December 4, 2019
Pekka Ristikaarto from Oulu exchanged his over ten-year career as a designer and specialist at Nokia for the profession of a patent attorney. Now he has two years and some twenty patent applications under his belt and is taking advantage of everything he learned previously in his current role.
Pekka Ristikaarto was not scared off when a future colleague presented him with the boulder of a book that is European Patent Law in the job interview and said that he should know his way around it. The mechanical engineer with a M.Sc. in industrial engineering had noticed that his duties in international product development and maintenance in the telecommunications sector at Nokia had become too familiar. He applied for a position that was previously unknown to him at Kolster’s office in Oulu.
“The leap from the role of a specialist advising others to a beginner in a new industry was really big. The intellectual property rights sector even has its own language”, Ristikaarto says.
He has many good pieces of advice for those entering the industry, the most important of which is to boldly ask questions.
“It is essential to be active yourself, and asking questions is the basis for all learning. Good tutoring is a lifeline for career changers like me. You must also accept that the learning curve will be long and gradual”, says Ristikaarto, who is currently completing training courses towards a European patent attorney qualification.
Ristikaarto has already familiarised himself with a vast array of inventions from cardboard boxes to snowmobiles, bowling alley equipment and forestry machines.
“I take my hat off to my colleagues who have involved me in very different projects. In addition to patent applications, I have been able to carry out freedom to operate analyses, novelty searches and other analyses that are performed in this field.”
A preliminary novelty search is carried out when a customer wants to protect an idea with a patent and it is not known whether the idea has already been invented.
“The cost of a novelty search is only a fraction of the cost of a patent application and can save a lot of money. It can reveal that someone has already invented the same thing before – or that the invention should be modified a bit to make it stand out from prior inventions. I perform the search by combing through international patent databases, i.e. a huge amount of data, with various tools.”
Even though many customers are confident about the uniqueness of their invention, a preliminary novelty search can prove otherwise. Consequently, some patent database searches end with a complete rejection of the invention.
“I carried out a preliminary novelty search for a customer who knew their industry well and was certain that the invention was completely novel and unique. A patent database publication in Korean revealed that the invention had been made years ago in South Korea. However, it had not been patented. But since it involved a solution similar to the invention of the Finnish inventor and had been published, the invention could not be patented.”
This is where Ristikaarto’s previous work experience proved quite helpful.
“Thanks to my background in electromechanical design, I was able to consider what the device that the customer had invented should be like so that it could be patented. It was developed further, resulting in a much better innovation than the original. I was able to utilise my design experience and the invention was upgraded, even though the customer came in for help with patenting.”
The fact that every customer and innovation is different brings nice variation to the job.
“It is important to openly accept assignments from different application areas of technology and not just from your strongest field of expertise. That is the best way to learn new things.”
According to Ristikaarto, it takes about a year to understand the structure and preparation of a patent application. Learning to draft patent claims that define the scope of protection of a patent is a longer process. There have been many fundamental realisations along the way, and many things will still keep falling into place going forward.
“One initial epiphany has been that the aim is not to describe the customer’s product as accurately as possible in the independent patent claim. Instead, patent claims should be built so as to provide the best possible protection for the customer – while also being acceptable to the officials, of course.”
He describes that the idea is to describe the customer’s invention so universally that it covers much more than just that invention.
“This will make it harder for competitors to operate and they cannot, for example, implement the same invention in a slightly different way.”
The core competencies of Ristikaarto include especially mechanical and electromechanical solutions, such as mechanical and automated equipment, production automation and manufacturing technology.
“I stay close to technology all the time as the inventions to be patented are always technical solutions. Previously, the end customers were quite far from my work and I did not see how they really benefited from the products and solutions. Now I get direct feedback from the customer”, Ristikaarto says.
He is surprised at how much a patent attorney is responsible for.
“For example, the entire business of startup can hinge upon one patent application. What matters is the kind of scope of protection that it obtains with its patent and how successful the preparation of the application is. In defining the scope of protection of an invention, a single word and the phrasing can be decisive.”
According to Ristikaarto, successes bring a sense of ease to the work. Otherwise, he relaxes with exercise and fly fishing. Holidays are largely spent fishing in northern Norway. Work success is enhanced by fitness, which is developed through regular snatch and clean and jerk exercises at the weightlifting gym.
The job has also taught him to look at the world with new eyes – and it does not always leave him alone even in his spare time.
“For example, if I see a camera stand, I may start thinking about its key features and how it should be described in order to protect it as comprehensively as possible.”
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