25 May 2020

Eureka moment? Law firms report rush to patent ideas amid UK lockdown

Mathys & Squire and two of its clients – Wootzano and Imperial College London – featured in an article written by The Guardian on the increased demand for intellectual property legal services during the Covid-19 crisis, as innovators work to have their ideas patented.

A snippet of the article is available below:

Christopher Hamer, a partner at intellectual property specialists Mathys & Squire, agrees: “In terms of the volume of new work [since the crisis began], it was a striking amount, and I know other firms have seen this as well.

“A lot of it has been people coming and saying, ‘we have talked about this in the past and I would like to progress it.’ They are looking at their long-term future and trying to understand where they are going to be when things go back to normal.”

Although precise figures will not be available until next year, according to a spokeswoman for the Intellectual Property Office where British applications are filed, “early indicators suggest that input this year is up on the January to April period last year”.

[One] innovator who has done that is Atif Syed, CEO and founder of a firm called Wootzano. From a unit in Sedgefield, county Durham, the small company has developed what it describes as “electronic skin”, a highly stretchable polymer that Syed says can detect sensations “the way you and I would, understanding touch, pressure, temperature, humidity”.

While it could have many applications, the lockdown has underlined its potential use for robots picking soft fruit, where packing facilities faced with post-coronavirus labour shortages are increasingly looking at automation. The firm has been working on the skin for some time, but the crisis has driven the response from potential customers.

“Whenever situations like this happen, there will always be new applications [for the product],” says Syed.

One innovation with a very clear potential benefit has been developed at Imperial College, London, where a team of product designers and behavioural scientists have come up with a new product to encourage handwashing in developing countries.

“Everyone in the world knows about hand-washing, pretty much,” says project leader Weston Baxter, but research by the team in Tanzania showed that bars of soap were viewed by many as items for laundry and dish-washing, not for washing their hands after using the toilet.

In response, they developed a cheap and easily produced soap “tab” and dispenser system which, trials in the country show, dramatically increased rates of hand-washing.

In a time of immense new challenges, Baxter says, the opportunities for new ideas are enormous. “Whenever there is a lot of friction like this, it means there is a lot of opportunity for innovation. There has been a lot of very fast trial and error, certainly faster than we have seen in a normal time.”

A version of this article was published by The Guardian in May 2020 – click here to read the piece in full.