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Experts in Conversation

Venturefest Oxford’s Experts in Conversation articles, interviews and videos are dedicated to giving businesses a voice to converse about an area of their expertise to further our objective of supporting the innovation ecosystem in Oxfordshire.

Experts in conversation

Business Development

With Covid-related lockdowns, travel restrictions, cancellation and postponement of conferences and events, business development activities have had to change over the last 15 months.  Business relationships and partnership activities have to be developed and maintained on line and lead generation has also changed fundamentally.

In this series of conversations, we explore the shift that has taken place in business development, drawing on the experiences of three different Oxfordshire-based companies: The Electrospinning Company, Enara Bio and Saietta.  Through these discussions, we explore how each company has changed its approach to business development and consider how Covid has changed the way we work, looking back over the last year, and looking forward beyond 2021.

Experts in conversation

Latest articles

Software as a Medical Device – the development process demystified

Software as a Medical Device – the development process demystified

Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) is software intended to be used for one or more medical purposes without being part of a hardware medical device. Previously referred to as ‘standalone software’, ‘medical device software’ or ‘health software’, SaMD can be used across a broad range of technology platforms, including medical device platforms, commercial off-the-shelf platforms and virtual networks, and its use is increasing. If you are new to SaMD, a natural question is, “How do I get my medical software CE-marked (for sale in Europe) or FDA-approved (for sale in the US)?” And it is likely that you will be frustrated by the answers, because no one will give you the process to follow. Instead, regulators define constraints on the development process, such as traceability, and leave the details up to you. For a start-up, this is a difficult situation to navigate. But there is help out there. The International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF)  is a voluntary group of medical device regulators from around the world who have come together to reach harmonisation on medical device regulation. They have written an easy-to-read guide to medical software development and the only one we have seen that includes illustrative examples, using both a large company and a start-up. If you are a start-up building a medical device, go to their document online and search for “Parva” to see the examples relating to this fictional start-up company. Note that medical device software development can follow either Agile or iterative methodologies, provided that the process is traceable, evidenced and includes risk management. This usually implies a process by which product, safety and clinical requirements are translated through functional specification and development tasks into software, and in which the results are tested, verified and validated – and the results recorded. The process often uses a traditional ‘V-model’ to distinguish distinct levels of software development and testing. This is a model which describes increasingly detailed software design and the corresponding level of testing. The {design, test} pairs are (in order of increasing detail): Development tests are the lowest level, automated and run very frequently. At the highest level, validation is a manual process of checking with users that the product built meets the requirements. Note that we use the V-model to provide our terminology, but we do not interpret it as requiring a waterfall approach to software development. OCC has been developing software for research, health, engineering and social services for over 25 years. If you’d like to know about the intricacies of developing software for medical devices or other applications, contact [email protected] READ MORE

Spin-Outs and Start-Ups: Common Pitfalls – Don’t Forget the Research & Development Tax Credit

Spin-Outs and Start-Ups: Common Pitfalls – Don’t Forget the Research & Development Tax Credit

Research and Development tax credits are a valuable company tax relief that can reduce a company’s tax bill, or, for some, provide a cash repayment, of up to just over one-third of the company’s R&D spend. A company must be carrying on a project seeking an advance in science or technology, through the resolution of uncertainty.  The allowable expenditure includes four main areas – staff costs, subcontractors, software and consumable items. The company must qualify as an SME to obtain this very generous relief (headcount below 500 staff and at least one of; turnover below €100 million or gross assets less than €86 million). There is less generous scheme, known as RDEC, available to companies which do not qualify as SMEs.  The RDEC is a taxable receipt, and is paid net of tax to companies with no corporation tax liability.  The rate was recently increased from 11% to 12%, effective from 1 January 2018.  The net cash benefit is 9.7%, (the 12% rate reduced by the corporation tax rate, currently 19%). Where grants are received for an R&D project, there can be restrictions on what claims can be made under the SME scheme, depending on the type of grant.  If this is the case, you should still be able to claim via the RDEC scheme.  This is quite a complex area and it is best to get advice in advance. Make sure you don’t miss out on these valuable reliefs.  Speak to us for specialist R&D advice. Alison READ MORE

