You began professional life as an aeronautical engineer before retraining as a lawyer. What motivated such a dramatic career change and what advice would you give someone considering an equally big step?
Although keen on technology, engineering was never a natural fit for me. As a teenager my interests were broad but my school was academically strong on sciences, so I fell into studying engineering. Aeronautics is hard going when you do not have a passion for mathematics, so I suspected that I would not end up as an engineer. I was always aware of the law conversion course and when I started law school I knew it was the right choice.
If you have a clear calling, follow it. But if, like me, you do not, try not to worry about it. Work at things you might like and focus on doing those well. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for interesting opportunities.
You have moved from in-house back to private practice. What impact has this had on the way that you manage your practice?
I like to think that it makes me very client centric. Both Kraft/Mondelez and Barclays have sophisticated legal functions with some extremely bright lawyers. Those environments teach you what real value looks like from a legal services perspective. Naturally, you expect external counsel to deliver high-quality work that represents value to both the client and the firm. But the relationship needs to be a true partnership. A good firm will understand industry perspectives, horizon scan and issue spot for its clients, and will proactively think of ways to reduce cost and add value.
What has been the highlight of your professional career and why?
That is a difficult question. I have been fortunate to work on some fascinating and high-profile matters involving cutting-edge technology with some very capable people. I am incredibly proud to have been part of an excellent team at Barclays – especially as the industry underwent a dramatic digital transformation. However, I think that joining Wiggin will turn out to be a major highlight. I have always stayed close to the black letter law, and Wiggin allows me to apply my technical, legal and commercial experience from within a market-leading IP practice and alongside some of the United Kingdom’s best technology lawyers and industry specialists.
What impact do you expect emerging technologies to have on the IP landscape?
Quantum computing and deep-learning AI have had a lot of focus – science fiction becoming science reality will always capture the public imagination. Although applications are not yet widespread, these innovations raise interesting questions in areas such as copyright, trade secrets and patent law – for example, should AI be recognised as a patent inventor?
However, today’s digital world is generating more immediate problems, including in relation to the use of technology and data. The surge of data-led propositions is disrupting every industry. Data sets have grown and become well structured, and sophisticated information can be extracted using algorithms and machine learning, shifting business models and blurring industries. Engineering companies find themselves providing energy services, while electronics manufacturers are providing healthcare. Different resources provided by different companies are carefully woven together to create software platforms that offer multiple services. In a legal context making this work is an IP problem. Are the data sets trade secrets? Who owns what technology and how is it used and licensed? Advising on both commercial and contentious aspects of such an arrangement requires a high level of sophistication. IP lawyers need to understand the technology so that they can translate their clients’ issues into rights and obligations.
You sit on the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI) UK Council. What value do such organisations bring to the wider IP ecosystem and why should lawyers prioritise them?
AIPPI’s work is hugely valuable. It produces strong academic content and encourages thought leadership from across the IP profession, influencing policy, nationally and internationally. We also hold regular educational sessions on all areas of IP law and provide the opportunity to work and socialise with colleagues in the broader IP community.
I prioritise AIPPI activity because the benefits are real. I feel close to legal and policy-related industry developments. I have an expanding global network of friends and colleagues. And I have the chance to get under the skin of a specific area of law. For example, I am currently involved in considering how AI affects IP legislation.
With over 20 years’ experience as a lawyer, Calum Smyth specialises in technology-related IP matters including patent, software (copyright) and cybersecurity disputes and technology transactions. He helps clients of all sizes leverage value from their IP assets and has a specific interest in emerging technologies such a quantum computing, blockchain and AI. Mr Smyth previously led the IP function at Barclays Bank and sits on the UK Council of the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property.
Click here to see his IAM 300 2020 profile.