Oxford-derived innovations have been in the news rather a lot of late. We all know about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, home grown in our region and making a real difference to the pandemic response. The main innovator behind it, Professor Sarah Gilbert, has moved from celebrity of the vaccine development world to talking point of every UK household.
As well as the covid vaccine itself, there is much other pandemic-related innovation going on in our region. The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) facility is currently under construction and with the spotlight on the difficulties of vaccine logistics of late, the urgency to complete this project has never been clearer.
Local companies are also at the forefront of the pandemic response: Oxford Nanopore Technologies, who recently announced their intention to float on the LSE, are just one example. With their long history of innovation in sequencing technology developed here in our region, Oxford Nanopore have surely contributed to the UK’s reputation as a world leader in identifying covid variants.
Away from pandemic-related innovations, Oxfordshire has shown itself to be a hub of innovation in a wide spectrum of other fields, from Oxford PV’s promise of cheaper and more efficient solar panels to the realistic digital worlds of Hollywood films made possible by Vicon’s motion capture systems. As a result Oxfordshire has a multi-disciplinary network of researchers thriving off one another, driving further innovation.
But is innovation enough on its own? Drive and investment is often needed to develop new ideas and bring them to fruition. Intellectual property has a significant place to play in making that step from idea to reality. It can be a valuable tool that serves to help build investment in innovative companies and to secure a return on that investment through a promised monopoly. IP strategy is now a key aspect of any business plan for a company with innovation at its core.
The idea of monopolising innovations such as life-saving medicines and vaccines can be unpopular and is seen as causing inflated prices and limiting access. Calls for a “patent waiver” in relation to the covid vaccines were therefore perhaps inevitable. But for covid-19, as in many areas, these issues are complex: vaccine manufacture and logistics are arguably bigger issues than IP and license arrangements such as that between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India is perhaps a better, nuanced solution, that avoids the risk of discouraging early investment.
Away from this spotlight, there seems to be no lack of drive to innovate, and in turn secure IP protection. In our region, Oxford University is a leader in technology transfer, lately seeing some 15-20 new companies spun out every year, these being supported by University IP. And this seems to be reflected elsewhere: recent pandemic-related difficulties in accessing lab space may have had short-term impact on the ability to generate data to support new patent filings, but overall, filing numbers remain high.
Innovation is said to be the best way out of a crisis. Our region has shown its worth in finding solutions to problems thrown up by the pandemic – perhaps our next celebrity innovators will come from the many local companies working on creative solutions to climate change. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention…
Amanda Simons is a partner in the Oxford office, with over 20 years’ professional experience, including an extensive track record in advising start-up companies and working in developing technologies. Amanda’s work focuses on the pharmaceutical and medtech sectors, including anti-microbials, re-purposed drugs, pharmaceutical formulations, medical sensors and other medical equipment.
Contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01865 406 100
Callum Docherty is a European and UK Patent Attorney based in our Oxford office. Callum’s main focus is on software and physics-based inventions including
bioinformatics, user interfaces, telecommunications, semiconductor technologies, scientifi c instruments and optical devices.
Contact Cullum at email@example.com or call 01865 406 100
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