Can you tell us about some of the biggest professional challenges you have faced – and what others can learn from how you overcame these?
When I joined the profession over 10 years ago, I already had a strong technical background and I expected the main challenge to be learning patent law, but my years in academia well-equipped me for that task. In fact, my biggest challenge was to gain a good understanding of the commercial drivers underpinning IP strategy, which required a willingness to take the time to immerse myself in my clients’ businesses, to ask questions and understand their strategy and to consider how to apply my professional skills, not in the abstract but as a tool to help them achieve their goals. This commercial focus has stood me in good stead throughout my career, as an IP attorney’s remit grows every year, and simply providing legal advice in isolation is not enough. Every new situation or task is an opportunity to learn and to find new and creative ways to support your clients.
How have work practices been affected by changes in 2020, including the covid- 19 pandemic?
From a logistical perspective, it is imperative to be creative in how we engage with clients and patent offices around the world. This includes flexible use of online communication platforms where possible. Where official requirements lag, there is a need to go above and beyond and find imaginative ways to meet these requirements while keeping clients and staff safe.
In terms of innovation, while larger companies are typically better insulated against the shocks of the pandemic, SMEs are often trying to balance budgetary constraints resulting from the current economic challenges with a need to position themselves for the future. Stringent review of current IP portfolios to identify opportunities for cost saving and careful assessment of ongoing work to identify new prospects to strengthen pipelines is needed. A focused commercial mindset is key.
How have client demands changed during the course of your career, and how do you expect them to change again in future?
Commercial awareness and the ability to tailor advice to the specific objectives of a client’s business are vital. There is no cookie-cutter approach – even the smallest start-ups expect bespoke advice. As markets for life sciences technology expand, clients demand expertise that matches their global ambitions, meaning that extensive knowledge of global IP practices and strong relationships with attorneys in other jurisdictions is essential. Another change is the move towards an ‘always on’ culture. This has been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic, where many companies in the vaccine space are vying for position and any delay can mean the difference between success and failure.
What are the key characteristics of a truly global IP strategy?
Commercial focus, forward-thinking and adaptability are essential characteristics of a global IP strategy. Identifying key market territories is necessary to determine where coverage is required and an understanding of the IP landscape – particularly for competitors – helps direct research and further filings of a business and identify where contentious action may be advisable to clear a path to market or to establish/strengthen a company’s unique selling point. While costs generally mean that a streamlined approach is desirable, the complexity of IP law means that it is often not possible to take a single approach across all key jurisdictions. Jurisdictional differences in key territories must be taken into account at the outset, allowing scope for flexibility and responsiveness to these differences to be built into patent specifications. Regular review of a company’s IP portfolio is also vital – markets and consumer needs change, new players appear and existing competitors may fall away.
Finally, in what ways do you expect IP governance, strategy and management to change over the next five years – particularly in the life sciences space – and what can companies do to prepare?
I expect the trend for the increasingly central role of intellectual property in life science innovators to continue, leading to ever-closer integration with overall business strategy and embedment within organisations. Coupled with this, the need for flexibility will drive a dynamic approach and these two drivers will need careful balancing. I also expect to see more emphasis on collaborative projects, particularly with universities, to allow companies access to cutting-edge research while managing risk. Further, it will be interesting to see if and how UK IP law diverges from EU law post-Brexit and how this affects global IP strategies.
Anna Gregson is a partner in Mathys & Squire’s life sciences team. She has a formidable background in biochemistry and biotechnology, with over 10 years’ experience in providing strategic IP advice relating to cell and gene therapies, vaccine technologies, antibodies, viruses and virus-like particles, siRNA technology, biomarkers and diagnostics, expression systems, recombinant protein technology and therapeutics. Dr Gregson also has significant experience in the agri-tech field, including transgenic plant technology and biopesticides, and plant variety rights.
Click here to see her IAM 300 2020 profile.