The UK’s Supreme Court today issued its judgment in Shanks v Unilever, a long-running dispute regarding the issue of compensation of employees for inventions made during the course of their normal duties.

In deciding that an inventor was entitled to an additional £2 million in compensation, the court’s ruling potentially signifies a more inventor-friendly approach to this topic, particularly in the case of large companies or corporate groups having large overall profits much larger than those attributable to any particular invention and its related patents. However, the detailed commercial context will always need to be scrutinised closely in determining whether additional compensation is warranted.

In Shanks v Unilever, Professor Shanks had been employed as a researcher by Unilever UK Central Resources Ltd (CRL) for four years in the 1980s. During this time he came up with an invention which ultimately became widely used in the field of blood glucose testing. The rights in the invention were assigned from CRL to other companies in the Unilever group for consideration of £100. The invention was the subject of a European patent application and various corresponding foreign applications which were filed in the names of those Unilever companies. Unilever was not itself interested in developing a glucose testing business but ultimately made an estimated £24.3 million from a combination of licenses under the patents and the sale of the patent-holding company.

Under UK law, employee inventors are entitled to additional compensation if an invention protected by a patent is ‘of outstanding benefit’ to the employer, having regard to ‘the size and nature of the employer’s undertaking’. The Supreme Court in Shanks v Unilever overturned earlier findings by the Intellectual Property Office, the High Court, and the Court of Appeal, each of which had found that the benefit of £24.3 million was not ‘outstanding’. In reaching this conclusion, the court found that the earlier decisions had erred in considering the benefit only in the context of the business activities and profits of the Unilever group as a whole, rather than in the context of the subsidiary which employed the inventor. The court held that, where a group operates a research-based subsidiary for the benefit of the whole group and the work results in patents which are assigned to other group members for their benefit, the focus of the inquiry must be the extent of the benefit of that patent to the group in comparison to benefits derived by the group from other patents arising from research carried out by the same subsidiary. In these circumstances, Prof. Shanks’ invention was to be considered ‘outstanding’ and additional compensation was appropriate.

The Supreme Court’s judgment clarifies the issues to be considered when identifying what is meant by the ‘undertaking’ of an employer and when determining whether an invention is to be considered of ‘outstanding benefit’. In particular, the judgment appears to emphasise that parties should be careful to avoid an analysis which arrives at the conclusion that an employer is ‘too big to pay’, for example in concluding that a patent has not been of ‘outstanding benefit’ merely because it has had no significant impact on overall profitability or sale value. In this respect, the judgment potentially signifies a lower bar for awarding compensation than has previously been adopted, although it is clear that the specific commercial context and facts will be crucial in any given case.

For further details on this case, or to learn more about our patent expertise in the life sciences sector, contact the author, Alexander Robinson, or a member of our specialist team.

The extended version of this article has been published by The Commercial Litigation Journal – available here.

In the race to open the market for connected and autonomous vehicles, Mathys & Squire managing associate and patent attorney Andrew White looks at the competing technologies in this article for Vehicle Electronics Magazine.

In August this year, Continental, Europe’s largest auto technology supplier, announced it would stop investing in parts for petrol and diesel engines as it positions itself for rapid growth in cleaner transportation amid declining global production of cars and lorries.

In July, Ford and Volkswagen (VW) announced a significant expansion of their global collaboration on electric vehicles and self-driving technology, as they look to manage the storms battering the global auto industry.

VW will invest $2.6bn in Argo AI, the Ford-backed driverless technology start-up, and will begin testing self-driving cars in Europe, while Ford will build a mass-produced electric vehicle in Europe using VW’s in-house development and manufacturing system for battery cars, promising savings for both companies in duplicated investment costs.

Further, Toyota and Suzuki announced in August that they would deepen their existing alliance and take stakes in each other’s businesses to bear the costs of developing autonomous vehicle technology.

Connected vehicles

It is no surprise that as vehicles use smarter technology, they need to adopt industry-accepted communication protocols to ensure interoperability, to communicate with one another and their external environment.

