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Distance work in America gave Tuula Rintamäki the qualifications of a US Patent Agent

10.12.2020
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Tuula Rintamäki is a rarity among Finnish patent attorneys. She has the qualifications and expertise of both a European Patent Attorney and a US Patent Agent for mechanics and telecommunications technology. Diversity is an advantage in the patent industry – but nothing beats solid expertise gained through experience.

Chance and economic fluctuations have played a big part in my career. When I graduated in 1995 with a master’s degree in civil engineering, employment prospects in the construction industry were poor. To give myself a better chance at employment, I started studying information and communications technology and electrical engineering. It paid off, as these studies led me to my first job – and the patent industry.  

I first worked as a cost engineer at Nokia Networks in Germany. When I returned to Finland, I was offered the opportunity to work on patents. Eight years at Nokia as a patent engineer and IPR Manager, working in both the network and the phone businesses, turned me into a patent expert. I have been working with patents since 2001, both in industry and in patent agencies. This has allowed me to make extensive use of my expertise in different technologies – and all my other skills as well. A patent attorney’s work is very varied!

“A granted patent is the best reward for the work”

What I love most about this job are the clients and their interesting inventions. I draw up patent applications for companies of all sizes, from private inventors to large corporations, but most of my clients are SMEs. I have worked on protecting all kinds of clever and handy inventions from an ice hockey helmet visor to drills used in rock engineering. There have been a lot of amazing innovations that provide breakthroughs in their field and can also help protect the environment.

Patenting processes are long and sometimes very complex. If getting there has been an uphill battle, it will be very rewarding when the patent is finally granted. It can almost feel like the invention is my own. It’s particularly inspiring if the invention can be used for profitable business while still doing some good for the Earth.

One of my clients is Finn Recycling, and their innovation is something that I as a patent attorney can also be proud of. I helped them protect a method for purifying and reusing natural sand used, for example, in foundries and power plants. Without this method, all the sand would end up in landfills as toxic waste and new natural sand would need to be excavated to replace it – a lot of the sand used in Finland is imported from abroad. This ecological recycling innovation will save both money and valuable natural resources as well as support sustainable development.

Another great new invention from my clients is in the field of civil engineering. SafeDrying has developed a special method for drying structures and keeping them dry. This invention is significant for the economy, as it helps in repairing existing mould damage in buildings and can prevent the formation of serious mould and moisture issues in new construction and renovations. It will extend the life of many such buildings that have been causing problems recently, such as schools and kindergartens. I love being involved in protecting smart inventions!    

“Do it like you are doing it for yourself – the best thing to sell is expertise”

I really like being able to have good conversations with my clients when we explore the best ways to protect their invention. When writing a patent application, I always try to think about the invention on a wider scale than what it currently is: would it be possible to use the invention for something other than its original purpose? Would it be possible to use alternative materials or production methods? If this is the client’s first invention, they’re often not aware of what is required for a patent application or how it should be drawn up. It’s in the client’s best interest that we make the coverage of the patent as extensive as it can be without restricting it too much to specific implementation methods.

When I think of what guides my work, I’m reminded of a discussion I had with the head of one company’s patent unit, who instructed me to draw up the patent application for their invention “like you would be doing it for yourself”. This is something I always try to do.

I often also discuss with my clients which countries should be included in the patent after the first patent application and which routes should be used for this. For example, will the European patent system be used or would it be advisable to submit the applications directly to the national patent agencies of the selected countries, such as the United States? If the client’s invention is still in the early stages of development, it can be advisable to use the international PCT system, which allows for a longer period of reflection before submitting country-specific patent applications.

One of my clients once thanked me for my work by saying that “you’re so good at selling that you should come work for us”. I was rather surprised, because I never thought of myself as a seller! But on the other hand, a patent attorney’s best selling point is their expertise, so I definitely take it as a compliment.