The Importance of Encryption

The Importance of Encryption

Names such as WannaCry, Petya and NotPetya have become all too familiar as those within the enterprise and public sector suffered business disruption at the hands of cybercriminals and ransomware. When WannaCry struck, disruption was wide and swift. According to NHS England, more than 81 NHS trusts were affected, with some even turning of devices and shutting down computers as a precaution. With a further 603 primary care organisations also reporting disruption, there were said to have been nearly 20,000 cancelled appointments, with 600 GP surgeries returning to pen and paper and five hospitals simply diverting ambulances as they were unable to handle any more emergency cases. Although that ransomware attack was stopped within a matter of days, reports suggested more than 300,000 computers across 150 countries had been affected. WannaCry was also significant in being the first ‘ransomworm’ the world had seen – a self-replicating piece of malware that bounces from computer to computer in much the same way that diseases in the real world do, feeding and growing off the best-connected computers. Indeed, WannaCry was a necessary wake-up call in many respects. Particularly when experts revealed the number of ‘unpatched’ IT systems stood somewhere in the region of 40m. Although this represents just one aspect of policing the perimeter it really does put into perspective just how much firms must think about when it comes to securing the business today and that’s before considering how you manage and police mobile devices and IT assets. After all, it’s not just those on the outside you need to consider. This is forcing businesses to strategically look at and reconsider their approach to IT security with a fresh pair of eyes. Factor in regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and most have their hands more than full. It can all appear very daunting even to the most seasoned of professionals and is certainly one reason many firms are now looking to trusted partners for help and in some cases secure outsourced solutions. Imagine being able to forget about certain elements of this by using secure encryption and modular services that protect your devices before they even boot up? What about encrypting both these and hard disks right down to individual folders and segments of data? Wouldn’t it also be wonderful if you could do this via a centralised management system that ensures seamless integration with existing IT infrastructure and meets the FIPS 140-2 security standard for full disk encryption; a certified mark of quality expected by security experts the world over? Imagine being able to produce a report at the click of a button, demonstrating your organisation’s compliance with the GDPR. It’s easier than you think and with the correct encryption solutions deployed across the business, you can deliver measurable improvements to your bottom line whilst at the same time being able to reassure customers that they are taking the correct precautions when it comes to customer data and compliance. READ MORE

2018 Changes to SEIS and EIS

2018 Changes to SEIS and EIS

The government is getting stricter with SEIS and EIS tax relief. Here are the changes you need to know about – 1.     HMRC are no longer processing speculative applications Due to the highly lucrative investment opportunity that is SEIS and EIS, start-ups were able to attract angel investors by obtaining Advance Assurance from HMRC which confirms that investment in the company would be eligible to receive tax relief. As a result of the popularity, HMRC found that processing applications was taking in excess of 8 weeks. More importantly, they found that despite the rise in applications, only a minority resulted in shares being issued. As a result, as of this year (2018), HMRC will only process Advance Assurance applications where names and addresses of potential investors are provided. They may also request evidence of the potential investors such as letters which demonstrate engagement and interest. 2.     There is now a new requirement – Risk to Capital HMRC are cracking down on artificial investments. This is when investors are able to take advantage of the generous tax relief without having to truly put their money at risk. HMRC refers to this as “preservation of capital”. To ensure that SEIS and EIS incentivises investments in genuine entrepreneurial companies, a new two-part test will be applied to applications: firstly, the company will need to demonstrate its intentions for future growth and development; and secondly, that there is real potential for loss of capital which is greater than the net investment return. 3.     Overcome challenges with a concrete business plan If you’re a start-up looking to find funding through SEIS or EIS, alarm bells may be ringing at this point. How are you meant to convince angel investors without Advance Assurance, and how do you get Advance Assurance without the names of interested investors? In reality, it’s not such a conundrum. The solution lies in your business plan. This is now requested over a pitch deck or business overview from HMRC, which is a third change to the original SEIS/EIS application process. Approach investors with a robust business plan to build confidence in your company. We would recommend including thorough research into the market and your competitors, in addition to well-calculated financial forecasts. Your business plan will also help you demonstrate how you meet the requirements for risk to capital. You should ensure to include information on how you plan to grow your business, your objectives for growth (such as using the investment to hire new employees, or to produce more products to sell or to be able to ship globally etc.) and highlight areas where the investment is at risk. Ridgefield Consulting specialises in SEIS and EIS. From providing the calculations for your business plan, to writing your application for Advance Assurance and setting up the shares for investors, we can provide a comprehensive service to support the growth of your venture. Visit our website www.ridgefieldconsulting.co.uk or call for a free introductory consultation on 01865 24 55 11. READ MORE