One of the most widely adopted protocols is the Can, which is now the ISO 11898-2 standard. It dates back to 1986 and can attain 1Mbit/s but, using the latest specification ISO-11898-2 2915, which uses flexible data rate operation (Can-FD), it can reach 12Mbit/s.

However, with the increased prevalence of on-vehicle safety systems such as adas providing functions including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems, radar and lidar sensors, and so on, such speeds are woefully inadequate. Furthermore, Can is limited to a wired system.

With more advanced safety systems, and with autonomous vehicles on the horizon, there is a need for vehicles to communicate wirelessly not only with each other, but also with their wider environment. These communication systems are generally labelled as vehicle to vehicle (V2V) or vehicle to anything (V2X), with the ‘anything’ including the wider environment such as infrastructure and pedestrians.

Of course, these systems have major implications for public safety and are governed by tight regulatory and network constraints. Furthermore, for those businesses that are quick to protect core IP in this area, this may represent a real opportunity to disrupt the entire automotive industry.


Over the years, two competing communication protocols have been developed. The first is Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC). This is an amendment to the IEEE 802.11 standard.

In short it is wifi for cars, but it has been adapted to be specifically suited to the automotive environment so has to have very low latency and be able to cope with extremely short windows in which it can exchange and transmit data.

The US Department of Transportation has been a big supporter of this system, having invested over $700m in its development, and a section of spectrum in the 5.9GHz band was allocated back in 1999. NXP has been actively pursuing DSRC technology, as have VW and Toyota having both trialled the technology.

Toyota announced in April 2018 that it would begin installation of DSRC technology in 2021, and General Motors began installing the technology in a small number of vehicles.

DSRC does, however, have shortcomings; its short range of 150 to 300m may not be large enough for safety-critical applications when considering vehicles travelling at speed. Collisions between messages from two devices may also occur when they are transmitted at the same time.

This coupled with a lack of sufficient coverage may have an impact on vehicle safety, despite the technology having been demonstrated to be highly effective.

Furthermore, a lack of commitment from the automotive industry, plus Donald Trump’s administration failing to push ahead with a mandate for the technology to be installed in all new vehicles, means DSRC hasn’t yet experienced a wide uptake and is perhaps falling out of favour with the industry, with Toyota announcing in April 2019 that it was going to abandon its plans to use DSRC.

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As an alternative to DSRC, many car makers are looking to 5G cellular, known as LTE-V2X, which is included in the latest 5G specification. In short, it makes use of the existing planned 5G infrastructure to enable high speed interactions at greater ranges than DSRC.

Qualcomm is very active in this area, with a V2X product based around its 9150 chipset developed in 2017. Working with the Chinese National Development & Reform Commission to achieve a target V2X network coverage rate of 90% in 2020, Qualcomm is also working with mobile network operators such as China Mobile.

One of the benefits of LTE-V2X is that it allows direct communication between enabled devices, meaning a signal doesn’t get held up travelling through the network. Ultimately, it may allow vehicles to see around corners.

LTE-V2X seems to be experiencing a warmer reception in the industry. Ford announced in January 2019 that it was going to deploy cellular V2X technology in all new US vehicles sold from 2022. Audi, BMW, Ford and Daimler, along with Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, have also all been trialling the technology.

As well as not requiring such extensive and expensive infrastructure upgrades, another selling point for LTE-V2X is that many car makers would likely want to add in some cellular network capacity in their vehicles anyway, and using LTE-V2X may allow both to be done with only one chipset.

The fact that there are two main competing protocols has led many in the industry to adopt a wait-and-see approach. However, with the ongoing rollout of 5G infrastructure, and the commitments made by car makers to use LTE-V2X technology, there is a chance the winner will soon emerge from this battle over connected vehicles and perhaps these vehicles will be travelling on roads in the very near future.

IP strategy

Many businesses will have invested heavily in research and development (R&D) and protecting their IP. For example, through patents, which is a way of helping preserve their R&D investment and achieve their long-term strategic goals.

