Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Celebrating Tecwyn Roberts

Tecwyn Roberts


In World IP Day: IP Youth 28 Dec 2021 I wrote that my interest in science had been sparked by the launch of Sputnik in 1957, Gagarin's first space flight in 1961 and later NASA's Apollo programme.  My experience was entirely vicarious because I never met any rocket scientists.  Someone who did was a young schoolgirl who met Tecwyn Roberts, Director and Manager of the Goddard Space Flight Center. Roberts was brought up in Anglesey and she met him on a visit to his old school.  She was inspired by his visit to study natural sciences at school and university which launched her on a brilliant career in science and intellectual property.

When Tecwyn Roberts was a boy he had to cross the Atlantic to make a career in rocketry. That is no longer necessary for this generation of schoolchildren because Wales has a significant and growing space sector which I discussed in The Space Industry in Wales on 27 Dec 2021.  On 26 April 2022, the Menai Science Park (M-SParc) will explore the opportunities that this industry offers to young people in Wales as part of Wales's celebrations of World Intellectual Property Day 2022.  

In previous years we have held a lunchtime seminar on the annual theme for World Intellectual Property Day. Last year, for example, it was about Taking Ideas to Market.   We assembled distinguished speakers from the Intellectual Property Office, the Welsh Government, Inngot as well as local experts from BIC Innovation, Knox Commercial Solicitors and IP Tax Solutions (see Menai Science Park's Contribution to World IP Day 2021 25 April 2021).  The theme of this year's seminar will be IP and Youth and we shall be making use of all the resources that are available such as the "Cracking Ideas" programme and the UK Government's guidance in "IP and Education".

In addition to our seminar, we shall offer something new this year.  With the help of the Aerospace Wales Forum and Space Wales, we shall hold an exhibition physically at the science park but also online to celebrate Wales's contribution to space exploration past and present   We are only just beginning to plan that exhibition but I can safely say that it will include the career of Anglesey's pioneer rocket scientist, Tecwyn Roberts.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article may call me on 020 7404 5252 during normal office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

World IP Day: IP and Youth

Source WIPO YouTube Licence Standard YouTube Licence

On 26 April of every year, the World Intellectual Property Organization ("WIPO") celebrates the anniversary of its establishment with a worldwide festival of innovation and creativity.  Since 2019 the Menai Science Park ("M-SParc") has contributed greatly towards the celebrations that have taken place in Wales. Every year the international celebrations focus on a specified theme.  The WIPO has just announced that the theme for World Intellectual Property Day in 2022 will be IP and Youth: Innovating for a Better Future.

That is a theme that resonates with M-SParc because it is one of a number of initiatives to reverse a century of migration of some of Northwest Wales's best and brightest to other parts of the United Kingdom and indeed other parts of the world.  The arts and sciences have always been valued in the region as is evidenced by the contributions of quarrymen and other working people towards the foundation of what is now Bangor University in the late 19th century (see  The Times 20 Oct 1884) but the business and employment opportunities for the region's graduates have until now been limited.

Promising opportunities are opening for young people and an important part of M-SParc's mission is to bring those opportunities to the attention of local college students and schoolchildren. One of the ways in which it does that is through the Young Dynamos Programme with its resources for 5 to 12-year-olds and 13 years plus and Club Sparci.

Yesterday I brought the announcement of this year's theme for World IP Day 2022 to the attention of Pryderi ap Rhisiart, the Managing Director of M-SParc, and Emily Roberts, Operations and Customer Service Manager:

I replied that we could do all those things and referred Pryderi to an article on teaching IP to the young in the TES Magazine.   Emily also tweeted that it would be great to involve the Young Dynamos in this year's World IP Day.

