Good ideas need protection

Good ideas need protection

Dehns are experts at making sure intellectual property is secured, as Sam Dewhurst tells BQ’s Suzy Jackson

Dehns Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys have been securing and protecting Intellectual Property (IP) rights since 1920. “We’re now one of the biggest firms in Europe, with more than 200 people across seven offices,” says Sam Dewhurst, head of the Manchester office. “We provide and implement strategic advice on a wide range of IP issues, to help keep our clients ideas safe and maximise their potential.”

“Our head office is in London, founded there almost 100 years ago,” he continues. “We have staff in London, Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, and because the European Patent Office is in Munich we’ve had an office there since 1979. Due to increasing levels of business in Manchester and the North West, we recently moved from our original Manchester office to larger and more central premises. “

Top tier ranked by all leading IP and legal directories, clients range from large, multinational corporations to small and medium sized businesses and from universities, spin-outs and start-ups to private inventors.

“We advise on all the commercial IP issues that can be central for many businesses,” Sam says, citing that these are issues that can affect a wide range of people and organisations. “We work across the entire range of technology; we have people who specialise in engineering technologies, in chemistry and pharmaceuticals, and in bio-tech amongst others; more than 40% of our attorneys have PhDs in these areas” Sam says.

Filing more than 5,750 UK, European and International patent and trade mark applications each year, Dehns specialise in innovation – as you’d expect from a firm of their nature. In 2016 the firm filed the joint highest number of European Patent applications among all European Patent Attorney firms.

The European Patent Office in Munich supports innovation, competitiveness and economic growth across Europe by delivering services under the European Patent Convention. At its core is the search and examination of patent applications and the grant of European patents. They also house the Boards of Appeal, who oversee around 2,500 appeals each year.

Dehns ‘combination of experience and commercial awareness enables them to offer advice in the fields of patents, trade marks and designs. “It can take a lot of time, and a lot of energy; but these things can be very commercially valuable,” Sam says, and “businesses will fight with fortitude for what they believe to be right. Certain clients might have one or two patents that are very valuable and they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect them.” Not surprising when IP can be one of a business’s most valuable assets, although this is often not appreciated until it is too late.

Dehns Manchester office opened in 2015, with a small office in Manchester Business Park right by the airport, home to just Sam for a while. “When we first opened it was just me. It was April 2017 when we moved to the city centre. We’ve grown steadily, and still have a growing team.”

Why Manchester? Sam explains that the history and heritage of the firm: “We’re a southern-centric business, historically, with London, Brighton and Oxford our main centres, but there was a big chunk of the country that we thought we could serve more effectively.

“Manchester is booming, it’s growing all the time and is viewed as the “Powerhouse of the North”. There’s a staggering amount of innovation here, with reports showing it’s one of the most innovative places in the country which is helping to generate substantial inward investment. This is perfectly aligned with our business growth strategy.”

And he’s right, of course. Manchester has been named as the third most active tech city in the UK, according to the UK Tech Innovation Index. Manchester also ranked highly for creative industries, innovation, and Artificial Intelligence. And a £33m investment in the Manchester Business School means it will further enhance the city’s reputation for providing high-flying young professionals – which attracts so many employers to Manchester.

Research has also found that Manchester creates 79 new businesses per 10,000 population, which is 58% percent higher than the UK average, at just 50 new businesses.

“It’s becoming a centre for the whole of the North of England, and so on that basis it was an easy decision to open here,” Sam continues. “The facilities for what we’re doing are great, the transport links are good, the people are outstanding – it’s relatively easy to recruit people with the skills that we need. It’s great to see investment in innovation here, in a historically innovative city.

“We’re here to support businesses with innovation; trying to create value in people’s intellectual property and support businesses."

Sam himself didn’t start out studying anything legal, as had been my assumption. Like of the vast majority of his colleagues, his background is actually technical: “My undergraduate degree was in physics at the University of Manchester, and then I did a PhD.” Originally from Lancashire, he completed his PhD at Cambridge University in semiconductor physics, working on semiconductor quantum dots, single photon sources, photonic crystals and related technologies, and their uses in photonics and quantum information processing applications. 

How did he make the change from a narrow specialism at PhD level to becoming a UK and European patent attorney?

“I was always interested in science and technology, but when I did the research for the PhD - an experimental, commercially focussed PhD - I became very frustrated,” Sam says, honestly. “I found that I liked the ideas about technology, but I didn’t like the day to day ‘doing’ of it. Ideas are simple and straightforward – reality is much messier, and doesn’t often correspond to our ideas!”

And so, becoming a patent attorney allowed Sam to stay with the theory often associated with the protection of intellectual property. Sam’s experience means he now specialises in high tech inventions in physics and computer technologies, including medical devices, thanks to the on-the-job experience he’s had working in Brighton and Manchester.

“Rather than working for three or more years on a single idea, I can work on three different ideas in a single day. I have many different clients all working in different areas of technology, and I find it really interesting to see how people are working at the cutting edge of technology – it’s all brand-new stuff, just by the nature of the job I’m doing!”

New ideas create intellectual property. “Everything we do is based around IP; around people’s creativity. Sometimes that can be the only thing that separates them from their competitors” So how do you get a business to understand the value that exists within their business in their IP?

“We regularly give advice on what is possible; with an IP review, we can identify the best way to help a business.”

“From people who have a single idea or a brand that they want to get value from, to make sure they’re the legal owner of what they’ve created, through the entire range of sizes and types of organisation, we can help businesses with their IP” Sam says  “We understand the issues companies face when commercialising their ideas, and appreciate the importance of covering all potential aspects relating to a new technology. In this way we are able to maximise the value of the IP to the company, for example when seeking investment or when licensing the technology, and ultimately help them grow” Sam adds.

And, with a still-unclear Brexit on the horizon, should businesses be concerned about how that affects the protection of their intellectual property? “There shouldn’t be any significant change to the patent side of our work,” Sam tells us. “The European Patent Office is not an EU institution; in effect, patents don’t change, so we’ll still be able to provide the same services for our UK and international clients.

“There might be some technical changes to the protection of designs and trade marks, and we may need to make separate UK and European design or trade mark registrations for clients, but none of those things should prevent people from seeking to protect their intellectual property now.”

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T: +44 (0)161 209 3434
E: sdewhurst@dehns.com
A: Peter House, Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 5AN