The protection of core strategic IP relating to communications protocols is nothing new – indeed it has been around for decades, and covers everything from GSM to 5G.

When it comes to telecommunications protocols, collaboration and interoperability are extremely important – a Nokia handset must communicate with Ericsson equipment, for example. This generally results in competing businesses signing up to standards setting organisations (SSOs), such as the Etsi or the 3GPP.

Once businesses are signed up to these SSOs, they must set particular agreed technical standards to ensure interoperability. If a business has patents that cover the technology in a standard – what is known in the field as a standards essential patent – then the business, as a condition of its membership of the SSO, agrees to license the technology covered by that patent on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms.

The consequences of businesses not protecting IP may be severe. In the telecoms field, many non-practising entities or trolls have acquired large patent portfolios they are aggressively asserting. Many cars already encompass telecommunication technology – such as involving wifi, 3G or 4G technology – that is the subject of various different patents.

The trolls are very experienced and may exploit inexperienced automotive suppliers and OEMs, often pressuring them to accept the terms of an unfair licence agreement rather than face litigation. These licence agreements may fall foul of the FRAND terms that those businesses are required to meet, or may not even cover what is being asserted.

While automotive companies have not typically been targeted by troll patent holders to date, things seem likely to change. A report by Managing IP in 2018 indicated that 95% of respondents considered that IP would play an important role in the development of the automotive sector over the next five years, with 86% indicating that they expect to see more litigation over IP rights.

In times of disruption such as these, there may be fantastic opportunities for businesses that are quick to protect key strategic IP to obtain a controlling position in the market. Whether this comes from a forward-looking automotive company protecting important strategic IP relating to LTE-V2X, or from a well-established telecoms company, only time will tell.

One thing is certain – patenting activity in this area is on the up and is likely to affect everyone in the automotive industry in the race to get connected and autonomous vehicles on the streets.

This article was originally published in the October 2019 edition of Vehicle Electronics Magazine (pp. 36-38).

We are delighted to announce the appointment of new partner Andreas Wietzke to our Munich office. See below the full news story published by JUVE Patent.

Mathys & Squire has announced the hire of Andreas Wietzke, a new partner for its Munich office. Wietzke joins the UK IP firm today, 15 October, around three months after it opened in the Bavarian capital. His move is the next step in a fresh continental strategy for Mathys & Squire.

Andreas Wietzke is a qualified patent attorney in Germany and Europe, and joins Mathys & Squire as a partner in its recently-opened Munich office. His expertise lies in prosecuting and enforcing patents. This is particularly in the fields of software and mechanical engineering.

The hire of Andreas Wietzke brings the total team number to five, and doubles the number of partners to two.

In July 2019, other Munich partner Gerold Fiesser led a team from Herzog Fiesser & Partner to the Mathys & Squire office in Germany. Giuditta Biagini, Lorraine Aleandri-Hachgenei and Kirstin Wenck joined Fiesser as associates.

Previously, Fiesser had been a founding partner at patent attorney firm Herzog Fiesser & Partner. “We want to establish Mathys & Squire as a truly European IP attorney firm,” says Fiesser. The German team has further plans to expand in the near future.

Wietzke joins Mathys & Squire from Munich-based patent attorney firm Bals & Vogel, which works in European and international cases. His departure leaves the firm with eight patent attorneys and four partners, two of whom are managing partners Rüdiger Bals and Andreas Vogel.

Andreas Wietzke had been considered by Mathys & Squire since before its expansion to Munich was announced. Currently, Bals & Vogel is taking steps to shift Wietzke’s cases to the firm’s remaining partners.

Brexit effect

Although the full-service IP firm already has a strong presence in the UK, with offices in London, Manchester, Cambridge, York, Brighton, Oxford and the Midlands, Mathys & Squire continues to develop its continental strategy.

The Munich office comes in addition to a team of one partner and two associates in Paris. The firm also has a presence in Luxembourg. Mathys & Squire now has 106 attorneys in Europe, as well as 30 technical assistants.

