Taking a Second Look at Intellectual Property

“I was asked the write the following opinion piece in the lead up to the NE Satellite Applications conference on Thursday”

Intellectual Property (IP) is key to protecting your innovation but for the many companies in our sector where that innovation is in their software this has been their weakest link as they have not been able to patent their ideas but have had to rely on copyright.  This can be a problem as while a patent protects the actual idea copyright will only protect the actual code and will not prevent someone writing their own software to do the same thing. Over the last 18 months or so however there have been changes in how patent offices around the world are interpreting the law and it may be that something you believed was not patentable may now be so.  This is an evolving area, so it is worth keeping your strategy under review.

Another area that is particularly strong in the NE is manufacturing.  There are tremendous opportunities for collaboration between SMEs, our world class universities and these established manufacturing companies to develop new products for the space sector.  Obviously in any multiparty arrangement you need to have a contract that sets out who owns any invention coming out of the project and who can use the technology and for what but the potential to use that technology in other sectors is often overlooked and could be an important income stream if it were to be licensed out.  If the technology, you are bringing into a collaboration has been developed over a long period or with the involvement of many other people it may also be beneficial to consider undertaking an IP audit to be certain that you actually own the IP or have the right to enter into the collaboration.  This exercise may be particularly useful for long established companies as it may also identify old or abandoned technologies that can be repositioned to take advantage of new opportunities and which can perhaps be the subject of fresh IP protection.

The Centre of Excellence is keen to bring together all sorts of organisations from across the region and the port project has shown what can be achieved.  The next step of course is what more can we do?  The recent Satuccino link up is just one way of reaching out to other space and satellite clusters around the UK where there are even more collaboration opportunities.  Collaboration with organisations in other regions may also allow access to other funding streams so it pays to be open minded.

We are seeing some brilliant businesses here in the North East, from innovative launch technologies, to new cameras and sensors for use on satellites, to really clever ways of analysing and presenting the resulting data. Some of these will be discussed at the upcoming Into the Blue conference but this is only the beginning of what could be possible.  By using the best IP tools to protect all these exciting ideas we can build lasting businesses and lay the foundations for the next generation of innovation beyond that.

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