What a chemist needs to know about patents

This item first appeared 2007

Event review: Intellectual property, 31 October 2007

Intellectual Property (IP) is one of the major outputs of all R&D organisations, and yet for most scientists it remains an area shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. To debunk the myths, the SCI Fine Chemicals Group, in collaboration with the Liverpool and North West Regional Group of SCI, held a one-day workshop on the 31 October 2007, entitled ‘What a chemist needs to know about patents’.

The workshop, which was attended by research and development and legal staff from a diverse range of industries. It featured modules from Darren Smyth and Graham Burnett-Hall from Marks and Clerk solicitors, and from Peter Elliott (pictured), group manager, patents for Unilever’s Laundry Business. The programme covered the full spectrum of patent activities; from what makes inventions patentable, to the drafting of patents and patent specifications, through infringement and endorsement and on to how to determine the value of your patent portfolio. There was even a ‘rough guide’ on how to deal with IP issues arising during third-party negotiations. The sessions showcased how to read and understand patents, the legal frameworks under which patents are filed and granted, and the key factors which must be included for a patent to be valid.

The workshop was held in Unilever’s Port Sunlight laboratory, which has a long standing tradition of developing world class intellectual property, and a long association with IP law. It was in Liverpool, on 2 February 1884, that the young William Lever first exploited the 1875 Trademarks Act to file a trademark on the Sunlight Soap brand, after which Port Sunlight takes its name. This Act introduced for the first time, the opportunity to ‘protect goodwill inherent products’.

The day concluded with a case study exploring a real Unilever patent case, followed by a very lively Q&A session, which served to further confirm the interest and enthusiasm for this topic. All of the sessions were highly interactive and very well received, and both the Fine Chemicals Group and the Liverpool and North West Regional Group of SCI felt the event was a great success.

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