Senior partner at Mathys & Squire, Paul Cozens, says, “We have been able to expand in Munich so quickly due to the excellent reputation of Mathys & Squire, and Gerold Fiesser and his team. Post-Brexit, Andreas’ experience will enhance our expertise within the EU.”

This news story was originally published in JUVE Patent – click here to visit their website.

We are delighted to announce that Mathys & Squire continues to be ranked in Tier 1 for the 2020 edition of The Legal 500 – the definitive guide to the legal market.

Our continued focus on instilling a culture of creativity, innovation and adding value for all our clients through our first-class service is reflected in this top-tier ranking.

As well as a Tier 1 firm ranking for PATMA: Patent Attorneys, a number of our patent attorneys have been recommended for their expertise:

Chris Hamer ‘is always keen to provide support in whatever way the firm can, which is very useful for an in-house team that has several peaks of legal work and different priorities from time to time.’

Martin MacLean ‘is a real guru in the healthcare and pharmaceutical field, and brings his experience to bear in not only giving very wise legal advice, but also setting things in a commercial context.’

Anna Gregson ‘is simply outstanding. Professional, pragmatic, approachable and always on hand for advice.’

Catherine Booth ‘excels in: 1) understanding the business needs, 2) learning the technical details, 3) capturing relevant law, 4) persuasive communication both on paper and in person, 5) listening to and countering third parties in real time.’

Sean Leach ‘is technically brilliant and even R&D folks, who are PhDs in their specialist areas, have commended his grasp of new technologies.’

Craig Titmus ‘is highly knowledgeable and consistently meets incredibly tight deadlines.’

Jane Clark, Paul Cozens and Cambridge-based Alan MacDougall were also recommended in the guide.

Praise for Mathys & Squire’s patent practice includes:

‘The team has a unique blend of diversity of technology expertise combined with individual personal touch, which means that you get both the security that the science is fully understood, along with the in-depth relationship with a single key legal adviser. They are adaptive and responsive to the client’s needs, and very experienced in handling complex collaborative projects with several stakeholders. They also have outstanding commercial expertise, so always see the bigger picture.’

‘Mathys & Squire LLP is an excellent associate office for EPO patent matters. The team is efficient and responsive. They are in tune with the client’s needs and handle our requests in a professional and well-organised manner. Their experience makes it easy to entrust them with patent filings for UK as well as for EPO matters.’

‘Very professional, innovative, reliable and efficient.’

‘Very thorough in analysis, preparation and strategy for oppositions.’

Alongside our patent practice, Mathys & Squire’s trade mark team has also been ranked in the 2020 guide (PATMA: Trade Mark Attorneys), with partners Gary Johnston and Margaret Arnott featuring as recommended individuals: ‘Mathys & Squire LLP assists with the full spectrum of trade mark prosecution and since its acquisition of Coller IP in December 2017 is also able to offer a comprehensive trade mark valuation and commercialisation service. The group is experienced in assisting large multinationals and domestic start-ups alike, with an especially strong focus on the automotive sector as part of an overall diverse sector offering. The Manchester-based Gary Johnston and the London-based Margaret Arnott, who is dual-qualified as a solicitor and heads the litigation practice, direct the team. Associate Rebecca Tew joined from Marks & Clerk LLP to head up the newly opened Midlands office, which complements the firm’s already wide domestic footprint. The international offices are in Paris, Munich and Luxembourg.’

For full details of our rankings in The Legal 500 2020 guide, please click here.

The referral from the UK High Court to the CJEU regarding ‘third party SPCs’ represented a matter of significant interest to the biotech community. Our earlier commentary regarding this referral can be found here.

The referred question was as follows: “Does the SPC Regulation preclude the grant of an SPC to the proprietor of a basic patent in respect of a product which is the subject of a marketing authorisation held by a third party without that party’s consent?”

The CJEU has now provided a response to the referral (C-239/19) – unfortunately without providing an answer to the referred question.

The CJEU comments that the referral from the UK High Court was “manifestly inadmissible”, particularly as the question referred was hypothetical in the context of the UK proceedings which gave rise to the referral.

