Mash-Hud Iqbal, Senior Associate of intellectual property specialists Marks & Clerk, explains why IP protection is a much bigger element of IoT success than many people realise, especially when it comes to nanotechnology.
OPINION Most people understand that the Internet of things (IoT) is set to revolutionise our work and personal lives, by bringing ever more devices into an intelligent, global network. But what’s less well-known is that nanotechnology will be key to this process, by enabling a proliferation of new technologies, such as smart surfaces and the nanoparticles that will underpin next-generation devices.
In the global race to be at the forefront of these developments, it’s encouraging to see investments being made in nanotechnology hubs, and in high-spec facilities for the fabrication of optoelectronic devices. There is significant momentum building behind graphene research, for example.
Yet unlocking success in the nanotech market demands more than just ideas and investments; understanding the intellectual property (IP) aspect of the technology is critical.
Many businesses assume that IP consists simply of filing patents and trademarks, and so its wider potential is easily ignored. But there is a lot more to IP than that, as this article will explain. Developing a robust IP strategy can be critical to the success or failure of a business, especially one that deals with emerging technologies, such as nanotech.
Small tech, big questions
As with any significant innovation, nanotechnology raises important IP questions. How to classify these new technologies, for example, and whether products developed at the atomic scale meet current IP requirements, such as novelty or ‘inventive step’?
While these can be tough to answer, the fact that some branches of nanotechnology (such as graphene) are highly emergent also presents significant opportunities.
If the next generation of nanotech gurus can get the IP right, then the limited availability of ‘prior art’ in the field – pre-existing knowledge that might limit the scope of a patent in a more established industry – could allow broad monopoly protection.
This would cover not only the patentee’s business, but also valid, relevant monopolies in ancillary, non-competing industries. Such opportunities could form the basis of lucrative revenue streams from licensing, with little risk posed to the patentee’s original business.
However, the flip side of this is the potential for overlapping patents and litigation. This is why well-drafted IP is vital to protect innovations in the space. Investing in this early may bring significant rewards down the line.
What is IP really?
IP comes in many forms, ranging from the well-known – such as patents, trademarks and copyright – to the less well-known, such as know-how, database rights, and integrated circuit topography rights.
Some of these IP rights exist automatically and for free. Others will need to be registered, and the process of doing so can be complicated.
Patents probably top the IP agenda for those working in the nanotech field. They are used to protect novel devices and technologies. However, capturing and explaining the essence of what makes an invention novel – and translating that into a successful patent application – can be challenging.
And that’s not all. Formulating a world-wide filing strategy is also important. This raises key questions of its own, such as where and when to file a patent application. The answers will largely depend on each individual business, so getting good advice early is essential.
But not everything in nanotech is about what happens at atomic level. Design rights will be crucial for protecting the particular shape or appearance of devices that rely on nanotechnology. Similarly, integrated circuit topography rights could be considered in certain countries.
Marking your territory
Another key IP area is trademarks. These are widely used to help protect the identities and values of countless products, but they also define a business in the public space, giving credibility to its products and embodying its reputation.
Even high-tech products such as smartphones – which are designed and built on patents – feature trademarks that may be crucial to their success. Any technologies spurred by the rise of nanotech will similarly be defined by them in the public realm, and by the reputation that those trademarks symbolise. Protecting them will be vital.
Then there is data, the oil in the IoT machine.
Database rights are one of the lesser known forms of IP, but they can be extremely valuable. The law says they could apply if there has been a “substantial investment” in obtaining, verifying, or presenting the contents of a database.
Given the broad applications of nanotechnology in fields such as medicine and computing, protecting and exploiting the IP inherent in data could be a key consideration for businesses emerging in this space.
Internet of Business says
There is a lot to consider for businesses looking to shape the future of the nanotech and IoT industries. Getting the IP right will ensure that it is the innovators who are rewarded, rather than the imitators. If entrepreneurs and organisations build IP into their business strategies early on, they will be well placed to capitalise on the enormous potential of nanotech.
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