Running a lean business

Running a lean business

Sometimes, it’s the things you don’t do that make the real difference. I’ve been working in website design and development for nearly twenty years. I’m not a designer, but I’ve learned a lot from working with great designers over many years. Of the things I’ve learned, probably the most important is that it’s the things you leave out that make the difference! It’s the space between things, the discipline to do less - not more, the confidence to give a design space to breathe that makes it come alive. Little did I realise how relevant this lesson would be to our brand new company. We’ve spent the last year bootstrapping a business - from nothing at all, we’re now a stable and successful design and website development agency. Like most businesses, we started out with very little - we each invested a paltry amount of money - enough to register the company, buy some domain names and licence a few pieces of software. We began to run the business from our home offices or kitchen tables and cracked on, thinking that the usual rules of corporate growth would apply. However, over this last year it’s become clear to all of us that the simple necessity of starting with little and keeping costs down has become a massive virtue. Obviously, it won’t be a surprise to anybody that cost control is good business practice, but it’s come as a welcome surprise to us all just how liberating it can be to start, run and grow a lean business. When we started we thought that working from home would be a temporary thing - something that’d let us get up and running and keep us solvent until we could afford an office. As we weren’t all in one place, we had to find creative ways of working together efficiently. We invested a small amount in commercial google services - giving us company email, scheduling, document creation and management. We also implemented the absolutely incredible google team drive. Like Dropbox, but better and cheaper, team drive gives us seamless and limitless file sharing (ok, I exaggerate - our team drive is limited to 1 exabyte, but that should keep us going for a little while…) We’ve found that WhatsApp and our Amazon Echos are amazingly useful productivity tools, giving us messaging and IP voice calls for free. We’ve found and built an incredibly efficient set of development tools, allowing us to deliver projects quickly and easily without having to re-do things we’ve done a million times before. This means that our clients only end up paying for the stuff that matters to them - they’re not paying for us to reinvent wheels. We set up a virtual landline, directing inbound calls to our mobiles in a virtual hunt group. We use appear.in for video conferencing and sometimes also for client meetings - it’s slick, quick, reliable and free. We have a virtual office, supplied by our great friends at OXIN. This gives us a physical address and improves our performance in natural search. We thought that all of these would be temporary - quick fixes to get us up and running and help us generate enough revenue to become a “real” company. But over the year, our thoughts have changed. It’s become clear to us that this isn’t just an expedient way to run a company - it’s a brilliant way to run one: By building a company that contains only the essentials - people who do work that generates revenue - we’ve dramatically reduced the cost and risk of running our business. We can do more work for less money which means our customers get more for their money. By building a company that’s distributed we don’t have all the costs and overheads that flow from running an office. From the obvious ones like rent and rates to the less obvious ones like buying computers and furniture (we’ve already got our own, so equipping an office would be wasteful duplication). Working this way has now become a pleasure. The lack of an office isn’t something we regret - it’s something we value. Being able to work efficiently, comfortably and cost-effectively has become one of the central pillars of our business, and one that we find liberating. Because our costs are low we can give ourselves the time to be creative - we can give all our work the consideration it deserves, rather than be constantly driven by the need to raise the money to fund a huge cost base. We’ve found that leaving things out can be a hugely positive decision. So, little did we think that by setting up our business we’d use a lesson we learned in design - having the courage to leave something out can be the difference between average and awesome! READ MORE

Technology and growth – friends or foe?