In particular, the CJEU noted that the justification provided for the referral was based on the following purely hypothetical set of circumstances: Genentech would appeal the decision declaring the claims of the basic patent to be invalid; the Court of Appeal would overturn that first instance decision; the Court of Appeal would then find it necessary to refer a question to the CJEU; and the Court of Appeal might, by that point, have lost its jurisdiction to refer such a question to the CJEU  because of the UK’s planned withdrawal from the EU.

The CJEU decided that these circumstances did not justify the request for a ruling on the referred question. Specifically, the CJEU comments that its ruling was not “necessary for the effective resolution” of the dispute.

Disappointingly the UK High Court’s question regarding ‘third party SPCs’ therefore remains unanswered for now. However, given the level of interest in this issue, and the possibility of MA holders utilising the arguments put forward by Eli Lilly in future SPC revocation actions, it seems likely that a referral to the CJEU along similar lines will be made in the future. As noted in the referral, there are ongoing contentious proceedings between Eli Lilly and Genentech in other EU jurisdictions – a future referral could therefore even originate from the same parties.

If you have any questions about this update or SPCs in general, please visit our specialist SPC page.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for our drinks reception in The Shard on Sunday 15 September to celebrate the AIPPI 2019 World Congress coming to London. The Mathys & Squire team was joined by over 300 IP professionals from across the globe throughout the day.

AIPPI is the world’s leading international organisation dedicated to the development and improvement of legal regimes for the protection of intellectual property (IP).

Mathys & Squire partners Caroline Warren, Michael Stott and Peter Arch will also be attending the various AIPPI panels and events during the course of the Congress and are happy to meet with other IP professionals during the event.

If you attended our drinks reception and would like to arrange a follow-up meeting with one of our partners, please contact us here – we will be happy to arrange this for you.

AIPPI drinks collage


Advocate General (AG) Gerard Hogan has issued his opinion in connection with two requests for a preliminary ruling regarding the interpretation of the requirement in Article 3(a) of the Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) Regulation that the product must be “protected by a basic patent in force”. The referrals, C-650/17 (Royalty Pharma) and C-114/18 (Sandoz v Searle), were joined by the CJEU and the full text of the AG’s opinion can be found here.

Various previous decisions of the CJEU have addressed the question of how Article 3(a) of the SPC regulation should be interpreted. The most recent of these is C-121/17 (Teva v Gilead), in which the CJEU held that a product composed of several active ingredients is “protected by a basic patent in force” where:

“even if the combination of active ingredients of which that product is composed is not expressly mentioned in the claims of the basic patent, those claims relate necessarily and specifically to that combination. For that purpose, from the point of view of a person skilled in the art and on the basis of the prior art at the filing date or priority date of the basic patent:

(i)    the combination of those active ingredients must necessarily, in the light of the description and drawings of that patent, fall under the invention covered by that patent, and

(ii)    each of those active ingredients must be specifically identifiable, in the light of all the information disclosed by that patent.”

Cases C-650/17 and C-114/18 deal with the issue of how Article 3(a) should be interpreted in cases where a single active ingredient is defined in the patent either functionally, or by reference to a Markush structure. In particular, in case C-650/17, the authorised product is sitagliptin, but the basic patent defines the product functionally as a DP-IV inhibitor. In case C-114/18, the authorised product is darunavir, which is encompassed by the Markush structure in the claims of the basic patent.

The AG’s opinion

The AG’s opinion is that Article 3(a) of the SPC Regulation does not preclude the grant of an SPC for an active ingredient which is covered by a functional definition or a Markush formula, provided that the two part test which the CJEU set out in C-121/17 (see above) is satisfied. This test is equally applicable both to products consisting of a single active ingredient and to products composed of several active ingredients and must be applied from the point of view of the skilled person and on the basis of the prior art at the filing date or priority date of the basic patent.

