26 October, 2018 - 21:20 By News Desk

Robust IP crucial to protect technology and pharma edge

Our recent intellectual property summit in Cambridge brought together dynamic businesses and entrepreneurs from across the city’s vibrant pharmaceutical and technology sectors, writes Steven Gurney of 
Marks & Clerk. 

Cambridge remains a global innovation hub with the ability to produce world class enterprises. With the life-sciences sector alone worth an estimated £70 billion annually to UK plc, however, protecting this innovation is critical. This is where intellectual property (IP) comes in. 

As technology continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible, it is creating a world of new opportunities for companies willing to innovate. 

These new possibilities, and the race to find solutions to the healthcare challenges of our time, is reflected in the European Patent Office’s most recent annual report from earlier in 2018, which revealed that patent filings in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors grew by 25.3 per cent and 15.7 per cent, respectively, over 2017. 

So, how is emerging technology impacting the pharmaceutical sector, and how can robust intellectual property help manage these impacts?

Technology and Pharmaceuticals 

Discussion around artificial intelligence continues to grow with the technology poised to create everything from cars which communicate with each other to mitigate the build-up of traffic, to increasingly sophisticated personal assistants to help manage busy lives. 

Our own research at Marks & Clerk reveals that more than 78,000 patent applications relating to AI were filed around the world in 2017. On current trends, we’ll see around 86,000 such patent applications filed in 2018, an almost twofold increase in the past decade. 

Every industry will be impacted by AI and the pharmaceutical sector is no exception. The power of AI data processing and analysis is being increasingly applied to drug discovery for example. It is clear that encoded within our genetic makeup is a huge amount of data and sifting this data with a human mind is hugely time consuming. 

The processing power available to advanced computer programmes and potential AI programmes however – which can recognise patterns in huge sets of information – has the potential to significantly hasten drug discovery and give companies which harness AI an edge over their rivals.

Likewise, companies like C4X are utilising powerful software to create increasingly sophisticated platforms in which researchers can access databases of virtual molecules and interact with them in the search for novel medicines. 

These developments will benefit the work of drug discovery and pharmaceutical innovation, and ultimately patients around the world for whom new treatments and therapies will be coming to market. They will also require IP law to evolve. 

The law is continuously evolving in its approach to patenting AI, and grey areas remain. The European Patent Office’s recently updated guidelines on this subject provide some framework for applicants working in this area.  

Similar questions are raised by additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. This technology relies upon the digitisation of information, and the transmission of that information to a 3D printer which can then print an object. We are only beginning to understand the possibilities of this technology and seeing the implications it might have for pharmaceuticals. 

Again, this will require new thinking about IP and an approach which aims to protect the digital expression of an idea or technology, as well as the physical expression. 

It will also require new thinking about geographical IP strategies. 3D printing circumnavigates traditional borders and customs checks, and also means anyone with a 3D printer and your data could counterfeit your innovation with no pharmaceutical expertise. 

A future-proofed IP strategy can mitigate these risks and also advise on technologies that can be employed to protect digital data – blockchain anyone?

These are complicated challenges but also huge opportunities for those companies willing to invest in innovation and protecting that innovation. 
Cambridge’s pharmaceutical sector is booming and, in many respects, the UK’s pharma sector is leading the way on the fusion of pharma and tech. Robust and progressive IP will be crucial to ensuring it maintains this advantage. 

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