Technology and growth – friends or foe?

In 2018, UK businesses could leave up to £72.5billion of untapped growth on the table. Companies need to become purpose-driven, invested in top-line growth, tech confident and networked to unlock their growth potential. In the South East alone, this translates to £10billion, measured as GVA. Our research, Planning for Growth, also unveiled a sustainable high-growth group of businesses that nationally achieved 20% or more in growth in 2017 – and sustained growth for the past three years. These Growth Generators are almost five times more likely to be achieving their one-to-two-year growth targets than the rest of the market. And they are also nearly 10 times more likely to reach their targets than low-to-no growth companies. On top of this financial performance, Growth Generators share a growth mindset based on four key characteristics: purpose-driven invested in top-line growth and willing to seek external funding and engage in M&A activity tech confident networked However, with the rate of expansion at its lowest since 2012 – 1.7% in 2017 – what is holding back growth in the private sector? Technology acceleration and disruption have become the new norm. So it’s not surprising that our research found many UK businesses rank technology not only as their number one accelerator (37%), but also their number one barrier (38%) to growth. However, only 55% of business leaders who chose technology as an accelerator believe their leadership team has the ability to harness it as a tool for growth, and only same percent believe their leadership have the ability to overcome technology as a barrier. Given this large capability gap, it’s no wonder technology is also cited as the top investment area for all businesses. With only 29% of Growth Generators ranking technology as one of their top five barriers to growth, and the average business having technology as their top investment area, it’s clear business leaders are ready to unleash the potential that technology holds. And of those that did select it as a barrier to growth, 63% were confident in their ability to overcome it. Oxford-based Wendy Hart, partner in our technology team, says: “The first companies in a market to tech-enable their businesses tend to be disruptive and see an uplift in their perceived value. For management, a clear understanding of what it is they’re seeking to achieve through the application of technology, be it back-office or customer-facing systems, will help ensure a clear brief to technology vendors and consultants and reduces the risk of expensive mistakes. Seeing technology as a core part of the business strategy and not a cost centre is a first step in embracing its potential to unlock growth, and one which can pay dividends.” For a business pursuing ambitious growth plans, technical agility is crucial to future-proof for tomorrow’s needs. Consider how your technology decisions may affect your business in the future, how your technology model affects the market value of your business, and your solution’s ability to grow with you. Even in uncertain times, private sector companies have a large degree of control over their own destiny. Ambitiously thinking like Growth Generators is key to unlocking the full growth potential of the UK economy. Read more at grantthornton.co.uk/en/insights/growth Any queries, please contact Sarah-Beth Hutchins READ MORE

How a cyber attack can kill a startup business overnight!

How a cyber attack can kill a startup business overnight!

“Startups are incredibly vulnerable to cyber-attacks in their first 18 months. If a business thinks that it’s too small to matter to cybercriminals, then it’s fooling itself with a false sense of security.” – Brian Burch, Symantec Cybercrime is becoming a day to day reality for all businesses, however startups can be especially vulnerable for a number of reasons. New businesses usually have a long list of competing priorities and security rarely makes it to the top of that priority list. The fallout from some form of cyber-attack can be a financial loss, reputational damage, or loss of intellectual property.  To any business these can be damaging, embarrassing and costly, but to a startup they can be fatal.  Financial losses tend to have a more significant impact on new smaller businesses.  Reputational loss can be even harder to recover from as it takes time to regain customer confidence, if you are left with a toxic brand the business may never recover.  Many startups are based on a unique idea or product, if that product or concept is stolen or copied, the projected market may become smaller, less profitable or even uncompetitive. One of the biggest myths in Information security is that it has to be complex, expensive and restrictive, however when done properly it should not be. If good information security practices are embedded in a business from the start, they simply become part of the culture, evolve with it and protect the information assets from the start.  If your startup beats the odds and survives its infancy without a major incident, trying to retrofit the same principles at a later date can become more expensive, more complex, distracts from other core activities and in some cases simply fails. Protecting your business against attack involves managing risk, and in most cases involves identifying those risks and implementing simple common-sense practices to mitigate those risks.  However, if all that seems a little daunting, do not be afraid to get some advice.  At CQR we pride ourselves on building long term relationships by providing the right advice at the right time to help your business protect its information assets and enable your business to grow in a safer world. READ MORE