Step (i) of the Teva v Gilead test is to determine whether the product “necessarily” falls under the invention covered by the basic patent. According to the AG, step (i) is satisfied “if the product to which the claims of the basic patent relate is a specification required for the solution of the technical problem disclosed by that patent”.  Conversely, if “the claims in a patent in relation to a product are not required for the solution of the technical problem disclosed by a patent”, then the test is not satisfied and an SPC may not be granted. Contrary to the suggestion of the UK Court in its referral in the Teva v Gilead case, the question of whether the product embodies the “core inventive advance” of the patent is of no relevance.

Step (ii) of the Teva v Gilead test is to determine whether the product is “specifically identifiable” in the light of all the information disclosed by the patent. The AG’s opinion is that the product is “specifically identifiable” if the skilled person would have been able “in the light of all the information contained in a patent, on the basis of the prior art at the filing date or priority date of the patent in question, to derive the product in question”. Conversely, a product is not “specifically identifiable” if, “in the light of all the information contained in a patent, a product or constituent element of the product remains unknown to a person skilled in the art on the basis of the prior art at the filing date or priority date of the patent in question”.

The AG’s opinion is not binding on the CJEU, and it remains to be seen whether the CJEU will follow the same approach. SPC holders will take comfort in the AG’s confirmation that functional definitions and Markush claims do not preclude SPC protection, but questions remain regarding the practical circumstances in which the Teva v Gilead test can be satisfied in such cases. We therefore await with interest both the CJEU’s decision and its subsequent interpretation by the national courts in the UK and Germany.

For further details about SPCs, visit our webpage here, or find out more about our pharmaceuticals team’s medical regulations experience here

Some technology innovation businesses focus on intellectual property (IP) generation and are well aware of the threats from the outset. However, despite intangible assets now usually making up the major part of most company valuations, many businesses still deal with these issues reactively when they get thrust into focus by events, rather than proactively, and end up with an outcome which is both less positive and more expensive.

Why does this happen?

Well, to be honest, the issue is that it is not always easy to get IP strategy right, and particularly for the appropriate cost and level. Some attempts get bogged down in the detail and a lot of money is spent looking through the weeds without finding a clear path, while some businesses engage in consultancy which produces a nice sounding ‘strategy’ document that looks impressive in the annual report or at the Board but is painfully short on implementable details or specific value-adding output. Having experienced either in the past, or it simply not being clear what value is to be gained, often sensible (and perhaps cynical) business leaders under time and budget pressures understandably press ahead with the more tangible product development issues.

Let’s consider some typical scenarios involving a ‘moderately innovative’ company which doesn’t seek to be a cutting-edge disruptive player but nonetheless is routinely refining, updating and improving its products and adapting to expected customer requirements.

Perhaps the company considers it is simply adding automation, integration, connectivity and convenience features that users generally want, or it is improving manufacturing processes or product physical qualities. Occasionally, changes will be made which percolate up as being sufficiently distinctive that the company considers applying for a patent. At this point, it may transpire that for various reasons there are likely to be serious difficulties protecting what was thought to be interesting, which could be due to the technology area. For example, what can and cannot be protected in the field of software / AI / medical technology is often far from intuitive to someone who is not an IP expert in this area, or simply because it is a generally crowded field. However, it often turns out that the company did have some innovations along the way at the design stage that might not only have been protectable, but could even have been the basis for broader and more valuable protection but it is now too late as they have been disclosed or others have got there first. Moreover, some of the little tweaks that were dismissed or not registered (which were made to solve particular problems) could have been protected, and might have qualified the company for a tax break if patented.

Another worst-case scenario is that, whether by a benign means or by being the recipient of a threatening letter or court action, a company discovers that a competitor has patent protection for a feature after having spent time, money and effort developing and incorporating it into a product. At a late stage, the choices are unlikely to be attractive: either abandon / redesign the product; face the prospect of margin-destroying royalties, if even available; or worse – distracting and expensive litigation. It is often the case that early visibility of the situation might have enabled the design to be modified to reduce risk, and potentially protection could have been obtained which would have been valuable and possibly tradeable in a cross-licence with the competitor. The threat itself might have been relatively inexpensively cut down by opposing the competitor patent at the European Patent Office (EPO).

