Debatte-IP / Razvan
2023-10-01 VDE dialog

Debate: Better safe than sorry

Think the patent office is just for oddball eccentrics and their wacky inventions? Think again! Patent lawyer Sebastian Greding explains why electrical engineers also need to consider protecting their intellectual property and why it pays to invest in this area.

by Sebastian Greding

VDE dialog - the technology magazine
Portrait photo of Sebastian Greding

Sebastian Greding studied mechanical engineering with a focus on medical technology and microtechnology and works as a patent lawyer in Munich, primarily for larger SMEs and international companies. He particularly enjoys helping small enterprises and startups protect their inventions.

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In a world where innovation and technological progress are playing an ever bigger role, protecting IP (intellectual property) is vital. Patents, utility models, trademarks and designs are tools that enable companies and individuals alike to protect their developments and innovations and enjoy all the fruits of their labor. They aren't just for professional tinkerers and serial inventors, either. Patents are particularly important in highly innovative areas that overlap with electrical engineering and information technology, such as artificial intelligence, 5G and 6G, quantum computing, and safety and security. This is because technical and technological solutions have high economic value in such fields, especially if they are relevant to standardization.

The preconception that patents are too expensive and time-consuming to bother with has long been outdated. Some would still rather put their money into marketing or product development than filing a patent application – but that is a miscalculation. As the European Patent Office (EPO) and European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) have demonstrated, the figures show that companies that protect their IP are much more financially successful than their competitors.

Patents can even be used to protect software, “computer-implemented inventions”, or CII for short, provided it produces a “technical effect” or solves a technical problem. This is often the case with AI-based developments, which is a field where patent applications have increased sharply in recent years. Small companies and startups in particular are frequently developing highly innovative AI-based software for a wide range of applications. These solutions enable them not only to secure footholds in new business areas, but take on long-standing players in more established markets, as well. To make this possible, however, their software needs to be sufficiently protected from imitation.

If an innovation is unpatented, there's nothing to stop a competi­tor from bringing the same or similar software to market and grabbing a share of the spoils. Or even worse, a competitor might develop and protect its own, improved software solution based on an innovative program another company created first, but neglected to patent. That would prevent the original inventor from using the improved solution to fine-tune its own product, effectively forcing it out of a highly competitive market. Examples like these illustrate why innovations and technical solutions always need protecting.