This session was disappointingly not as well attended as the first, even though it raised many interesting issues as viewed from the "other side". The truth of the matter is this: just as many people enjoy eating a tasty lamb chop but take no interest in raising sheep, there are plenty of people who enjoy working with patents but take no interest in inventors. However, as this session demonstrated, while no sheep are involved in the supply, preparation and cooking of lamb chops, inventors may continue to be involved in the development, promotion and commercial exploitation of their inventions -- and their activities, being entrepreneurial, are directly relevant to much of the professional work that people who missed this session were busy outside the Ralston Room networking with each other about.
Opening the session, David Kline observed that people in the street now associate the word "patent" with "litigation" rather than "inventor", and that with our preoccupation with the business and legal end of innovation we are losing sight of the importance of inventors and their inventions. David then introduced Jean-Christophe Giron, who has invented electronically controlled tinted glass (made by Saint-Gobain), which has important energy-saving applications. Jean-Cristophe said that young people starting out in companies should learn how to bring their inventions to the company patent attorney so that its patentability can be assessed and the invention protected; his company now has programmes for training not only young researchers but patent attorneys too.
|Chuck Hall with his Mini-Me|
Carles Puente was introduced next. His interest was stimulated by discovering the limitations of conventional antennas while still a student. This led to his filing of the first ever patent for fractal antennas [note for non-technical lawyers: a fractal antenna is an antenna that uses a fractal, self-similar design to maximize the length, or increase the perimeter (on inside sections or the outer structure), of material that can receive or transmit electromagnetic radiation within a given total surface area or volume. These are the antennas you can't see inside your cellphones]. Carles actually wrote his own first patent, which he modestly described as an exercise in "how not to do it". Anyway, he detailed his subsequent career, its high spots and its disappointments, realising that his business model was unsustainable despite the success of the invention itself. This led to Carles developing a licensing model for his patents, and then litigating in the East District of Texas to protect them. Nine out of ten defendants settled with Fractus; the tenth lost. Fractus now has a healthy patent licensing business and an active research and development capacity.
Laura van't Veer then spoke about her own US-Dutch company, which she runs and of which she is also its Research Officer. Her invention relates to breast cancer detection and examining the likely risk of recurrence by studying the patient's genes. When the invention was made and the patent filed in 2002, no medical diagnostic or pharmaceutical companies expressed any interest, since they didn't see how the invention could work. At that point, Laura set up her own university spin-off company, which enabled her to find partners and raise capital. There was quite a bit of uncertainty at the time of the spin-off as to who was entitled to what, so an element of staff training was needed. In 2006, FDA approval for using the invention was sought, and showing how the invention worked was another learning exercise. So far, her company has not run into litigation, though it has had unanticipated problems with regulatory authorities, health insurance companies and others.
There then followed a discussion as to whether Europe valued the label "scientist" more highly than that of "inventor", and as to whether it was therefore better for them to move to the United States, where the opposite was true -- while patents were becoming less popular in the United States than they now seem to be in Europe. Further discussions addressed the extent to which the inventor panellists were also entrepreneurs (which they were) and the extent to which they felt they had been adequately remunerated for their efforts (answer: "we're not complaining, but 'no'"!) Said Carles, too much money from patents leaks into the legal system. Politely, none of the lawyers in the room dissented ...