14 March 2021

One of the Few Silver Linings - Innovation during the Pandemic

Under a cloud (with a silver lining) (1920)
Punch 22 Sept 1920  Wikipedia Silver Lining


Jane Lambert

At the start of the lockdown just under a year ago, I wrote in IP Services During the Emergency on 22 March 2020:

"The suspension of so much business activity to facilitate social distancing does not mean that intellectual property is no longer a priority. On the contrary, it is now more important than ever."

And so it transpired.  The total number of international patent applications through the Patent Cooperation Treaty has increased from 265,381 in 2019 to 275,900 in 2020.  In spite of brexit and all the other dampeners on its economy, the UK was no exception to that trend,   Applications from the UK rose from 5,773 in 2019 to 5,912 in 2020 (see Innovation Perseveres: International Patent Filings via WIPO Continued to Grow in 2020 Despite COVID-19 Pandemic 2 March 2021 WIPO press release).   As The Economist noted in its YouTube video How covid-19 is boosting innovation of 10 March 2021, the last 12 months have been a year of innovation.

In my previous article: I wrote that 

"if we are ever to stop Covid-19 in its tracks it will be through the efforts of universities and biotech and pharmaceutical companies around the world whose."
That was not a widely shared view when I write that sentence.   At the start of this pandemic, pundits warned the public not to expect vaccines to come to the rescue any time soon. They said that it takes years to develop vaccines and even longer to obtain regulatory approval and set up distribution networks.  They were wrong.    New technologies enabled pharmaceutical companies in different parts of the world to develop effective vaccines within a few months of each other.  Most achieved regulatory approval within weeks of their clinical trials.  The UK, the USA and several other countries have been able to roll out those vaccines very quickly.

There have also been advances in diagnostics and therapies that have enabled health services throughout the world to treat far more patients in the second wave than at the peak of the first without buckling.  At the same time, there have been inventions to prevent the spread of infection.  Examples include Thrsus's "Bump" which I covered in Rise and Design Online: A Webinar for Designers in Northeast England on Designing our Way out of Lockdown in NIPC Northeast on 15 June 2020 and DABS's gloves which I mentioned in the same publication in Rise & Design: Wearable Tech Webinar yesterday.

Innovation has not been confined to healthcare. There are businesses founded on new products and services that did not exist a year ago in such fields as distribution, education and entertainment.  The Economist mentioned drones to distribute medicines and other essential supplies, video conferencing to facilitate online learning and professional consultations, home delivery services by Michelin starred restaurants and the letting out of ghost kitchens to self-employed chefs. Here are some more examples that have occurred to me. In May 2019 the Chinese internet courts were so unusual that they merited an article in NIPC Law. Less than a year later the UK Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and much of the High Court in England and Wales were dispensing justice over the internet.  In retailing, contactless payments have driven cash into retreat.   The Economist estimated that the pandemic had accelerated the use of digital technology by about 5 years. The presenter actually welcomed his audience to 2025.

In IP Services During the Emergency, I wrote:
"And when this emergency is over businesses will have to innovate and create as never before in order to restore our ravaged economy the planning for which has to start now."

There will be lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs as the world emerges from lockdown. Anybody lucky enough to have worked from home on full pay will have saved considerable sums by not commuting, maintaining their wardrobes or spending on leisure activities.  They will be looking for such services as extra tutoring for kids who have missed half a year of schooling, broadband upgrades, home extensions and maintenance after a year of restrictions.  There will, of course, be a return to the office for some but many other businesses will have noticed a reduction of costs and improvements in productivity from home working so the demand for home delivery is likely to stay firm.

The businesses that provide those services will need trade marks for their brands and maybe patents and design registered designs for their products. Inevitably disputes will arise with IPO examiners and other intellectual property owners.   Last year I wrote:

"Anybody who needs advice or assistance with an IP issue can contact me through my "Initial Advice and Signposting Form". I can advise on IP law generally and represent clients in negotiations and disputes but I do not prosecute patent, design or trade mark applications, specialize in tax or company law, develop products or arrange funding. However, I can probably direct clients to other experts such as patent or trade mark attorneys, commercial law firms, specialist accountants and product design consultants who can help with such issues."

I have experienced strong demand for those services, especially over the last few weeks.   I will continue those services after lockdown.  Anybody wishing to discuss this article or book an appointment for a free 30-minute advice and initial signposting session can call me during normal UK office hours on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form at other times.

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