Spin-Outs and Start-Ups: Common Pitfalls – Issue the Shares in the Right Order

Spin-Outs and Start-Ups: Common Pitfalls – Issue the Shares in the Right Order

There are some really quite surprising tax traps for the unwary when a new company is started up.  It is quite possible under certain circumstances for H M Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to argue that an individual subscribing for some shares has a monstrous tax bill, based on income or gains calculated by reference to a number far, far in excess of any cash which has changed hands.  Care and advice must be taken, very early on, to ensure that this does not happen. HMRC’s argument would be based on market values of shares and intellectual property.  Envisage a scenario in which founders and investors agree the following simple but perfectly plausible deal: Investor                      Investment         Shares Founder A                     £ 30,000               30,000 Founder B                     £ 30,000               30,000 Venture Capitalist       £ 1,000,000          40,000 If the founders subscribe for shares first, a “decent interval” is left, and then the VCs take up their shareholdings, all should be well.  However, if the VCs come in first, there will be a problem.  HMRC can justifiably argue that the shares are worth £25 each, as the VCs have just paid hard cash to this value.  So, the logic proceeds, the founders have each received shares worth £750,000 (30,000 x £25) for a mere £30,000.  They have each been “given” £720,000. HMRC will then go on to assert that this “payment” was for whatever – intellectual property, for example – the founders bring to the venture.  Such intellectual property would be the fruits of the founders’ labour and, it is one of the two great certainties in life, that if someone gets paid for doing some work, the taxman will want his cut!  The founders each receive a tax bill for about £324,000, being 45% of £720,000. We recommend getting advice early to avoid any pitfalls.  We are more than happy to give early stage advice, and in many cases this is free of charge. READ MORE

So you want your new website to ‘pop’!?!

So you want your new website to ‘pop’!?!

Building a successful website is not just something that is desirable, it is more-often-than-not critical for the success of your business. That’s why it’s so important to understand the different intellectual elements that will help to create a website that speaks to your clients, engages them in your story, and ultimately drives them to take the next step. As a successful design and digital agency, the team at Herd have years of experience planning, architecting, designing and building successful websites for many different sized clients, spread across numerous sectors. This experience has allowed us to understand the importance of key pieces of information within a project - those things that not only add value to the finished site but can also be the crucial factor that makes the website a success. Whether you plan on undertaking a new website project yourselves or using a specialist agency, we believe it’s vital to consider the following points: Purpose A website must have a clearly defined purpose. That sounds straightforward right? But you’d be surprised by the number of companies that simply ‘want a new website’. We think it’s critical to clearly define what you want the website to achieve - increase enquiries, provide new information, sell your product, grow a membership scheme? By understanding the purpose of the website you set a quantifiable direction for the project, you can create goals and objectives, and you can ensure the rest of your business is structured around supporting the things you want your website to achieve. Audience Your new website is not for you - it’s for your audience, your customers, your users. You need to completely understand what drives your audience to get involved with you. Most people generally act to make their lives better. Are they ultimately using your services, products or offering to save themselves time? To make more money? To help them achieve in the workplace? You need to identify these motivations if you’re going to be able to successfully communicate with them. Furthermore it’s vital to consider how they’ve heard of you, how should they find your website - by googling the topic? By a referral from an existing user or customer? You need to think about how much they know about you when they first hit your website. Key messages Hopefully, by this time, you have solid understanding of the purpose of the website, who your audiences are and what they want to achieve. It’s now time to create some key messages that will speak to them and encourage them to take the desired action. These don’t need to be (and most likely shouldn’t be) sales pitches about your products - it’s usually much better to talk about how you can help, what you believe in and why you do what you do. You need your audience to trust you and believe in you if you want to drive genuine engagement. Content A few specific examples aside, a website IS its content. Content isn’t a thing you add at the end - it’s the core, the point and the purpose of a site. You’d be surprised how often people forget this. It’s not uncommon for people to spend months debating the relative merits of a particular shade of purple or whether boxes should have rounded corners and then copy and paste vast chunks of unconsidered text into their site just before it’s due to go live. For your site to work well, the content has to be great. For your site to be awesome, the structure, design and functionality AND the content need to be thought of as a whole. Content structure There are many ways you can structure the content on your website. This should be a scientific process driven by the purpose of the website and the goals of your audience. As an example you might have a few different services that are tailored to slightly different segments of your audience. You’re then faced with a decision to segment your content based on audience type or by product, a decision that could hugely impact the success of your website. However, if you’ve done your ground work and have a solid understanding of the audiences it should be clear to you how they’d prefer to engage with your content. Do not make assumptions here and certainly don’t structure content around who will be updating the site or how your teams are structured in the office! Yes - it happens.... Design Making something look nice is a good first step - but there is SO much more to authentically good design than simply looking good. Your design has to communicate. It has to express your company personality and it has to speak to your audience. Consider it a visual approach to your key messages. Your design needs to complement your messaging and personality, it needs to signpost and visually prioritise appropriate content, and most importantly it needs to bring everything together to build trust. Whilst it’s possible to do all this yourselves, a good agency can tease out all this information, do the heavy thinking and the great design and development work necessary to create a successful website for you. We believe finding the right agency can exponentially increase the success of a project. Website projects do not need to be stressful - creating your new site should be a fun and engaging process where we can all learn from one another and produce fantastic results. For a period of time your agency will become your partner - you may even begin to look at them as colleagues and that’s great. When true collaboration happens you’ll get the best results 🙂 If you take away one thing from this, remember your website is not for you, it’s for your users. You might not like pink bananas, but if your audience do, give them pink bananas. READ MORE

