Sunday, 24 July 2016

Polymer membranes for nano-sized separations

Separation techniques are increasingly important processes for chemical industry and relate to the isolation of certain components of complex mixtures. Organic solvent nanofiltration, in particular, involves the separation of solvent molecules from larger molecules, aggregates, or metal complexes based on size selective permeation. Researchers from Imperial College (led by Prof. Andrew Livingstone) have developed new polymer nanomembranes based on polyacrylate networks, and have recently published their findings in Nature Materials.

The membranes were synthesised by interfacial polymerisation of multifunctional aromatic alcohols with multifunctional acyl chlorides (on a macroporous polyimide support) leading to highly crosslinked polymer networks a few hundreds of nanometers thick.

By using non-planar aromatic alcohol monomers they were able to significantly enhance the nanoporosity of the membranes due to inefficient packing of the polymer chains. This inventive step has led to exciting new nanomembranes which are able to rapidly separate small solvent molecules very efficiently.

a) 3D representation of polyacrylate network, b) schematic diagram showing nanofilm composite membrane based separation. Image (c) NPG, used with permission.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Conference Report! - Warwick Polymer Conference 2016

From the 11th- 14th of July I attended the Warwick Polymer Conference, admittedly this is not terribly surprising as Warwick is my home university and polymer chemistry is my area of research! None-the-less, what a great conference it was! Held every 4 years, the Warwick Polymer Conference attracts the biggest names in polymer chemistry, and this year was the largest yet with over 580 delegates. Highlights from the plenary lectures included Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, Christopher Barner-Kowolik, Molly Stevens, David Leigh, Virgil Percec, Takuzo Aida, Ben Zhong Tang, Steve Armes, Nikos Hadjichristidis, and Marc Hillmyer. One of the talks I found most interesting was from Ulrich Schubert on his impressive research on polymer based redox-flow batteries. Its amazing how in the approximately 5 years since starting this new area of research in his group, they have been granted patents, funded entire new buildings, started a company, and published in Nature!

Aside from the scientific content of the conference, it was great to meet and socialise with chemists from all over the world. The conference dinner was fantastic, and included a performance from the Nottingham polymer rock band - No Dead Chains! There was also a 5-a-side football tournament, which in the end was won by the Armes group. What an excellent few days! 


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

European Inventor Awards 2016

Earlier this month in Lisbon the EPO held its annual European Inventor Awards, highlighting the most innovative and exciting inventions of recent years. The awards are intended to recognise inventors from Europe and also internationally, who have made outstanding contributions to technological/scientific progress, social development, and ecomonic growth. President of the EPO, Benoit Battistelli, commented:
“Today's award ceremony is a tribute to the spirit of innovation and the work of dedicated individuals who through their inventions advance the state of the art for all of us. The inventions recognised with this year's award give new hope to people suffering from disease, increase diagnostic efficiency, protect the environment and save thousands of lives on the road.”
Image of award winners, courtesy of the EPO
Ground-breaking innovations
The awards were divided into a number of categories: In the Industry category, German physicists Bernhard Gleich and Jurgen Weizenecker won for their contribution to the development of new medical imaging techniques based on magnetic particles. The SME category was won by a Danish team for the application of ammonia in solid form to reduce diesel engine emissions. Bob Langer from MIT was recognised in the Non-EU countries category, for his decades of work on biodegradable polymers and their application in anticancer drug delivery. 

Medical diagnostic kits
There was also a popular prize awarded to Helen Lee of the University of Cambridge, based on the online votes of the public, which the rest of this post will focus on. Her invention involves easy to read and cheap diagnostic kits for the detection of a variety of diseases including HIV, hepatitis B, and chlamydia, primarily for use in developing countries. Introduced in 2011, these robust and instant tests have already been used to test over 40,000 people. 