These are very early days but one idea that I shall contribute is focusing on Wales's contribution to space technology.   I discussed that topic yesterday in The Space Industry in Wales.  My interest in science was sparked by the launch of Sputnik in 1957, Gagarin's first space flight in 1961 and later NASA's Apollo programme.  Over those years I read every book and article on science and particularly space on which I could lay my hands.  Just a few miles from the science park there is a remarkable company that is developing a satellite launch capability from a high altitude helium balloon.   If that technology can capture the imagination of this septuagenarian think how much more it will inspire generations of young men and women and children.

Any ideas on M-SParc's contribution to this year's World IP Day celebrations from any quarter will be very welcome but we should particularly like to hear from kids in Northwest Wales and their teachers.  You can call me during business hours on 020 7404 5252 or send me your suggestions through my contact form.

Monday, 27 December 2021

The Space Industry in Wales

Satellite Image of Wales
Author NASALicdence Public domain Source Wikimedia Commons


Jane Lambert

On Boxing Day 2021, The Observer published an article by Robin McKie entitled The Great British Race to Space.   It featured efforts by companies operating in different parts of the United Kingdom using different technologies to launch the first satellite into low earth orbit from British soil.  One of those companies is B2Space Ltd. which plans to launch a satellite bearing rocket from a high altitude helium balloon.  B2Space appears to be based in Newport and operates in Eyrri in Northwest Wales.

B2Space is just one of a growing number of space businesses in Wales.   Space Wales maintains a "Capability Matrix" of businesses in the sector.  Linking those businesses to resources in the universities, government and international agencies, Space Wales is developing a strategy for the sector.  According to the organizers of the UK Space Conference at Newport, Wales saw a 34% increase in the number of organizations and a 40% increase in employment in that sector between 2015 and 2019 albeit from an admittedly small base (see The Space Sector in Wales is growing).

The legislation that has made this growth possible has been the Space Industry Act 2018 which I discussed in Commercial Exploitation of Space: Space Industry Act 2018 on 10 April 2018.  I outlined the licensing regime in Space Industry - Licensing Spaceports the next day.  The new technologies developed by the Welsh space industry will require legal protection and I discussed those issues in The Role of Intellectual Property in Space Commerce on 19 July 2019 in NIPC Cornwall.  Although I had in mind the businesses that have mushroomed around Newquay airport in Cornwall the issues mentioned in the article apply equally to the businesses around Llanbedr and elsewhere in Wales.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article may call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

Friday, 12 November 2021

Wales Enterprise Day


Jane Lambert

For the last three years, the Menai Science Park (M-SParc) has contributed to World Intellectual Property Day.  Every year the celebrations focus on a different theme. This year's was Taking Your Ideas to Market. As I wrote in Menai Science Park's Contribution to World IP Day 2021, that theme "could not be more appropriate for the Menai Science Park because that is what it does all through the year."

As in previous years, Emily Roberts asked me to help her choose speakers for the event.  I discussed her request with Richard Fraser-Willaims of Business Wales.  It quickly became clear to us that the topic was far too large for a single webinar.  Richard suggested that we should concentrate on start-ups on World Intellectual Property Day. If that event was successful we could hold a second on scale-ups in Autumn.  I passed on Richard's suggestion to Emily and she agreed.

I am glad to say that our contribution to World Intellectual Property Day 2021 was a great success.  Accordingly, Emily asked me to suggest a programme for the Autumn event.   I proposed:

Emily accepted my proposal but asked:
"Is there a significant date in those months, for example connected to IP or scaling up in some way?"

I replied:

"There is a British intellectual property day on 1 July but not many people have heard of it.

Why don't we create our own Diwrnod Eiddo Deallusol Ynys Môn, Diwrnod Eiddo Deallusol Ynys Menai or if we can enlist the support of the Welsh government, the Senedd, the IPO, the Welsh Universities, business and other institutions, even a Diwrnod Eiddo Deallusol Cymru on whatever day we choose?"

A few days later Emily sent a draft Eventbrite card promoting our seminar in celebration of "Wales Enterprise Day."