“Kolster’s research team excavates valuable patent information”

At Kolster, the best part of the work are the coworkers and being able to find an answer to everything in-house. We have experts in many fields and such a wide range of experience that there is always someone who can help you along in difficult situations that are new to you. I get to brainstorm solutions with my colleagues and share my experiences. The community is stronger than the individual, and our clients also benefit from our collaboration.

In addition to my regular work as a patent attorney, I lead a research team at Kolster consisting of seven patent attorneys. This team specialises in different kinds of patent searches and research as well as IPR competitor monitoring for our clients. We have a good routine of utilising the best commercial tools available, excavating valuable patent information from databases, analysing it, and providing our clients with recommendations for action.

We carry out preliminary novelty searches, draw up reports on freedom to operate, assess patent infringements, study the patent landscape of a particular field of technology, and monitor the patents of our client’s competitors. Other Kolster patent attorneys also carry out different kinds of studies for their clients, but the core research team is there to take over and respond quickly when a client needs specific information for their decision-making.

I often recommend a preliminary novelty search to my clients before submitting a patent application. This makes is possible to focus the patent application based on the technology and patents that already exist in the field or other similar fields. It also makes it possible to add details to the application that improve the client’s standing. A preliminary novelty search can also provide more general information on new directions for further development that do not infringe on existing patents.

Not being aware of competitors’ IP rights can be costly for a company. It’s always advisable to ensure your freedom to operate through preliminary research when you’re planning new products or exporting your products to new markets. A report on freedom to operate is also important for new start-up companies, as it can provide some peace of mind for shareholders and investors.

“Distance work in America and US Patent Agent qualifications in Seattle”

My recent US Patent Agent degree complements my European Patent Attorney degree nicely. I returned to Finland with my US Patent Agent degree in summer 2020 after spending three years in America and continued work in familiar surroundings at Kolster’s Tampere office. The family originally moved to Redmond near Seattle because of a job opportunity offered to my husband. I’m grateful that Kolster allowed me to do distance work very flexibly from America long before the coronavirus made distance work the new normal. I didn’t want to just become a home-maker but wanted to make use of the excellent opportunity to get the qualifications for a US Patent Agent while I was there. It took a lot of hard work and long days of studying before finishing the exam, but I succeeded in my goal. After finishing the degree, I once again had more time for patent attorney work.

The degree is useful in my work, as the United States is one of the most important markets for many Finnish companies. I can quickly find the relevant provisions in patent legislation and also advise my colleagues, particularly during the critical Office Action phases related to US patents. There are differences in patent practices between the United States and Europe that need to be taken into account if the client wants a European patent to also be valid in the United States, or vice versa.

“Nature, handicrafts and patents go well together”

Spending three years in Redmond was a great experience, but it was also nice to come back to Tampere. Now that I no longer need to consider a 10-hour time difference while working, I’ve been able to communicate with my clients more actively and have conversations with my patent attorney colleagues without having to plan ahead.

I also have a new perspective on Finland and Tampere. Näsinneula in Tampere has clearly been inspired by the Space Needle in Seattle. I was also surprised when I went to meet my client Finn Recycling at the former factory premises of the Iittala glassworks in Nuutajärvi and found the yard to be filled with the work of the American glass artist Dale Chihuly. We had been admiring his work in Seattle, and we found out that some of his biggest sculptures had been made in Finland.

Both Finland and the United States offer great opportunities for outdoor experiences. To balance my patent work, I like to do excursions to nature in my free time. Going to the gym or doing handicrafts are also refreshing for the mind. My work will still be brewing at the back of my mind, and sometimes problems are much easier to solve after a good night’s sleep, especially during the tricky Office Action phases!

Tuula Rintamäki_IMG_1304

Need help protecting your invention or specific information about your competitors' patents – or your own freedom to operate?

Contact us

Tuula Rintamäki
US Patent Agent, European Patent Attorney
tuula.rintamaki@kolster.com
+358 40 923 0086

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We are constantly looking for new patent attorneys to our experienced team. Read more about career opportunities at Kolster and feel free to contact the heads of our patent teams!