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From 5G to the COVID vaccine — meet the lawyers working in the hottest sectors

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By Adam Mawardi on

A panel of Bristows lawyers reveal all

At STEM Future Lawyers’ latest virtual student event, ‘How to use your STEM background in a legal career’, a panel of Bristows lawyers offered insight into their exciting work within the booming life sciences and technology sectors. Here are the highlights.

The speakers

Greg Bacon, patent litigation partner
Alex Denoon, life sciences regulatory partner
Naomi Hazenberg, senior associate specialising in patent litigation
Louisa Jacobs, associate in the commercial IP group

The global race for a coronavirus vaccine

Last month’s announcement that Oxford University and drug manufacturer AstraZeneca had developed a highly effective coronavirus vaccine represented a highpoint for Bristows’ commercial IP group, including Louisa Jacobs. An intellectual property (IP) associate specialising in life sciences, Jacobs was part of the team that acted for Oxford University in its collaboration with AstraZeneca to develop and manufacture a new COVID jab. “It was fantastic to work on something so high-profile in the fight against coronavirus,” she said.

The race against the global threat to human health has seen IP lawyers work at an unprecedented speed. According to Jacobs the AstraZeneca-Oxford collaboration for the vaccine had to be completed in a few weeks — much quicker compared to pre-pandemic times which could see negotiations stretch over months. “It was amazing how quickly everything got done — that’s what really struck me — everyone worked extremely hard,” she added.

From an IP perspective, the vaccine race hasn’t created many challenges so far. Rather, the culture of cooperation bred by the global search is “truly, absolutely astonishing”, said Alex Denoon, a life sciences regulatory partner, who is currently working on multiple COVID-related projects. In fact, compared to other areas of life sciences, vaccine companies are less litigious, explained Greg Bacon, a patent litigation partner.

One obvious reason is that there’s “money to be made” from working together. According to Bacon, medicine-makers often hold patents not just for their own specific products but also for those which pharma-rivals would need to license if they wanted to create a similar vaccine — meaning “parties are very open to doing IP licensing deals”.

Increasing this desire for deals is the fact that health services want multiple vaccines available to them — whether it’s for coronavirus, or other diseases such as TB or polio. “Governments don’t want to be reliant on a single supplier in case, for example, something goes wrong at the manufacturer side and suddenly there’s no vaccine available,” Bacon said.

5G, AI and the internet of things

Patent litigation lawyers will see a boom once 5G, the newest generation of super-fast wireless technology, rolls out properly across the UK, predicted Naomi Hazenberg. According to the senior associate, who specialises in patent litigation, the 5G era will see the so-called “telecom wars” continue as parties seek to capitalise on the English court’s willingness and ability to set global licence terms.

Meanwhile, the rise of smart cities and smart homes made possible through the ‘internet of things’ could also ignite a disputes boom. “As the internet of things expands and everything in your home is talking to each other, and your fridge tells Sainsbury’s Online that you’re running out of milk — that’s the kind of things we expect to litigate from a TMT [technology, media and telecommunications] perspective,” she explained.

The application deadline for Bristows' 2023 Training Contract is Sunday 10 January 2021

The increasing use of “true artificial intelligence” is also a hot topic for patent lawyers, added Bacon, who has a PhD in neuroscience. As it stands, issuing a patent legally requires the product to have been invented by a human — casting uncertainty around patenting anything created by AI systems. But Bacon believes this may change. “We may well see legislative changes to allow patents to be applied for by the person who built the AI in the first place, even though the AI creates the inventions to be protected later on.”

What does the rise of artificial intelligence mean for patent lawyers?

How do you patent something invented by artificial intelligence? Speaking at ‘How to use your STEM background in a legal career’, Bristows Law Firm partner Gregory Bacon discusses this ‘real hot topic’ for patent lawyers #LCCareers

Posted by Legal Cheek on Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Life sciences and tech sectors converging

Life sciences and technology — two areas of growth tipped to drive recovery from the COVID-downturn — are “remarkably converging”, said Denoon. “If you think of something like genomics — it straddles IP, data, pharmaceuticals, medical technology and deployment, and it throws up a bunch of ethical, policy and regulatory challenges,” he said.

Other examples include applying AI and new technology to drug development, production and distribution. “It is the growth area of the future because there’s so much that technology can offer the life sciences sector,” said Denoon.

Though abundant opportunities lie ahead for Bristows, known for its expertise in these two thriving sectors, there is an inevitable gap between transactional and contentious IP lawyers, Bacon noted.

Jacobs, for example, works on the transactional side and advises on research collaborations and early stage licensing deals, as well as the IP aspects of the sale and acquisition of life sciences companies — meaning she often sees technology in its very early stages. “A company with an exciting new technology may be acquired for hundreds of millions of pounds before the company even has a granted patent. If the patent is ever litigated, this might not happen until 10-15 years down the line,” explained Jacobs, who studied cell and developmental biology before completing a research masters in biochemistry.

Although this means that much of today’s disputes focus on tech from one or two decades ago, Bacon believes this is simply part of the natural patent life cycle. “You need to come up with the invention, not tell anyone about it, apply for a patent which takes a number of years to be granted, and then you need someone to be threatening to use it for you to assert that patent against someone else,” he explained.

How your STEM degree can set you apart

Aspiring life science lawyers with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are well positioned, said Denoon, who studied human genetics. “It makes us literate enough to speak sensibly with the client. Rather than solve their science problem, it helps us communicate the interface with the legal framework,” he said.

That’s not to say that non-STEM applicants are disadvantaged. Although many in Bristows’ patent litigation team have scientific experience, there are plenty that don’t, said Hazenberg, who studied physics. Degrees aside, all candidates should be interested and eager to learn more. “The client knows we’re enthusiastic about the technology and science behind it and that we’re keen to work for them,” she added.

The application deadline for Bristows' 2023 Training Contract is Sunday 10 January 2021

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