Benefits of considering an IP strategy early on

Now extensive searching for potential bad news is expensive and rarely worthwhile, but targeted intelligence on competitor IP may be simpler to obtain and can inform general business decisions. Identifying promising areas to develop and protect strategically (not simply reacting to what comes out at the end of the design process), and considering the IP angle early can identify less risky routes that are more protectable, might give rise to tax reductions and tradeable assets. Collectively this could make a company a more attractive acquisition target and a less attractive litigation target.

A number of companies opt to take IP more seriously after some successful early stage growth when new advisors and investors come on board. More often than not, it is discovered that many of the business’ good ideas were not protected appropriately at the time. A scrabble for second generation protection generally costs significantly more to obtain several narrow patents, each of which might be circumvented, than a broad patent covering key innovations in the first place might have cost.

How much does looking ahead strategically cost?

A fraction of what dealing with a surprise usually does. As little as half a day’s time of a handful of the right people (CTO, key technical/product people and an appropriately technically and commercially savvy IP advisor) appropriately prepared at the start of a new product development cycle can typically identify the more promising and less promising avenues before design commitment, and often generate potential IP in itself early on. This is particularly true for a small to medium size growing company: filing a number of strategically targeted patent applications can add value and can encourage otherwise likely litigious competitors to adopt a more constructive cross-licensing approach. To put in context, defending patent litigation costs may typically run into millions of pounds spent in short order at a time of a competitor’s choosing, whereas building a credible patent portfolio may cost a few tens of thousands spread over a few years, with timing adjustable to suit budgeting.

Sometimes the outcome of a strategic look ahead at IP is simply that there frankly is not much of a hard IP angle to the proposed new product activities. This knowledge, as well as usually being refreshingly inexpensive to acquire, is itself valuable in informing the likely speed of competition, appropriate branding and other marketing strategy to keep ahead.

As with most things in business, a little knowledge of the road ahead can be very valuable.

This article was published on Compare the Cloud in September 2019. 

Why do you need to have an IP strategy that is tailored to your business and commercial aspirations? In this article for Business & Innovation Magazine, we explain why an IP strategy is so important.

Intellectual property (IP) is a business asset that can have substantial value and can be used to give you a competitive advantage, build brand recognition and a reputation for innovation, generate income or secure investment and… basically… grow. Is your IP strategy looking its best?

Ask yourself these questions:

Do you know what IP your business has (or could have)?
It can’t add value to, or help to grow, your business if you don’t know it’s there.

Are you aware of all the unregistered IP rights that already exist within your business?
It is rare for a business to have no IP at all.

Do you know when to keep your ideas confidential, and when and how it is safe to share them?
Whether it’s a trade secret or a patentable invention, confidentiality can be a crucial part of your IP strategy.

Do you have registered IP for the key USPs of your business?
Strategic use of registered IP, such as patents, designs and trademarks, can protect your USPs to give you the competitive advantage to grow your business or attract investment.

Are you aware of the tax relief (named Patent Box) available against profits from sales of a patented product?
This applies to even a small part of the product and has the potential to offset, and even by far outweigh, the cost of obtaining a patent.

Do you know how your IP strategy can help to secure funding?
Whether you need to borrow against the value of your IP, secure grant funding or attract investment, the right IP strategy can help, whereas a weak or non-existent IP strategy can be detrimental.

An experienced patent attorney can usually help with at least some of these questions, and that is a good place to start. However, the simple fact is that your IP strategy may need to be considered from several different angles, using the right network of advisers. Mathys & Squire is able to provide a comprehensive and strategic IP management service through its Mathys & Squire Consulting team, in which our experienced IP management specialists help organisations of all types to realise meaningful value from their intangible assets.

This article was published in the September/October 2019 edition of Business & Innovation Magazine.

In this post from Mathys & Squire Consulting, we explain the importance of businesses identifying and valuing their intangible assets and intellectual property (IP) in order to maximise profits.

