Following the recent opening of Mathys & Squire's Oxford office, the firm’s expertise is now more accessible to entrepreneurial Thames Valley businesses, as Of Counsel Vicki Strachan explains to The Business Magazine:
The combination of skills offered by Mathys & Squire is one reason why leading legal directory, The Legal 500, praises the intellectual property firm’s ‘impeccable understanding of IP law’ and its ability to ‘really stand out from the crowd’. The firm is renowned for its technical ability and reputation for handling complex and innovative cases. Founded in 1910, it is one of Europe’s most highly regarded IP firms with experience in the protection and commercialisation of intellectual property rights, leading the field with insight, innovation and quality.
Heading up the Oxford office is senior UK and European patent attorney Vicki Strachan, who works with a range of startups, helping them to get their businesses off the ground and into the market. She says Mathys & Squire’s attention to the practical requirements of smaller companies at the beginning of their growth trajectories is important: “We share similar ambitions and the entrepreneurial spirit of our mainly SME client base. I have been focused on supporting SMEs for over 20 years. They tend to have tighter budgets and welcome a strategic approach to protecting their IP. We like seeing startups succeed, and knowing we’ve played a part in that success is a great feeling.”
The Mathys & Squire office at Oxford’s Milton Innovation Park is the latest addition to six other UK locations, as well as offices in France, Germany and China. Along with London and Cambridge, Oxford completes the firm’s presence in the ‘golden triangle’ of cutting-edge R&D, academic spin-offs and leading tech related businesses.
Mathys & Squire’s core services include registering, protecting and litigating patents and trade marks. These services help businesses progress from the ideas stage, through to researching and developing their innovation and then commercialising their IP.
In Oxford, the firm is focused on the biochemistry, pharmacology, genetics, microbiology, plant sciences, electronics, telecoms and engineering sectors.
The acquisition of intellectual property consultancy firm Coller IP in 2017 bolstered Mathys & Squire’s presence in the Thames Valley as it was preparing to open its Milton Park office. As well as its office in Wallingford, Coller IP’s Alex Tame, director of IP, and his team are now also based in Milton Park. The firm offers a complementary range of services, particularly strategic valuations, advice and patent management.
Strachan explains: “They also have the same commitment to clients as we do, so it’s a very good fit.”
If initial interest since it launched the Oxford office is anything to go by, Strachan expects the firm’s client base to grow fairly quickly.
She describes the way the firm works as highly collaborative: “We like to network with the local business community and interact with like-minded professional service providers, which increases opportunities for referrals.”
Clients are typically startup and scale-up businesses, which benefit most from the ‘out-of-the-box innovative thinking’ that Mathys & Squire offers.
It is important to consider intellectual property at an early stage, but equally important is to understand the concept to market journey and the various steps and stages that entails. Strachan said: “From the start, we look at the stage a business is at, and their specific goals and aspirations, and help to fit the timing of applying for patents, designs and trade marks into their own journey plan.
"I am always looking for opportunities to help in other areas by recommending other business advisers who could help them along the way. For example, it may be apparent that we need to apply for a patent to protect an idea so that the business can progress to the next stage, but if funding is an issue, we may also refer the client to someone who could help with that.”
In fact, budgets and projected future resources often influence the decision to take out a patent, but these are not the only key issues that influence how the route to market of a specific invention may look. Strachan explains: “When people have an idea or product that they want to monetise, they often think they must immediately protect their IP, and that is often true, but in these early stages their situation can be quite fluid.
“For example, obtaining funding can be a main issue they perhaps need to think about first, or it may be that the commercial implementation of a brilliant idea can only really be known after undertaking market research. That is why our approach is to take the time to find out where they are in their business cycle and product evolution, as well as what their long-term ambitions are.”
The technical and scientific knowledge required in the complex world of IP means patent attorneys frequently have an engineering or scientific background. For Strachan, that expertise is in electronic engineering.
After completing her first degree she worked with the Patent Office in Newport as a patent examiner, before going on to train as a patent attorney. She specialises in electronics, semiconductors, optoelectronics, robotics and computer-implemented inventions, but has many years’ experience working with innovative companies in a number of different fields.
Her career took a slight detour in 2010 with a move into education. Having trained as a teacher, she spent three years at Gloucester College teaching engineering subjects to apprentices at HNC and HND level.
Strachan’s commitment to learning and education continued when she moved back to the IP world in 2013, this time in private practice, before joining Mathys & Squire in 2018.
She is keen to connect with other professionals who have an interest in supporting startup and scale-up businesses to run training and support sessions: “We’re planning a number of events for local businesses later this year, so watch this space!”
Brexit talent drain?
For many businesses involved in the R&D sector, uncertainty caused by the UK’s slow-motion exit from the EU is deeply frustrating.
“We just don’t know how it will affect EU grant funding or what’s going to happen if talented people decide to leave the UK,” said Strachan. “The uncertainty means companies are tending to wait before committing investment to R&D.
“It’s a waiting game that is hitting SMEs and startups the hardest because they often need an injection of finance in their early stages. Uncertainty about the future is difficult because speed to market for newly patented ideas and products is often critical.”
Nevertheless, Strachan is confident that the sheer power of conviction that startups display, coupled with the exciting range of innovative ideas she has already encountered, should see the Thames Valley’s position as a pipeline for entrepreneurial businesses to go from strength to strength.
A version of this article was first published in The Business Magazine in May 2019.