Product acceptance in the health-care environment

Product acceptance in the health-care environment

Technology innovators in the health-care sector can benefit from the research and expertise of the Oxford Clinical Allied Technology and Trials Services Unit (OxCATTS) If you are a start-up company, you may often get lost in the processes required to have a product or idea accepted within the healthcare environment. In the current transition phase from European Medical Device Directives to European Medical Device Regulations some processes and requirements may be hard to navigate alone. A clinical trial unit (CTU) can help to ensure that the research meets these requirements and support in the design, conduct, analysis, and report of the study. Focussing on research in technology innovation (including traditional trials, innovative designs and clinical audits) aligns with Government and LEP strategies. The Government have identified key Grand Challenges for global strength and importantly targeted local strengths that include AI and High Performance Computing, the local UK Biobank, and interaction between genes and environment. There is also a strategy to develop further key capabilities, emerging technologies and distinctive advantages from cybersecurity. A key aim is to harness and the power of innovation to meet the needs of the ageing society including technologies, services, and products to help older citizens lead independent, fulfilled lives.  Local, national, and international technology innovation can be supported by experienced, high-quality, research-active, and professional services staff at all career levels through smaller, flexible operational models which can create more research opportunities and keep down costs. The OxCATTS team are happy to discuss trial and service needs in a friendly and flexible environment. READ MORE

