Dr Jennifer Bailey
Dr Jennifer Bailey, a senior associate at Marks & Clerk’s Birmingham office, says an Intellectual Property strategy is crucial, especially in such a fast-growing, competitive and lucrative global sector as healthcare.
Greater Birmingham’s life sciences economy has an international reputation for the quality of its research, and partnerships between its academic institutions and the NHS have already spawned an array of healthcare innovations; from drugs and treatments to medical devices and diagnostics.
However, the R&D teams, entrepreneurs and academics whose talent delivers these breakthroughs must always ensure their bright ideas are legally protected against predatory rivals.
Marks & Clerk is one of the UK’s largest firms of patent and trade mark attorneys, and was established in Birmingham in the late 19th century. Co-founder George Marks designed the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway, and astutely realised that his designs and inventions, like his innovative funicular design, would be stolen by others – If they weren’t protected.
“Put simply, it’s vital for people to realise what areas of their research can be protected, what can’t, how a patent can help defend a company’s market share, and how the certainty which a patent offers can be a powerful tool to attract external investors,” says Bailey.
She completed her PhD in molecular microbiology at the University of Birmingham, before qualifying as a Chartered Patent Attorney in the UK in 2012, and as a European Patent Attorney a year later. Bailey was promoted to her current position last August, and it’s easy to see why her refreshing ability to understand the intricacies of complex business sectors and sophisticated IP issues, and to explain both in everyday language, appeals to her clients, which include the University of Birmingham, SMEs, global corporations and law firms around the world.
“The University of Birmingham is a long-standing client. One of the reasons our relationship with them has continued is that we understand the competing interests that all universities face; the need to protect commercial and intellectual interests versus the need of academics to publish.” says Bailey. “We work very closely with Alta Innovations, which is the University of Birmingham’s commercialisation arm, and also with academics to understand their inventions and help the university to maximise the commercial value of its research.
“With all clients though, we’re trying to discover if an invention or bright idea might be ‘novel’ and ‘inventive’, to judge what protection it could be given, and to help our clients navigate the complex patent application process.
“Sometimes, we might have to file a patent application with less information than is ideal, for example prior to a product launch or conference, since it is critical that inventors do not disclose their inventions to the public before their application is filed.
“Equally, there are other occasions when we can work with companies and inventors to help them plan experiments which will support their patent application, or to see if there are any other aspects of their research that could potentially be patented.
“People sometimes think that because they have acquired a patent, they can do anything they like. However, it is also important to consider whether, by carrying out your invention, you might infringe rights owned by others.”
To the uninitiated, patents are something which purely protect products, but that isn’t so, as Bailey explains. “A patent might be for new uses of an existing product, a new method of production, or even a new method of diagnosis. There are also issues around geography, as patents are territorial, and the laws in each jurisdiction differ, particularly for medical inventions relating to therapeutics, diagnostics and DNA.
“The life of a patent can be up to 20 years, so when making decisions about filing a patent application you need to look several years down the line. An IP strategy therefore needs to be carefully considered and coherent. IP can be complex, but could potentially provide significant value to a business if done well.”