Our webinar on scaling up took place yesterday.   I thought it was the best seminar on IP that we have ever presented to M-SParc.  I thank all the speakers for their excellent presentations.   But our seminar was followed by a much bigger event: "Den y Dreigiau" a great angel and seed-funding pitching event operated in conjunction with Global Welsh

That was a magnificent opportunity to see the achievements of the businesses that have developed in M-SParc. There were some that I already admired such as Haia and Cufflink but I learned about others in agricultural technology, environmental protection, therapeutics, veterinary devices and other fields that are also great.  All the presenters spoke passionately.  All were impressive.  I wish them every success in their endeavours.

In the room from which our seminar was hosted, there is a bell to announce good news.   Emily rang that bell when Sean Thomas announced that he will hold regular IP clinics in M-SParc with a bit of help from Andrea Knox and me.  Sean has now moved back to Anglesey (which happens to be his birthplace) and will practise from the island.   It would appear from IP-Reg's database that he will be the only patent or trade mark attorney in Wales to the northwest of Chepstow.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article may call me on 020 7404 5252 during normal business hours or send me a message through my contact form.

Monday, 25 October 2021

AberInnovation's Official Opening

Standard YouTube Licence

Jane Lambert

On Thursday 21 Oct  2021, the Rt Hon Mark Drakeford MS, the First Minister of Wales, opened AberInnovation (Aberystwyth Enterprise and Innovation Campus).  I watched the ceremony over Zoom, Ben Jones wrote about the event in First Minister of Wales Officially Opens AberInnovation which was posted to AberInnovation's website on 22 Oct 2021.

I first learned about AberInnovation when I delivered a talk at IBERS (The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences) entitled IP Rights relating to Waste Management and Packaging on 13 March 2019. I mentioned it in NIPC Wales, an article to mark the launch of this publication, in NIPC News on 15 March 2019.  I learned a little more about the project when I revisited IBERS on 19 June 2019 to take part in "'From Plants to Bio-Based Products' Motivation and Mutual Learning Workshop in Aberystwyth"I discussed the project in Aberinnovation: Mid-Wales's New Science Park on 20 Feb 2020 when I received a copy of AberInnovation's first newsletter and mentioned it again in Completion of Aberystwyth's Science Park on Time and on Budget on 30 Aug 2020.

According to its website, AberInnovation already hosts some interesting and potentially important businesses:
  • Agxio which describes itself as "an AI, data science and machine learning company that specialises in the biotech, life sciences and agricultural science industries";
  • AMIGROW. "a service that aims to integrate field information, about crop condition and management practices, with high-quality satellite imagery in order to provide agricultural managers valuable insights to manage crop production and maximise crop yield";
  • ARCITEKBio which commercializes a platform for the processing of agricultural waste into high-value products including xylitol a challenge to the global sweeteners market;
  • BIC Innovation, a leading consultancy that I have known and with which I have occasionally collaborated for nearly 20 years; 
  • Biosample Hub, an online platform that connects biotech and pharma companies with hospital biobanks to support the research and development of new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines;
  • Cambrian Cyber Consulting, a "provider of cyber and information security consultancy expertise, with affordable service offerings for companies wishing to assess, health-check and audit cyber risk" 
  • CHAP, a UK Agri-Tech Centre that brings together leading scientists, farmers, advisors, innovators and businesses to understand industry challenges, drive research and innovation and develop and trial solutions that transform crop systems; 
  • Cydweithio, Welsh for "Collaboration", brings together a selected set of primarily Welsh small businesses specialising in electronics and software and offers their products and services to the market;
  • EISA Tea Co., an ethical and sustainable tea business that aims to inspire informed change in consumer habits;
  • LeafCann which is on a "mission is to advance the re-introduction of plant-based extracts in medicine and nutrition through conducting and supporting product and industry research and development, clinical trials, commercial production and GMP manufacturing: 
  • PhytoQuest innovates "natural ingredients and compounds in the high-margin healthy-living products emerging from the convergence of food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics";
  • PlantSea aims to replace environmentally damaging petroleum-based plastics with sustainable and biodegradable alternatives;
  • Reselan, "a process development and implementation company, with the purpose of improving environmental and economic performance of businesses and other organizations;"
  • Shire Meadery aims to create unique light meads with a focus on delicate flavours and drinkability;
  • Starfish Labs on a mission to design and build apps that improve people's lives, that is to say, "apps for living – mobile and web apps for training, education, healthcare, tourism and to support people with learning difficulties and disabilities, and for our ageing population;"
  • Techion, "a full-stack information company, integrating several modes of technology (hardware, software and data) to deliver solutions for complex disease problems;"
  • Terravesta which describes itself as "the world-leading energy crop supply chain specialist, producing sustainable energy from marginal land using miscanthus;
  • Watercress Research Ltd, a "phytochemical research company developing natural solutions to medical conditions;"
  • Yma, which means "here" in Welsh, aims "to create the conditions where primary care in Wales thrives now and for future generations;"
  • "ZipFarming is concerned with the research, development and commercialisation of AI-led ecosystem and farm services that when combined with satellite location, can enable payment or credit services to farmers;" and 
  • ZipMobility which "enables intelligent mobility services for UK agriculture and also off-road rural supply-chains in the developing world. "
AberInnovation has also staged a wide range of events ranging from agritech to R & D tax credits and it publishes a very interesting blog.

