Peter Bittner, intellectual property specialist at the International Institute for IP management, is an expert of the FET Briefing project supporting FET-funded projects on their way to innovation.
Collaboration and innovation go hand in hand. Collaborative projects are so because they can capitalise on the strengths of each partner and foster greater innovation through sharing costs and resources. But how do individual project partners claim what they have designed and developed? How do they stake a claim on the brain work accomplished and reap the benefits afterwards?
These were some of the issues put to Peter Bittner, intellectual property specialist at the International Institute for IP management, who recently delivered a webinar and interview as part of FET Briefing, a project that helps FET-funded projects in their exploitation strategies through training and workshops.
To present IP in simple terms, Mr Bittner highlights the difference between a tangible asset such as a car and a nontangible asset, such as a novel concept or idea. A car buyer gains ownership of a car and can then use it at will. However, for something intangible such as an innovative concept, ownership means something quite different. And that’s where the idea of IP assets comes in with a set of mechanisms such as patents, copyrights, trademarks and designs.
One key difference Mr Bittner is keen to point out is that IP is about assets rather than rights. This is because it is possible to own a certain technical concept within a physical device through a patent, but it doesn’t mean the patent holder owns the other concepts at play within the same device. The economic mechanism is therefore different from that of physical things such as a car where the owner has the right to drive it. Another key difference is that unlike a car, which depreciates with use over time, IP assets can be used by multiple parties, which increases its value the more it is used.
With collaborative initiatives such as EU-funded projects, IP should be considered at an early stage. According to Mr Bittner, consortium agreements need to make sufficient provisions for handling IP among the partners to avoid infighting later on. Furthermore, IP claims must be based on novelty, not on existing concepts known as “prior art”. The more time goes by, then a partner’s concept may lose its novelty factor and slide into prior art. However, the partner needs to be able to show how their concept can be used; otherwise the patent application may not be approved. So, too late, your concept becomes “prior art”, too early, you can’t show how your concept can be implemented. This balancing act therefore needs to be addressed upfront.
Another reason to address IP at an early stage is the high publication risk. This is particularly relevant to H2020 European projects as much emphasis goes on dissemination of the knowledge generated. On this Mr Bittner says: “I think that any research-driven organisation always runs a high publication risk because it is driven by the goal to publish massively and that in the academic world, papers are valued more highly than patents. But once you publish something, you can’t protect it any more“.
As part of the FET Briefing services, Mr Bittner, who generally works as an IP attorney, mentored a biotech partner who was part of a FET-funded project. The organisation had developed new software based on artificial intelligence for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease but they needed advice about how to protect their innovation. The mentoring involved four stages: awareness of OP strategy, assessment of protection potential, understanding the tech features and defining the subject matter to be protected. This last item was about “protecting what’s worth protecting, rather than simply protecting what’s protectable” according to Mr Bittner. Indeed, the partner was able to make a claim on the diagnostic support method but also on the training method for the neural network. From these various stages, an IP roadmap was drafted so that the project could navigate the rest of the process during the project.