Move to collaborate is positive but IP risks mustn't be overlooked

Published on 21/06/2018
Move to collaborate is positive but IP risks mustn't be overlooked Innovation-led businesses are increasingly choosing to work collaboratively with other businesses to gain a competitive edge and this trend seems set to continue. However, intellectual property (IP) rights must not be overlooked in the process.

The UK’s biopharma sector is involved in a great deal of research and development (R&D) activity – some of it part of wider EU-funded programmes and others undertaken as privately-funded initiatives, which are focused in niche areas of drug development or medical device innovation. 

This willingness to collaborate is positive and is helping to bring important new medicines and treatments to market more quickly, whilst supporting the UK’s economy. However, such activities can lead to increased risks, if the commercial interests of the partners involved are not properly protected. 

The point of disclosure is a critical moment for collaborators as once an invention or idea is shared with a third party, even as part of a defined agreement with a single supply chain partner, it may be too late to protect it. If this happens, a competitor could mount an objection, claiming that this represents ‘prior art’. 

While opening the door to more collaborative R&D can help to create commercial opportunities, particularly in situations where there is proven market demand, it is vital that technologies and processes are protected by a confidentiality agreement from the start. In doing so, the ownership of any technologies being applied as part of the collaboration is protected, ensuring the rights owner can continue to leverage value from them in the future through licensing agreements. Equally, it is clear who will own any rights generated by the ongoing R&D activity. 

Awareness of intellectual property rights and the commercial benefits they can bring to innovation-led businesses has gained recognition. In particular, the UK’s Patent Box regime has played a role in helping to raise awareness of the importance of patent protection and the tax relief that can be applied to profits generated by patented technologies. However, it is essential to ensure that any IP assets that might form part of a collaborative agreement are properly protected.

Dr Joanna Thurston is a partner and patent attorney at intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers LLP.

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