Appleyard Lees marks a year in Cambridge by confirming expansion plans
Patent attorneys and intellectual property experts to recruit trainees
Appleyard Lees has celebrated its first anniversary in Cambridge by confirming plans for expansion.
The firm of patent attorneys and intellectual property experts is recruiting trainees as it grows its client base in the region.
It spread from its stronghold in the north early last year, opening an office at Bishop Bateman Court, in New Park Street.
Julia Gwilt, a partner in the electronics and software team which specialises in patents and inventions with complex mathematics at their core, was joined in Cambridge by Barbara Fleck, a partner in the life science team, who has expertise in biotechnology and agri-science.
They are now seeking a trainee electronics attorney and trainee biotech attorney to support their work.
Julia, who graduated from the University of Cambridge with an honours degree in maths before studying for a masters in computer science at Ecole Centrale Paris, told the Cambridge Independent: “The year has flown by. We’ve built on our contacts in the local area – those we’ve worked with previously and new ones.
“We are complimenting the work of some of the local solicitors by offering patent advice. We get referrals from service providers, such as accountants and solicitors, and sometimes people come direct.
“We are good supporters of the Cambridge Wireless and One Nucleus networks – it’s all about connecting people in the ecosystem of Cambridge, such as investors and service providers.
“Appleyard Lees is a well-known name in the north, but the first year in Cambridge has been about building our name and our connections and being involved in events like sponsoring the Cambridge Independent’s Science and Technology Awards.”
It was a natural step for the company to open in Cambridge, which was confirmed in the 2018 Centre for Cities report as being number one for filing patents. The study found that 341 patents per 100,000 people were filed in 2015 in Cambridge, making it the most innovative of the 63 UK cities profiled.
“That’s exactly why we’re here,” said Dick Waddington, a partner in the engineering and physics team, who was visiting the Cambridge office from his usual base in Leeds. “There are a lot of very exciting companies here. There are in the north too, but they are more spread out. Once there’s a density of people creating new things, it becomes self-supporting.”
Little wonder then that the company is looking to expand its workforce here.
“We want extra capacity to service clients and to keep building the business and as an employer, we have an offer that is popular,” he said.
They are looking for recruits with an “unusual mix of skills” to join them, he added.
“You have to be able to pick up the technology quickly from someone who has been working on it for years. We also need to be able to explain what that is in technical and legal terms.”
Julia added: “We need someone with a science degree and then an ability to communicate well. If you’ve got foreign languages that’s great, but you need good written English.”
Trainees study for their European law qualification – which extends beyond the EU, so will remain of use after Brexit – while on the job.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Dick. “For me, it’s about the mental stimulus: investigating patents, looking at existing ones and seeing what your client has done differently, which is a great challenge. Then it’s about telling a story of how those differences are important and provide advantages.”
The patent system can be used in different ways.
“In the biotech field, a lot more time is spent looking at other people’s IP and working out if they are free to operate,” said Julia. “They use the patenting system to close down their area and work outside where their competitors are.
“On the electronics and software side it tends to be more about pooling patents and collaborating. The inventor gives the right to use their invention for a return. That’s Arm’s business model.”
Intriguingly, software is a particularly challenging field in which to secure patents.
“Software has historically been difficult to patent and even in jurisdictions where it has historically been easy, like the US, it has got much harder since 2014,” explained Julia.
“With software, you’re not patenting the code as it’s written but the underlying algorithm, or method steps, behind it,” explained Julia. “The expression of the code is protected by copyright in the same way a book is but of course you can write in different languages or you can write the same expression in different ways.
“When they wrote the statues in the 1970s they listed things that shouldn’t be patented and that included software programs. They envisaged that copyright would be sufficient. But the world is very different now.
“You can’t patent a program itself. But the technical effect it’s having is patentable. Then you get the normal questions as to whether it’s new.
“And of course there’s also the open source movement out there who would prefer that software was free for everybody to use.
“In the States, they haven’t got a list of exclusions. They have a much more positive recitation of what is patentable, and programs fall within that. But case law has developed the idea that you can’t develop abstract ideas.”
Today, of course, computational methods are used across many technical fields.
“Bioinformatics, diagnostics and the initial stage of drug development are increasingly done in silico,” said Julia. “It’s expanded in ways people didn’t imagine and maybe the patent system hasn’t caught up.”
The restrictions on software have implications for those in the fast-growing field of artificial intelligence.
“AI is a tricky area to patent as it is software-implemented,” added Julia. “From a legal point of view, it is quite challenging to find the right words and tell the right story.
“There is no question in our minds that there are inventions there but it’s a case of finding the right legal terminology.
“With AI, there is also the interesting question of whether there is an invention if you put it in the black box, feed it some data and it comes up with a solution. Has there been an invention or has the AI given you what you expected? If there has been an invention, who owns it? It’s an interesting philosophical question.
“It’s so new and spreading into so many different areas, and so its application raises many questions.”
Adding further complexity is the variation in the law across the globe.
“There is a constant effort to harmonise the rules around the world to make it easier for applicants and third parties to have some security. But even in Europe, we don’t have unanimity of decision-making,” said Julia.
There is another option open to clients who wish to protect their intellectual property.
“Trade secrets can add value to the business,” said Julia. “There is a new EU directive coming into force later this year, which the government has confirmed it will take into UK law, which is an extension of the protection of confidential information.
“Trade secrets are not as powerful as patents in the sense that you can’t stop anyone doing the same thing. But a good portfolio might have a mix of the two and they last indefinitely – the classic one is the Coca-Cola recipe.”
For Appleyard Lees, though, the coming year is about getting its messages out there.
It marked its successful first year in Cambridge with a drinks reception at the Tamburlaine Hotel in Station Road earlier in March, attended by clients and contacts.