Innovation is the new black. Governments and industry alike are talking about the importance of it and trying to stimulate it. While in an increasingly competitive marketplace innovation is key to a business’ ability to develop and maintain an advantage, an innovation is only as good as your ability to exploit it. And I mean ‘exploit’ in the positive connotation of the word, to make full use of, and derive benefit from, an innovation. For intellectual property to be an effective commercial tool it needs to be effectively identified and managed. You need to know what you have that is worth protecting and why it needs to be protected.
There are a variety of intellectual property rights available to protect innovations, including patents, trade marks, industrial designs, copyright and plant breeders’ rights. (In some cases trade secrets may also be applicable, however, these have associated risks.) Typically of most importance are patents, trade marks and industrial designs. Trade marks provide legal protection for signs distinguishing the goods and services of one provider or manufacturer from those of another. Industrial designs protect the visual appearance of a product. The intellectual property right that underlies the functionality of an innovation (whether a new product, a process for making something or a method for doing something) is patent protection.
If a new innovation is to make it to market and be able to be exploited, some form of exclusivity is typically required to turn a good idea and a potentially useful innovation into a commercially viable product, process or method. Thus, intellectual property protection is an important consideration in product development and for gaining a competitive edge in a fast moving marketplace. But it is not only of relevance to entrepreneurs, but also to researchers with no intention to commercialise research themselves. Without the initial protection of a patent or patent application there is typically little or no incentive for a prospective investor, licensee or assignee to commit the time and money required to translate the results of important research into a viable product, process or method. Moreover, protecting intellectual property signals to investors a willingness and a commitment to seeing research translated into meaningful commercial (including clinical) outcomes and can provide a source of funding to pursue future research.
From a practical perspective, it is never too late to implement intellectual property strategies, and to focus not just on innovating but also on creating, protecting and exploiting intellectual property rights to ensure the full potential of your innovations can be realised.
Over the coming months we will be exploring a number of intellectual property issues of relevance to researchers and to business.
– Dr Gavin Recchia