In order to commercialise these kits a university spin-out was formed, Diagnostics for the Real World, which has raised approximately EUR 60 million from organisations including UNITAD, NIH and the Wellcome Trust. The company develops these point-of-care assays for resource-strained regions and operates with a 15% cap on profits. Recent years have seen rapid growth in the international market for point-of-care diagnostic devices, with an estimated value of EUR 13 billion in 2013 and an expectation of this to reach EUR 29 billion by 2022.

Patents
Since the group at the University of Cambridge was formed in 1996, they have been granted around 20 national patents. The European patents relevant to this European inventor award are: EP1301627, EP1301628, EP1301629, EP1325151, EP1336105. Most of the diagnostic tests are based on one original patent (EP1336105 – Dipstick assay), with the primary independent claim being:


For the test to be conducted a blood sample from the patient is required, a dipstick coated with specific nucleic acids is then inserted into the sample. The nucleic acids on the dipstick amplify the viral RNA in the blood to generate a visible colour change as an indication of viral infection. Due to this method detecting the virus directly and not antibodies in the blood, the test can be used to detect HIV in infants, which was otherwise undetectable. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

EU pt.2: Effect of Brexit on IP in the UK

The widely anticipated (eagerly or otherwise) referendum on continued British membership of the EU to be held on the 23rd of June, is fast approaching. 

If the UK votes to leave, access to the unitary patent and UPC will be severely endangered. It could still be possible for the new system to take effect, however the start date would be delayed. This could be for 5-10 years whilst arrangements for leaving the EU are made. 

If the UK votes to remain, it will effectively guarantee access to the unitary patent and UPC. According the the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) in the UK, this will preserve the UK’s status as an influential contributor to IP law, and bring valuable opportunities to UK businesses associated with the unitary patent and UPC.

From the CIPA website:
CIPA, as the UK representative body for IP practitioners, believes that:
  • A Brexit could compromise the UK’s access to, participation in and influence over the world’s IP systems. This would not be good for either UK or international IP, or for the role of the UK’s IP attorneys and IP users within the global IP system.
  • Since the IP system supports and incentivises research, development and innovation in the UK, remaining in the EU should better benefit such activities and in turn their contribution to the UK economy.
  • A Brexit is likely to have a detrimental effect on the current businesses of CIPA members and other IP professionals, and on their competitiveness, in particular in the European market.
  • Since these businesses include significant service exports, their success also affects the UK’s export economy.
A Brexit would bring uncertainty and upheaval to the UK’s IP framework, a framework which is currently stable and well-functioning, global-facing and widely respected.  IP rights are valuable commercial tools, their exploitation key to many business strategies and international trading arrangements.  IP also incentivises innovation and helps its products to flourish.  CIPA urges the UK not to overlook, or indeed underestimate, the impact of the 23 June referendum on IP.
The possibility of a UK vote to leave seems to be the last hurdle for the unitary patent system, and its establishment in 2017.

EU pt.1: Unitary Patent and the Unified Patent Court

In December of 2012 the Council of the European Union approved two new regulations to start the process of creating an improved European patent. This European patent with unitary effect, or unitary patent, is a type of European patent expected to begin being adopted in early 2017, and is the result of years of development and European negotiations. It will be enforceable in the new Unified Patent Court (UPC).

Obtaining a unitary patent

New European patent with unitary effect 
Unitary patents will be obtained using the existing European patent application procedure and will be enforceable throughout the participating EU member States before the UPC. The current European patent, according to the European Patent Convention, has to be validated separately in each individual European country where patent protection is needed. Essentially, leading to a bundle of separate national patent rights, which each take on their own independent existence after validation, and requiring separate litigation in national courts.

UPC

The Unified Patent Court is a single court system in which patent matters can be heard for all participating EU Member States. The UPC will have jurisdiction over unitary patents, but also traditional European patents previously enforced on a national basis. 

It is intended that the UPC will improve upon the existing European system, in which patents can only be enforced or revoked in national courts. This often results in two or more parallel actions in different countries and associated legal costs as well as the possibility of inconsistent decisions.

