This week is British Science Week, a celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths.
In modern scientific research, patents are often an important consideration for researchers, scientists and engineers. Although patents are often more closely associated with industrial innovations than with scientific research, universities and other scientific research institutions are becoming increasingly interested in commercialising their research, and so patents are becoming increasingly relevant to those working in science.
Sometimes it may appear that the demands of academia are contrary to those of the patent system, for example it is often desirable for an academic researcher to publish their results in an academic journal or present their latest innovations at conferences, whereas to obtain a patent for an invention, the invention must not be disclosed until the patent application is filed due to patent laws requirement for novelty.
Nevertheless, pursuit of patents can provide many benefits to those working in science. Having strong protection of ideas and innovations can help with bids to win investment and funding. In particular when seeking to commercialise research, for example through spin out companies, consideration of intellectual property can be essential.
Patent publications can also be a rich resource for scientists and engineers, which may often be overlooked. Patent applications are published, and unlike many scientific journals, freely available for everyone to view. Therefore, they provide a means for learning more about current trends in research and what ideas are considered to be commercially valuable. They also give an insight into what others are working on and provide details which may otherwise be kept as a ‘trade secret’.
Although a granted patent gives the proprietor exclusive use of an invention, this is only for a limited period of time (up to a maximum of 20 years). However, this period of exclusivity gives researches the confidence to invest in and pursue their ideas. After expiry of the patent the knowledge disclosed therein is freely available for anyone to make use of, allowing scientists to build on the innovations of others.