These are very exciting developments and I should like to help promote the project, its tenants, members and wider community if I can.  Over the last three years, I have given talks and held pro bono intellectual property clinics at M-SParc, the Menai Science Park at Gaerwen.  I have helped to arrange and chaired M-SParc's contributions to World Intellectual Property Day in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Students and faculty from Bangor University law school have attended at least one of these events (see IP Database Searches and Understanding Specifications 30 Nov 2019).  I kept in contact via Zoom all through the pandemic speaking to the markers group Ffiws and Gogledd Creadigol.  On 11 Nov 2021, I shall chair a seminar on IP for scale-ups which will be streamed live over the internet and may well be of use to AberInnovation, its tenants, members and community,  It would be great to do the same sort of thing in Aberystwyth.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article may contact me on 020 7404 5252 during normal UK business hours or send me a message through my contact form at other times.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

IP Strategy to Scale-Up


Author Worthhog Licence CC BY-SA 3.0 Source Wikimedia Commons

The transition of a business from start-up to scale-up is often described as a "chasm".  That is because most scale-ups are very different from start-ups in terms of governance, marketing and funding.  One obvious difference is that start-ups can be funded by their founders themselves, possibly with the support of friends and family and maybe some grants or soft loans whereas scale-ups usually need investment from third parties such as angels, venture capitalists and in a few rare cases the AIM.

There is also a chasm in attitude towards intellectual property.  Jag Singh, Managing Director of Techstars in Berlin, wrote in How startups and SMEs should think about IP: an investor's perspective in the June 2021 WIPO Magazine
"Over the last 15 years, first as an entrepreneur and now as an investor, I’ve seen many award-winning ventures end up in the global startup graveyard. Why? In large part, because very few of them secured intellectual property (IP) rights to protect their business assets."

He explained that that was because of an inadequate understanding of IP and a belief that IP protection is inordinately expensive.  For many start-ups, IP is something that is nice to have but for those who invest in a scale-up adequate IP protection is crucial.   Without such protection, it is only too easy for a predator to swallow a market or technology that has been carefully developed by the start-up. Specialist advice and representation do not come cheap but, as Singh also observed in his article, failure to protect a business's brands, designs, technology and creative output comes with an enormous price tag.  

However, there is such a thing as having too much IP.   In my career at the patent bar, I have seen far more business failures resulting from having too much IP protection than from having too little  That is because businesses apply for patents they will never work, trade marks where they have no trade and designs for products they will never put into production.   That wastes resources because registrations have to be renewed, policed and occasionally defended and enforced. A crisis occurs when those costs amount to more than the company can afford.

