Conference report 2015: Losing the Patent Obsession

Sue Ratcliffe, IP Counsel, Swansea University and PraxisUnico Conference Committee member, reports on a topical session chaired by Sue Sundstrom, RTTP, Head of Technology Transfer, Bristol University and PraxisUnico Training Committee Member.

This proved to be a lively discussion as there were a number of patent attorneys at the session. A kick-off statement claimed that the IP system does not work for Technology Transfer offices, asserting that due to the lack of grace period, filing happens far too early.

Another view from the TTO side was that we need a system to enforce IP rather than going down the open access model. Some of the patent attorneys agreed with the idea of a grace period while others took the view that having a grace period would add to the uncertainty of the situation.

The discussion moved onto intangible IP such as trade secrets and how that could fit in with other forms of IP such as copyright. Various models were discussed but it became clear that different institutions were adopting varying models according to their research base and needs.

This lead onto contractual relations and how this could protect current IP as well as IP that would be generated in a research collaboration. One industry representative was very clear on the down-side of the patent system and how it was a difficult system to enforce and that his company was moving towards an open innovation route.

Trademarks and branding were discussed and the fact that having goodwill and relationships with businesses could be as valuable as the formal patent system because if both parties understood what they wanted then there was less of a likelihood of a partner acting dishonourably.

The take home message was that there is not a uniform approach to patents because it depends on the instruction. However building relationships and trust is as vital as the "stick" approach of enforcing patents. Patents may not always be the best route to follow as there are many other options, but what is important is having an IP strategy and vision.