PNO on the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

PNO on the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is part of the governments long-term strategy to increase funding in research and development by £4.7 billion over the next 4 years. As part of the governments industrial strategy, it is aimed at strengthening UK science and business in order to raise the productivity and earning power of the UK in a vastly expanding global marketplace. This strategy was implemented to invest in world leading research and highly innovative businesses which address key industrial and societal challenges that affect the UK directly or have market potential on a global scale. To identify key challenges which affect the UK, the government has worked directly with businesses and academics and identified 15 core research areas where the UK has a current world-leading research base and businesses ready to innovate or where there is a large or fast growing sustainable global market. These calls build upon the funding received 6 challenges in the first wave in which £1 billion was allocated toward areas including AI and Robotic Systems, Next Generation Materials and Electric Vehicle Battery development. The 15 core challenges in the next wave are completely aligned with the Industrial Strategies Grand Challenges of Artificial Intelligence and Data, Ageing Society, Clean Growth and Future of Mobility. The fifteen core challenges are listed below. Each of the fifteen calls has a specific budget with some having totals that including matching from industry, Universities or the Private Sector. [caption id="attachment_36283" align="alignright" width="420"] Table 1. The budget for each of the 15 core challenges within the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.[/caption] Transforming Construction National Satellite Test Facility Creative Industries Clusters Next Generation Services Manufacturing and Future Materials Driverless Cars Prospering form the Energy Revolution Faraday Battery Challenge Audience of the Future From Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine Healthy Ageing Leading-edge Healthcare Quantum Technologies Robots for a Safer World Transforming Food Production The total budget for the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is currently up to £1.3 billion with an extra £291 million available through match funding on the Transforming Construction and Creative Industries Clusters calls. For more information regarding Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and other funding opportunities across the national and European landscape, come and speak to us at the PNO Consultants stand in the Venturefest Oxford exhibition.   This article was written by Olaf Swanzy & Max McMullon. Olaf is PNO UK’s MD, having initially joined in 2004 to help establish the UK operation. Olaf has worked with an extensive range of SME’s, large companies and universities across all industry sectors to advance R&D through the procurement of public funding from all principle National and European schemes (including Innovate UK, NIHR, DECC and Horizon 2020), technology transfer actions and grant programme management for UK and EU funded projects. Max has been an Innovation Consultant for several EU funding consultancies, supporting innovative SME’s to secure funding for R&D and market implementation of disruptive ideas. Max joined PNO UK to lead activities relating to EU SME schemes and support our activities on Innovate UK programmes. READ MORE

Ready to commercialise your invention? Stop! Do you have Freedom to Operate?

Ready to commercialise your invention? Stop! Do you have Freedom to Operate?

“I have patents on my invention. I don’t need to worry about other people’s patents – do I?” Yes, you do! Having your own patent does not mean that you can ignore other people’s patents. For example, you might have a patent on a specific compound, but another person might have an earlier patent which covers the whole class of compounds.  Or if you have a patent on a certain part of a process, there might be other patents which cover upstream or downstream parts of the process that you are planning to use. Therefore, before you start commercialising your invention, it is prudent to do a Freedom to Operate (FTO) search to try to find any relevant patents.  There are generally three stages to this: (1) Define the product, process or method that you plan to commercialise in terms of keywords.  These keywords will be used to search the patent databases to try to find relevant patents.  You will also need to decide on which countries you are likely to make/use/sell your invention because you will need to search the databases of those countries’ patents. (2) Commission a patent search using the keywords you have selected.  The search should cover both patents and patent applications in the countries that you have selected. These searches are usually performed by specialist searching companies. (3) Analyse the results of the search. The number of “hits” that you get from your search will depend on how broadly your keywords were, on how many different countries’ patent databases you have searched, and on how many relevant patents are in those databases.  This analysis is usually done by a patent attorney.  All of the claims of all of the patents need to be carefully reviewed. The claims of pending patent applications (which might later mature into patents) also need to be considered, as well as the likelihood of those patent applications actually being granted. Often the patents/applications are sorted by the patent attorney into “relevant”, “possibly relevant” and “not relevant” (or red, amber and green) bundles, indicating the level of risk associated with those patents/applications. On the “relevant” (red) cases, further investigations might be needed.  The options to be explored here could include seeking a license under the patent, challenging the patent’s validity, designing around it or waiting until the patent expires. Whilst an FTO search might cost £500-£2500 (depending on how exhaustive you wish it to be), the costs for the analysis will depend mainly on the number of patents which are found. (The more patents that are found, the more time it will take to analyse them.)  The analysis costs might therefore be up to £5,000, or higher. Carrying out an FTO search and analysis can be a time-consuming exercise, but it is money well spent.  For example, it is much better to find out about relevant patents/applications before you invest $10 million in a new manufacturing facility. If you don’t, then you risk being sued by a competitor for patent infringement (and possibly being shut down)! READ MORE

 

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