February 18, 2019
European Patent Attorney Sami Aromaa, the head of Kolster’s Oulu office, knows the patenting of technologies inside out and is fully aware that a customer these days buys an IP partnership, not just services.
“Kolster patented my own invention”
I happened to make an invention when I was working at the university telecommunications laboratory in my student days. My invention relates to interference suppression in data transfer systems in situations where the interference is typically deliberate. This project was funded by an entity in the Finnish telecommunications sector, wanted to patent the invention, and so turned to Kolster. That way I was able to follow the patenting process closely from an inventor’s viewpoint.
I spent a few years at the University of Oulu as a research assistant and researcher. Further studies and a doctoral thesis did not arouse my interest in the same way as did a job add by Kolster, and that’s how I ended up in the IP sector and working for Kolster in 2004. The field seemed fascinating and to some extent even a bit mystical.
“The spice of my work is its diversity”
There are plenty of communications and software companies calling Oulu their home, so I have been able to put my expertise into use with the customers from day one. I now head the 11-person team of Kolster’s office in Oulu.
At the moment, my work pile consists of a bundle of patent applications at various stages, invention preforms at the initial stage, pending patent applications, and some are patents at the granting stage. The spice of the work is that I can have parallel and very different work projects.
I see future in my work. When a chance picks up pace, it is a privilege to keep oneself in the loop by simply doing one’s own work. Getting familiar with the customers’ ever evolving technology and IP needs is at the same time continuous learning.
The fifth generation mobile phone networks bring about a lot of potential, and vehicles, for example, are equipped with more and more artificial intelligence. In my work, I am involved with, for example, such an infra that allows self-driving cars to become more common.
“An invention can be an algorithm or a new bit”
These days, technology inventions are not necessarily major breakthrough inventions, but there are much more small improvements made on existing solutions. The differences between new inventions and solutions already known may be very subtle, and this is the core of my work as a patent agent: I have to see the tiny difference and make it large enough for the invention to be patented.
The invention may be a piece of a program, an algorithm, part of a work machine, or a new bit in a telecommunication standard. It is my job to understand the purpose of use of the invention in business activities and to protect the features of the invention that best support the business activities. Sometimes it makes sense to protect the features of the invention, which the user sees. Then again, sometimes features that are hidden to the user are protected, but in such a manner that allows patent infringements to be verified. A patent attorney needs to have the ability to perceive the essential features of the invention that both fulfil the criteria for patentability and provide the added value that the customer wants to obtain through patenting.
Few of my customers seek a patent for Finland, only, which is often seen as a very small market area. The field is usually all of Europe and often the United States, too. When I’m drafting a patent application, I keep in mind that the application must stand up to the special requirements of patent legislation in different countries. For me, the global aspect of my work has become a self evident fact.
“Work is based on solid confidence”
In my own customerships, the focal points of the local economy are highlighted: the telecommunications sector, well-being technology, sensor technology, and software inventions.
The cooperation with customers has undergone a major change over the past few years. We, patent attorneys, are closer to them than before, and it is important for us to understand the whole of the customer’s business and advance it by means of IP. This phenomenon will only get stronger in the future: the customer does not buy a patent agent’s services, but a partner who thinks, on the customer’s behalf, IP as a whole and proactively manages it. Because the work is based on trust taken to the extreme and cooperation between people, at the grass root level there is a person doing work for a person, not a company to a company.
The biggest challenges of the work result from the customer entrusting us with their deepest business secrets for us to use. We are in charge of big things. The documents we write may have the customer’s entire business operations at stake - in particular as concerns new companies.
“Surprises are a stimulant”
The companies that patent strategically have a comprehensive understanding of IP. For example, Nokia’s success story and favourable attitude towards IP has spread the same attitude to small and medium size companies. Now small companies, too, understand the meaning of IP strategies better and better, know what they want of it, and can challenge us patent attorneys in a good way.
There are also constant surprises in this work, and they also make this interesting. The most critical stage of patenting is the drafting of the patent application − at this stage, the patent application is equipped with the tools with which it needs to survive the entire lifecycle of the patenting process. At a later stage, the chances of modifying the subject matter of the application are very limited.
On the other hand, even if I built the application the best possible, the patent offices may still give unexpected feedback. Not everything can be prepared for in advance, but a carefully drafted patent application provides a safety net for surprises, too.
“Team play at work and in free time”
Customer service is my thing. I enjoy being able to help others. At the same time, I have the chance to think things through from a number of viewpoints and come up with different scenarios for the customer. This can be done if you listen to the customer − that’s more important than to keep on talking all the time.
The work of an IP specialist and office manager is clearly a team sport. I follow the same line of thought in my free time when playing floorball. Second division games and coaching over the past decade have changed into a senior class and family floorball of G juniors. They help clear the mind of the day’s tasks but also give new energy to solve the next IP twists.