To avoid either extreme businesses need to devise IP strategies and integrate those strategies into their business plans. According to Singh, that is one of the indicators for which investors look when deciding whether or not to invest in a business:

"In the modern economy, IP assets often drive current and future revenues, so investors like to see that entrepreneurs have integrated IP rights into their business plans. Evidence of some kind of convincing approach to IP will, at the very least, mean that companies are better aligned with investors on the big question of how to sell the company for billions of dollars one day."

An IP strategy should, of course, take account of a company's research and development and marketing the aims and costs of which should also feature in its business plan.

As every business is different every business's IP strategy should be tailored to its specific needs. In a tech company, the emphasis may be on patenting and trade secrecy.   If the company offers a new service it will focus on branding, data and business format.  The starting point should be the intellectual assets that the business already has and those that it intends to develop.  That will usually require an intellectual asset audit and sometimes specialist valuation.  The costs of patenting and trade mark and design registration should be factored in. Consideration should be given not only to the UK but also to the countries in which the scale-up expects to do business or from where it anticipates competition.  The strategy should provide for validity challenges and infringement actions and make arrangements for deploying an effective response.  Often it is useful to consult an IP strategist when devising the strategy. Ideally, the IP strategist should be someone other than the professional who is already prosecuting your patent, trade mark or design registration applications (see Jane Lambert What is Intellectual Property Strategy?  Updated 1 Sept 2017 NIPC Law).

On 11 Nov 2021, I will chair a seminar at the Menai Science Park (M-SParc) called "Scaling Up - Wales Enterprise Day" that will discuss how start-ups can leap across the chasm to become scale-ups.  Emily Roberts and I have assembled a panel of experts on funding, intellectual asset valuation, scale-ups, patenting and the law.   Edward French of Pinpoint Capital will tell us what VCs and angels look for in a scale-up.  Alison Orr of Inngot will discuss intellectual asset valuation and leverage.  One of BICInnovation's scale-up specialists will talk about growth strategies.  Sean Thomas of Thomas Harrison will outline the patenting and trade mark and design issues in scaling up.  Andrea Knox of Knox Commercial Solicitors will address due diligence, shareholders' agreements and other matters. If you can reach M-SParc by 12:00 on 11 Nov you can attend in person.   Otherwise, you can follow it online.  Either way, you will need to register through Eventbrite.

Later on 11 Nov 2021 there will be a pitching event for businesses that want to become scale-ups before real investors which will also take place before a live audience at M-SParc and streamed online.  This is a unique opportunity to watch angels and possibly other investors in action.   Again, if you can make it to the park by 16:00 you can attend in person.  Alternatively, you can watch over the Internet.  Again, you will need to register with Eventbrite

Anyone wishing to discuss this article further may call me on 020 7494 5252 during normal office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Alternatives to Patenting

UK Patent Office at Newport
Crown Copyright   Licence  Open Government Licence

Jane Lambert

A patent offers the most comprehensive protection of new technology.  It confers a monopoly that can last for up to 20 years of the manufacture, disposal, marketing, use, importation or keeping of a new product or the use of a new process including a monopoly of the disposal, marketing, use, importation or keeping of any product obtained directly from the process.

However, such monopolies are not granted lightly.  Every invention is examined for novelty, inventiveness, utility and compliance with the relevant legislation.  That is a lengthy and complex process for which an applicant will almost certainly require the assistance of a patent attorney and, in some cases, patent counsel.  According to the guidance Patenting Your Invention only 1 in 20 applicants gets a patent without professional help.   Such help does not come cheap.   The same guidance note states that an application for a patent for the UK alone typically costs £4,000.  If the application is granted there are renewal fees which in many countries rise throughout the term of the patent.  If the validity of the patent is challenged or the patent is infringed the cost of invalidity or infringement proceedings can run into many hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds

A condition of the grant of a patent is that the specification must disclose the invention in a manner that is clear enough and complete enough for the invention to be performed by a person skilled in the art.  Should the application be refused or should a granted patent be revoked, anyone in the world may make, market, distribute or use the invention. Indeed, anyone in a country in which patent protection has not been obtained may freely work that invention.

