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Five IP trends we’ll be tracking this year

These five topics have the potential to change IP strategy and practice. We’ll be analysing them during the coming 12 months and beyond

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, September often signals new beginnings: the start of the school and university year; a new court term; and an uptick in work after the summer dip. So, in that spirit, here are five subjects for the Managing IP curriculum 2014-15.

1 Unitary Patent and UPC

The details – notably court rules and costs – are still being finalised, but the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court are coming and are likely to play an important role in corporate strategies in the coming year. Indeed, it is likely that the first applications that will become Unitary Patents are already being processed at the EPO (pictured, right).

Next month, we host two events (in Munich and Paris) where in-house counsel, private practice lawyers and judges will discuss the latest developments. But we know there is also great interest in the new system beyond Europe and we will also hold the first European Patent Reform Forum on both the West Coast and East Coast of the United States this year.

Starting in October, we will publish a series of strategic articles on different aspects of the system (prosecution, assertion, defence, industry-specific issues etc) discussing both what is known and highlighting the remaining areas of uncertainty. Hopefully by the end of the year we will know a lot more about it than we do now.

2 Trade secrets and data protection

As we blogged recently, there are moves around the world to update trade secrets laws. These initiatives reflect both the growing importance of trade secrets to today’s businesses and also the greater ease with which they can be stolen.

We don’t know what if anything will happen with the legislative proposals. But in the meantime there are steps that companies need to take to protect their trade secrets and, more broadly, commercially important data. We’ll be publishing articles on these subjects covering the relevant issues in IP and also in employment, data protection, unfair competition and other areas, and looking at practical steps that employers and employees should take.

3 Big Data

Following on from that, Big Data is one of the business buzz phrases of our time and the concept will inevitably have an impact on IP. But how? We will look at its likely impact on different aspects of IP protection and enforcement.

For example, how (if at all) does the huge expansion of data affect prior art searching and analytics? How can it be made accessible? What questions and concerns are there about the ownership and protection of big data, particularly where it has been collected or compiled from various sources? Will it have an impact on litigation, for example could it play a role in survey evidence in trade mark cases?

Not all these questions have been fully explored yet, but we expect we will begin to see some answers during 2015.

4 Personalised medicine

If Big Data is one global business trend, then personalised medicine is another, and one that appears to be accelerating. If some are to be believed, it could fundamentally reshape the life sciences industries.

And, as these industries are among the most dependent on IP rights, that raises lots of questions for IP practitioners. Many of these relate to patents – what aspects of personalised medicine, if any, will be patentable? Will they still be worth patenting? How can those patents be enforced? Will the blockbuster drug model based on rock solid core patents still be relevant? But there are other issues too: what role if any will copyright and data protection play, for example?

5 3D printing

Our final trend is one that many readers will already be familiar with, in principle if not in practice: 3D printing. As long ago as 2011, my colleague Emma Barraclough reported on the potential demand for 3D printing and the issues it would likely raise of copyright, design and even patent protection.

Since then, numerous articles (such as this) and talks (such as this one) have tackled similar issues, even though 3D printing has not yet become commonplace, and there have been few contentious cases.

Could this year see that change? We think it might, as the technology comes down in price and spreads internationally. With that in mind, we will be on the lookout for key developments and disputes to report and analyse.

Keep up to date

So those are our five focus issues for the next year. We will of course be covering all other developments as they happen too, whether in the courts, legislative bodies or commercially. To make sure you don’t miss out on any news and analysis, sign up for our newsletters or, even better, subscribe to Managing IP.

If you’re particularly interested in commenting on any of these topics, or would be interested in contributing articles on them, please email me with details. We’d also welcome feedback on other topics you think we should be covering: please post your comments in the usual way.

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