The value of IP is the exclusive right it provides to prevent others using your technology without your expressed permission (through a licence for example) and the potential future profits it can protect. These days intangible assets, of which IP is a subset, are forming an increasingly large part of a business’s value. In previous years the vast amount of a company’s value lay in its tangible assets such as buildings, machinery, equipment, etc. However, nowadays and with the ever-increasing number of new software-based companies covering a variety of sectors, the value of many companies may be comprised of up to 80% or 90% intangible assets. This is especially evident in the software sector, where early stage companies require little more than a few computers and don’t have the overheads of office space or equipment previously required by many businesses. The development and licensing of IP assets may be a successful business in itself, for example ARM Holdings, a Cambridge-based British semiconductor and software design company, which licences its IP to tech giants such as Apple and Samsung, was acquired by Softbank in 2016 for £24 billion.

Even within intangible assets there may be a split between disclosed intangible assets, which are often legally registered and enforceable rights such as patents, trade marks, and design rights – or undisclosed intangible assets, which may include trade secrets, proprietary know-how and processes developed within the company, brand recognition, supplier or client agreements and contracts or business relationships. Depending on the business and industry, these intangible assets may be just as pivotal in ensuring business profitability as disclosed tangible assets.

This brings us to the importance of correctly identifying and valuing your intangible assets. If these intangible assets, either disclosed or undisclosed, are so important to the development of the business and in ensuring business profitability, companies need to know the value of and leverage these assets wherever possible. Businesses of all sizes across all industries should seek to identify and value their IP for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Transactions – Company transactions such as restructuring, mergers & acquisition (M&A), divestments or insolvencies frequently involve the transfer or sale of intangible assets and IP portfolios. In order to determine the sale of this IP within the overall transaction, a fair market value of the IP must be determined.
  2. Venture investment – Prior to investment in early stage companies, startups and SMEs before an IPO, venture capitalists (VCs) or other investors may ask whether a company has IP, and if so, how much it’s worth.
  3. Licensing – You need to know the value of your IP and associated suitable royalty rates in order to negotiate IP licensing agreements.
  4. Strategic R&D decisions – The value that IP has in the business versus its relative cost and how it supports the business’s products or services may help drive R&D decision making.
  5. IP sale – If an IP portfolio is to be sold, the sale price can only be determined by understanding the market value of the IP portfolio.
  6. Manage litigation – If you are entering litigation around a specific patent or trade mark, your business needs to know the value of that piece of IP in order to determine potential damages.

The list above is an overview of the main uses for a valuation of intangible or IP assets, but there are many other situations in which it may also be prudent to have an indication of asset value prior to entering into any negotiations.

Before undertaking an intangible asset or IP valuation, there are a number of points that should be addressed:

The above and many other factors must be considered when valuing IP before coming to a fair market value of the IP. In all cases, the value ascribed to the IP is valid at that point in time and based on the information provided at that time. For example, the value of a patent today may change significantly if the technology it protected becomes obsolete tomorrow.  The above considerations will also have an impact on the approach used in valuation of the IP.

For earlier stage or pre-revenue companies, a cost approach may be chosen. This looks at the cost of developing the technology or a similar technology. While this offers a useful benchmark, it does not always offer a true indication of the potential of, and potential value of, that IP.

The most frequently used and often most reliable method of valuing intangible assets is a future income-based approach, which takes the potential future earnings based on the IP of interest and brings them to their current value, using net present value (NPV) calculations through the use of a discount factor (DCF), while also allowing for risks in the market, etc. This provides a range of values of the IP based on the projected future revenues.

There are a number of important factors which come to light when determining the value of a company’s intangible assets, including:

In summary, as the global economy evolves and becomes ever more reliant on intangible assets, it is essential that businesses undertake IP auditing exercises to fully understand the intangible/IP assets they possess and how to fully utilise these assets to maximise profitability. These audits, further supported by robust IP valuations, help businesses make more informed commercial decisions and assist in business negotiations.

If your business needs assistance in identifying its intangible assets and gaining an understanding of their current value, please contact Mathys & Squire Consulting.