLennon: Every innovation has something to contribute, even if, on the surface, they appear to be less advantageous than an already existing alternative. It’s an interesting concept, an idea’s benefit being dependent upon context rather than the ‘thing’ itself.
Celina Özcan: Innovation takes time, effort – blood, sweat and tears, but it also costs money. There always seems to be controversy as to why medicines, carefully crafted bags or anything from a ‘popular brand’ costs so much money – when it’s “not that expensive to make”. The actual end-product may not be hard or expensive to make, but the time it took to research an illness, gather the right materials for a bag, or build a brand worth wanting, is extensive. It is the time it took to get there, the money it cost to protect it, and the intellect it took to think of it, that makes the property worth something.
Q2 - What attracted you to working in IP?
JE: Growing up, I was the sort of pupil who would correct the teacher’s spelling, and the sort of student that would spend hours at a time proof-reading and reformatting my thesis to make sure it was *just right*.
When it came to the job-searching stage of my degree, I was surprised to stumble upon a career that doesn’t just value these annoying traits, but actively encourages them. Buzzwords such as “attention to detail”, “accuracy”, and even “pedantry” drew me in immediately, and I promptly began sending out applications for trainee patent attorney positions.
Of course, all of these skills are in the context of science and technology. Since I enjoyed a wide range of topics in my chemistry degree, I was also pleased to find a career where I’d be dealing with inventions ranging all the way from drug molecules to lithium-ion batteries.
HC: The idea of learning something new every day from a whole variety of fields was a very appealing factor for me. Whilst studying at university, I could never decide what sector of science I really wanted to specialise in – I’d enjoyed learning about all kinds different topics that were relevant to the modern world and didn’t want to give that up. The option for a career in IP came along, and now I can work with true experts in a huge variety of fields and get first-hand insights into various forefronts of technology.
JMC: IP offers a fascinating window into an enormous number of industries, each with their own flavour of interesting developments. Being exposed to a broad range of inventions that overcome specific technical problems changes how you see challenges too - and I love that.
CÖ: I vividly remember that my University lecturer introduced Trade Mark Law as follows: “you woke up this morning on your IKEA pillow, you brushed your teeth with Colgate toothpaste, you washed your body with Dove soap, you ate a sandwich from Sainsbury’s, you travelled to University with a Stagecoach bus, you grabbed a coffee from Starbucks and you’re currently writing all of this on your Apple laptop – Trade Marks are everywhere”. I knew straight away that I wanted to be part of that incredibly large industry.
Q3 - How would you explain what your work involves to a non-specialist in just one sentence?
JE: Striking a balance between our clients' commercial/scientific motivations and the legal intricacies of the patent system.
HC: We protect other people’s new and innovative ideas, allowing them to safely materialise and compete amongst the ever-growing market of Tech.
JMC: We clarify the limits of language in our clients’ favour.
CÖ: We protect and are part of everything you see around you.
Q4 - This year’s theme for World IP Day is “innovation for a better future”. What role does IP play in creating positive change?
JE: The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that public health is a fundamentally important part of our society. It is largely thanks to innovation in medicine that we can meet our friends and go on holiday once again. But what role does IP play here?
Developing a new drug and passing it through clinical trials are highly costly tasks. Pharmaceutical companies will eventually set a price for the drug which recovers these initial costs and leads to a profit. If it weren’t for IP laws and practice, competitor companies could replicate the drug and sell it for a much cheaper price, since they wouldn’t have a backlog of development and clinical trial costs.
Patenting a new drug allows pharmaceutical companies to control who can sell it (for a limited time). This provides the financial incentive for these companies to continue developing new drugs, which the future of public health depends on.
HC: I briefly mentioned above how the IP system incentivises innovation and how this leads to an unabating assembly line of new technology. That in itself is the foundation of sustained economic growth, but I think the role of IP in creating positive change goes deeper than that.
Fundamentally, Intellectual Property promotes human creativity and motivates people to work at the best of their ability. This, in turn, ensures that the current generation is always inspired to do better than what came before, and paves the way for positive change.
JMC: The publication of patent literature, essentially instructions for the most cutting-edge technical ideas, allows competitors to learn from one another. As a result, resources do not need to be spent reinventing the wheel.
CÖ: Brands tell a story to the consumer. Today, it is more important than ever to consumers that their products are sustainable, cruelty-free and of high quality. The moment a brand becomes associated with the opposite, it sticks. Brands, therefore, essentially provide incentives to trade mark owners to be as future-proof, sustainable and conventional as possible.
Q5 - What’s an example of an innovative technology or product that has had a big impact on your life and why?
JE: Like many people who spend a lot of time staring at a screen, I suffer from dry eyes. This is a minor problem, but a rather annoying one.
For years, I’ve been using eye drops to relieve the dryness. Pictured is a patented device for dispensing such drops, which I find to be particularly effective.
This system maintains a sterile, airtight environment for the drop solution, which eliminates the need for preserving agents (which can exacerbate the symptoms). The clever design is also set up to dispense a consistently accurate dose, rather than relying on the user to squeeze the bottle with the right amount of force.
This is one example of an innovative product that makes my life that little bit easier.
Image source: US Patent No. 5,232,687
HC: For me, it’s the Residual Current Device (or RCD) for two reasons:
First of all, my grandfather worked on and contributed some improved systems for the RCD, and helped innovate towards the extremely effective safety device found in almost all electrical systems today. Seeing his work was not only a first-hand example of the evolution from novel idea to life-changing technology, but it was also a big inspiration for me to enter the world of IP, which facilitates the constant drive of innovation behind these technologies.
Secondly, and shamelessly, I potentially owe my life to the RCD, and the many inventors behind it, for instantly shutting off the electricity supply when I accidentally mowed through the cable of the lawnmower one summer’s afternoon.
JMC: Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th century printing press allowed for the printing of books at a fraction of the cost. Ideas contained within pages have been fundamental in making me who I am today.
CÖ: Artificial Intelligence – Regardless of industry or business, companies need data and data analysis to make better decisions. AI and machine learning can process and analyse large volumes of data at an incredible speed. The findings can solve environmental challenges, sustainability, employee satisfaction, traffic congestion, cybersecurity and healthcare for the greater good.
If you would like to discuss this topic further with any of our trainee attorneys, please do reach out to them:
Happy World IP Day!