IP trends for 2022: startup and scaleup businesses
Our team of patent, trade mark and design attorneys have considered the legal landscape, recent technical developments and inventions, as well as the marketplace, to predict the likely intellectual property (IP) trends that businesses should look out for in the next 12 months.
Next in our ‘IP trends for 2022’ series, we look at areas of particular interest for startup and scaleup businesses that are critical to advances in technology and contribute significantly to the economy. Mathys & Squire is delighted to support such researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs in identifying and protecting the IP in their technological inventions.
Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to be a rapidly-growing area of technology and is currently attracting significant attention with respect to IP rights, in part due to the ongoing DABUS cases and appeals, and also the UK government’s consultation into AI, its role in IP and the protection of AI IP.
In 2022, we expect personalised AI to become more common in our everyday lives, with Amazon’s ‘Alexa’, Apple’s ‘Siri’, and ‘OK Google’ already residents in many homes. One particular example where we are seeing rapid advances is virtual reality. Combining AI with the latest, most powerful computers and camera capabilities can create highly realistic content that can be used in the entertainment, travel, and education industries. As evidenced by the high-profile change in name of Facebook to Meta at the end of 2021, virtual reality is likely to soon become a much bigger part of our lives.
In parallel, as alluded to above, there are questions around the protection of AI-based inventions – perhaps 2022 might provide us with some answers.
Linking back to an earlier point, one particular aspect of virtual reality we expect to see more of in the coming year is augmented reality in e-commerce. This may include more realistic and accurate 3D models of products for sale, or the option to virtually try on clothes, helping to manage expectations and encourage purchase of items that aren’t clear to visualise from a description or picture alone.
Having experienced year-on-year growth, and a particular boom during the COVID-19 lockdowns, it is critical that all businesses ensure they have a strong digital strategy to identify, target, and attract potential customers and partners.
As we have mentioned previously, following COP26 which took place in the final quarter of 2021, we can expect a continuing global focus on sustainability, green and clean technology. Improving energy efficiency; implementing renewable energy more widely; and sustainable use of resources such as water and low-carbon and biodegradable materials are key areas.
For example, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming a more frequent sight (but not sound!) on the roads. One particular challenge for EVs is the size of the battery required – meaning that electric cars are often large and heavy. As developments in battery technology occur, we expect to see smaller, lighter designs of electric cars, and electric cars that can go further on a single charge than at present. In fact, Mercedes has recently unveiled a prototype electric car that can travel 600 miles on a single charge. Advances like this will help improve EV perception as more practical replacements for petrol or diesel-powered models.
In addition, sustainability is increasingly valued by consumers, and so it is important for businesses to consider their environmental impact and social responsibility strategy from an early stage. COP26 posed a massive opportunity as it emphasized the need for member states to raise $100 billion every year to invest in ‘green projects’. Capital will flow towards greener initiatives, as investors anticipate a much higher return on investment in green companies. In recent years there has also been an increase in financial help for entrepreneurs, innovators and startups who are working on environmentally-friendly solutions, such as the Young Inventors Prize and the Earthshot Prize. Sustainability and cleantech inventions are on the rise and with the financial incentives in mind, the trend is expected to upkeep in 2022, especially amongst SMEs and independent inventors.
Unified Patent Court
On a more patent-specific note, the Unified Patent Court (UPC) is anticipated to be finalized around late 2022. Although the UK is not a part of the UPC following Brexit, the new Unitary Patents (UPs) are likely to transform patent litigation across Europe and should be considered for any patent strategy. For businesses that operate in multiple UPC member countries, it can be expected that the UP is going to be more cost-effective than having to pay renewals for each validation of your classic European Patents separately. You can find out more about the UPC via our Hub.
CRISPR/Cas systems, a sort of ‘immune system’ found naturally in bacteria, offer huge potential for gene editing. This powerful technology can be engineered to target almost any DNA sequence of interest and introduce different types of DNA alterations, thus offering extensive potential for biotechnological applications.
A recent example of this being applied involved the introduction of alterations in the DNA of pigs, to allow successful organ xenotransplantation from the genetically-altered pig into a human. The introduced alterations were designed to make the organ (in this case, a heart) less likely to be attacked by a human immune system and rejected.
In addition, CRISPR/Cas is being combined with developments in nanoparticles to treat hard-to-reach cell types, such as vascular endothelial cells, which could be targeted to treat diseases such as coronary artery disease, stroke, or cancer.
Funding for CRISPR startups has been growing steadily over the last few years, with many CRISPR companies going public. At least one (e.g., Mammoth Biosciences) is now a ‘unicorn’ company, valued over US $1 billion. The possibility to adapt CRISPR to myriad gene editing applications creates niches for diagnosing or treating diseases and disorders associated with DNA, adding new properties to crop species, or microbes for processing or producing chemicals, as just some examples. Accordingly, we expect to see even more applications (both patent, and practical) of engineered CRISPR/Cas systems in the near future.
Although a subject of study before 2020, mRNA vaccines have – not surprisingly – seen rapid advances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These vaccines work by introducing a mRNA sequence that encodes a disease-specific antigen into our bodies, which is then translated into the antigen. Once it is recognised by the immune system, it then mounts a response, including developing antibodies, against the introduced antigen.
It is a relatively simple concept, relying on our own immune systems to actuate the effects of the mRNA treatment. The other element is knowing the sequence of the mRNA to be introduced, however, with rapid DNA sequencing technology now available (such as those developed by Oxford Nanopore, a ‘unicorn’ company), mRNA vaccines can quickly be designed, even when faced with new diseases. This is exactly what happened with COVID-19, where Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech rapidly developed COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, which became the two first approved mRNA vaccines.
However, whilst simple in concept, there is still more research needed before mRNA vaccines become standard treatments. With such room for innovation, there is certainly space for new ventures seeking to optimise various factors, for example stability, delivery and immunogenicity of these new drugs. As SMEs and academics
, (not just big pharmaceutical companies) can rapidly develop new RNA constructs with therapeutic potential, mRNA technology has been described as a disruptive technology. It is expected to be applied to many other conditions, such as heart failure, influenza, and cancer, bringing a new wave of RNA-based therapeutics and offering myriad avenues for biotechnology companies.
Written by: Andrew White and Lindsay Pike