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Building a Biotech: IP, LES 2018 and protecting innovation


This weekend, our CEO Vivienne Williams will be attending the LES conference in Boston, USA. Read on to find her account of why this is important for Cellix, and why a strong IP portfolio is important for biotech start-ups, industry, universities and consumers.

Last night I arrived in Boston for the Licensing Executives Society (LES) annual conference 2018. While again looking over the schedule for the conference, it occurred to me that there are many misconceptions around intellectual property (IP) licensing, and a lack of knowledge about what it is and why it is vital for biotech.

Here are some of my thoughts on IP licensing, and the role that establishing strong IP has in the development of start-up biotech portfolios, innovation and diversity within the sector.

What is IP?

Intellectual property law is the subset of property law that covers the non-physical creations of creators of all kinds. These laws allow creators to prevent others from making, selling or offering the invention as covered by the patent, copyright or trademark acquired by the company. In the news, it is largely covered in relation to entertainment and authors rights (music, books, films, and television) as these are widely disseminated illegally through the internet.

What is often overlooked is how key these are in the worlds of start-ups and biotech; these laws are key in allowing innovators to take their ideas from lab bench to execution.

Why is IP important to biotech start-ups?

To quote Doug Kellogg: "If universities are the engine for discovery, then start-ups are the vehicle for innovation"¹. Biotech start-ups provide a different working atmosphere than later stage companies; a greater flexibility and urgency to translate ideas provide an unparalleled environment for innovation, invention and for ideas to develop. However, few early stage (and often, many later stage) biotechs have physical products to bring to market; instead, their advantage lies in the proprietary new technologies they have developed.

Image: Cellix's early days after our spin-out from Trinity College Dublin

Strong IP is how start-ups protect these proprietary technologies and build competitive advantage within the market. For clarity, in the context of biotechs when I discuss IP, I'm largely referring to establishing patents and licensing deals around these patents.

A strong patent portfolio also allows start-ups to raise venture capital, and build working relationships with other companies. The establishment of patents by a biotech is how the ideas of a small business can be protected from predation. The biotech patent portfolio allows investors to see the potential and applications of the proprietary technology. It also serves as a product which can be provided by the business, by licensing the technology to other companies who have pain points which could be solved by the new technology of the start-up. As seen in the graphic below, Kellogg pegs the establishment of patents as a key milestone in the early days of a biotech.

Image: Doug Kellogg's overview of the key milestones in the early days of a start-up, with pa