Not every invention can be patented.   S.1 (2) of the Patents Act 1977 excludes from patentability:
"(a) a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method;
(b) a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work or any other aesthetic creation whatsoever;
(c) a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer;
(d) the presentation of information."

That exclusion covers great swathes of innovation in our increasingly services orientated internet-based economy.    Happily, there are other ways of protecting a new technology.   

If the invention cannot easily be reverse engineered it may be better to keep it secret.   The law of confidence bolstered recently by the Trade Secrets Directive prevents unauthorized use or disclosure of secret technical or commercial information.   A restriction on unauthorized use or disclosure lasts until the information is in the public domain.    In some cases, that can be a very long time.   The recipe for Coca Cola has been kept secret for more than a century and the recipe for Chartreuse for very much longer. The information has to be secret, it must have some inherent value and it must be imparted in circumstances giving rise to an obligation of confidence. Usually, that means a confidentiality agreement but there are other circumstances where an obligation of confidence will be implied.  For instance, a patent attorney is bound by such an obligation when he or she advises an inventor on the patentability of a new invention.  The information technology industry, in particular, relies heavily on trade secrecy law to protect algorithms, source codes and other unpublished information. 

Many innovative new products, particularly in the consumer electronics, fashion and beauty, toys and novelty industries, have a very short shelf life.   For them, short term protection from copying is enough. The UK is one of a very small number of countries that protects "the design of the shape or configuration (whether internal or external) of the whole or part of an article" from unlicensed reproduction.   Such protection, known as "unregistered design right" subsists automatically in original designs.  There is no need for examination, registration or professional help.   Design right protection can last up to 15 years if the design is not exploited by the marketing of articles made to the design or 10 years where it has.    However, in the last 5 years of the design right term, anyone in the world can apply to the design right owner for a licence to use the design as of right.  Any dispute over the terms of the licence can be settled by the Intellectual Property Office.

The design of semiconductor chips is protected in the UK by a modified form of design right under The Design Right (Semiconductor Topographies) Regulations 1989 as amended by The Design Right (Semiconductor Topographies) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018.   The main differences lie in the qualifying countries, the term of design right and the exclusion of the licence of right provisions.

Although computer programs as such cannot be patented, computer programs, preparatory design material for computer programs and databases are specifically included in the definition of "literary work".  Copyright subsists automatically in original literary works and lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.   There is no need for registration in the UK or most other countries.    It is however important to note that copyright provides protection against copying.  It does not prevent the making of a similar or even identical work provided that there has been no copying of or reference to the copyright work.   IT and many other industries that supply goods and services over the internet rely heavily on copyright.

The breeding of new varieties of seeds and plants is an increasingly important technology in view of climate change.  In the USA and some other countries, it is possible to obtain plant patents (see General Information About 35 U.S.C. 161 Plant Patents on the US Patents and Trademark Office website).  In the UK plant breeders' rights are protected by registration with the Plant Variety Rights Office under the Plant Varieties Act 1997 (see Plant Breeders' Rights).  

It is important to bear in mind that consumers are often drawn to a new product by its shape or reputation rather than the technology under the hood.   Designs of new products with individual character can be registered under the Registered Designs Act 1949 for up to 25 years.  They are also protected by unregistered design rights and a new supplementary unregistered design right.   The surface decoration of a fabric, wall covering or other product can usually be protected from copying by copyright.  Occasionally, the article itself qualifies for protection as a work of artistic craftsmanship.    The reputation of a product or service is its brand.  Brands are protected in the UK by the registration of their name, logo or other indicia as a trade mark and by the common law of passing off.

 Anyone requiring additional information on any of those matters should fill in the following form.