An advantage of the new court, is that it will enable unitary patent holders to bring a single infringement action across all member states. However, this will also enable third parties to knock out unitary patents in a single revocation action.

Court structure

The Court will consist of a Court of First Instance and a Court of Appeal. The Court of First Instance will consist of Central, Local and Regional Divisions. The Central Division will be based in Paris, London or Munich, depending on subject-matter. London will handle cases relating to chemistry, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and medical devices. Munich will handle involving aspects of mechanical engineering. Remaing subject areas will be handled in Paris.

UPC structure (Diagram from UK IPO)
Local Divisions may be established in any of the participating Member States, while Regional Divisions may be established between groups of two or more participating Member States. The Court of Appeal will be based in Luxembourg.

Cost?

The filing and prosecution costs will approximately the same as for any current European patent application. For annuity or renewal fees, the proposal is to use the current European Patent Office fee for each of years 3-5 and a transitional level fee for years 6-9. For year 10 onward, the fee cost will be the combined total for the four countries in which classical European patents are most frequently validated (Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands). However, this renewal fee schedule and the lack of ability to drop states later in the life of the patent term could impact on the cost effectiveness of the unitary patent. It is likely that a unitary patent will be cost effective if protection is desired in a large number of EU member states. Although the unitary patent could become less cost effective as the number of countries in which protection is desired decreases and/or where the desire for protection changes over the life of the patent. 

An important advantage of the unitary patent is that it can be enforced in all member states at one time, potentially reducing costs and the length of the enforcement procedure. Translation costs are reduced to a minimum, and as mentioned - only a single renewal fee will be payable.

When?

For the system to come into effect, 13 countries must ratify the Unitary Patent Regulation. Of these 13, France, Germany and United Kingdom must be included. Presently, 10 countries (including France) have ratified. Several other countries appear close to ratification, so the required total of 13 countries is likely to be met during 2016 or early 2017, allowing a start date in early to mid 2017. The start date will be the beginning of the 4th month after the 13th country’s ratification.

The status of ratification for each member state can be found on the European Council website

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Recent patent and IP seminar hosted by the RSC Law Group

Great library of all things chemistry
at Burlington House
On the 16th of May I attended a very interesting seminar at the Royal Society of Chemistry in Piccadilly (Burlington House). The speakers, from various IP and patent attorney firms, gave insightful talks ranging from patents (including technical considerations for chemistry patents) non-patentable IP, and assignments and licensing. A great day with lots of interesting discussions with IP professionals and fellow researchers!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Xiaomi buys 1,500 Microsoft patents, paving way for international expansion

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and Microsoft have expanded their global partnership. The press release states that as part of the deal, Xiaomi will ship Microsoft Office and Skype on Xiaomi Android devices.

The more surprising part of the announcement is that the nature of the IP transaction, with ownership of the patents (details not announced, but could include voice communications, multimedia and cloud computing patents) being assigned to Xioami as well as some being cross-licensed.

Microsoft licenses patents to most Android device manufacturers, and often Microsoft apps are bundled with the devices. However this is possibly the first instance of outright sales of Microsoft mobile device patents.

(c) Xiaomi Inc.
From the press release:
“Xiaomi was founded in 2010 by serial entrepreneur Lei Jun, who believes that high-quality technology doesn’t need to cost a fortune. With more than 70 million handsets sold in 2015, and products launched in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, India, Indonesia and Brazil, Xiaomi is expanding its footprint across the world to become a global brand.”

According to the Financial Times, a lean patent portfolio has hindered Xiaomi’s efforts to ramp up exports. This IP deal reduces their vulnerability to lawsuits, with litigation being a serious challenge in the smartphone industry, as highlighted by the high profile and on-going Samsung v Apple cases.


The deal is also beneficial to Microsoft, who expands its reach in Asia, after it has struggled to make an impact in the smartphone industry since acquiring Nokia’s hardware business for $7.2bn in 2013.