January 11, 2019
Partner, European Patent Attorney Ossi Huhtanen is an experienced IP professional and strategist as well as a risk analyst. He is Kolster’s most experienced solver of patent disputes at the European Patent Office and a developer of our international IP partner network.
I’ve learned from my clients
When I in 1994 got excited about Kolster’s recruitment add in a local newspaper for a patent attorney with a MSc degree in either electrical or mechanical engineering, that proved out to be a stroke of luck. I was looking for more intellectual challenges as an option for my career as an electrical designer, and after entering the patent sector, I very quickly discovered that for me this is exactly the right job.
I have also been fortunate from the first years on that I have received a wide variety of patent assignments from both small and large clients in different fields of industries.
The different client needs and motives for protection have trained me into an IP strategist and risk analyst. I want to understand the entirety served by IP: my client’s business and competitive situation. My clients have taught me that a purely patent-technical viewpoint may be entirely wrong from the business viewpoint.
Early on in my career, I got a concrete lesson in this. A client of mine had a technically simple basic solution for which the client wanted to have a patent. I suggested a utility model, for which lesser inventiveness is required, because I did not believe in the success of a patent application.
At the request of my client, I drafted a patent application and to my surprise it proceeded straight into a patent in a number of countries without counterarguments. The company also kept its granted patent effective for the maximum time period of 20 years. When it expired, the competitors immediately entered the market, still with the exact same technical solution. A utility model would have kept the competition back for 10 years, only, so the persistent decision to apply for a patent proved out to be of immense value from the point of view of securing the core business and freedom to operate.
IP investment must be won back
The most important lesson in my work as a patent attorney has been that acquiring intellectual property rights always starts at the clien’t business. I’m in the habit of saying that the investment made on IP must be won back from business operations. Applying for a patent makes no sense if it does not, one way or another, help business.
I always sit down with my clients to ponder how they wish to make use of the protection ─ even so that I first ask what a patent is needed for, and only then contemplate whether the invention being discussed is one that supports this goal.
The motive for filing a patent application may in a harsh competitive situation also be purely strategic. The application need not always necessarily lead to a granted patent which will remain in force also in case of attacks by competitors. Analysing the scope of protection of a patent is a difficult task for the competitors, too, without extensive IP know-how.
A patent or utility model application also has value from the point of view of marketing. All registered IP rights, per se, add credibility in the eyes of clients, competitors, and financiers.
However, a company’s value can best be increased when a core technology is successfully protected and when, with the aid of a patent, competitors are prevented from using the same solution, or when rights of use can be licensed.
Term interpretation and risk evaluation
This work is about analysing risks. In a patent application, too, potential risks and competitors’ attacks must be anticipated.
The scope of protection of a patent is largely based on the interpretation of terms. I have concretely learned how one and the same term may be interpreted in many ways. And the entire business operations of a company may depend on this interpretation.
When a competitor wishes to have a patent that it finds detrimental cancelled, the patent is searched for all the weak points by examining, word-for-word, how the invention has been described. In a patent attorney’s work, details and precision are of utmost importance. A minor detail may solve a patent dispute one way or the other.
For example, this autumn we managed to revocate a patent harmful to my client at the European Patent Office on the basis of a small formal and accuracy error. In patent jargon, “approximately 100 °C or more” is different from “over approximately 100 °C”.
In another case, a small company was defending its rights in court against a competitor ten times bigger, in practice by the correct interpretation of one term, “unitary”. A defeat would have jeopardized the business operations of the entire company, but we managed to argue and convert the interpretation to the benefit of my client. The patent enabling uninterrupted business operations remained valid, and an agreement was reached in the case to the benefit of the small company.
Technology and law hybrid work
A patent attorney is not just a risk analyst but also a technology and law hybrid. In addition to strong experience in technology, knowledge of the law is always needed, because everything is based on the patent law. The claims of a patent application and their interpretation are comparable to interpreting paragraphs of a law.
In this work, experience makes you more skilled and merited. A newcomer to the field can easiest give black-and-white yes or no statements. The more experience you gain, the better you will know that patenting involves a lot of grey areas, too.
However, I have also learned that pondering of the type on the one hand, on the other hand does not benefit my clients. When a client requests a patent attorney to give a statement, the actual professionalism is measured by a well-grounded recommendation for action, and arguments that help make decisions, identify risks, and preparing for them in advance.
I write my patent statements so that I clearly give my opinion and give reasons why I have ended up with this opinion. I draft a separate summary for the managing director of the company or a decision-maker who is not an expert in the patenting sector but wishes to understand the whole. The more detailed content of the statement is for the experts of the IP field ─ in a potential patent dispute, to the patent attorney of the opposing party.
The competence of a patent attorney is measured in the oral opposition and appeal hearings between patenting professionals at the European Patent Office. I always enter these battles with pleasure to defend the rights of my clients, although they are hectic events.
I consider it my strength that I am able to encapsulate things and bring forth what is essential. Encapsulation and navigating the grey areas will not, however, succeed without major thoroughness. The IP cases must be known throughout, both as concerns the technology and the law, and at the same time from the client’s viewpoint, too.
From Tampere to international playing fields
It has been a definite pleasure to act as a patent attorney in the Tampere branch office of Kolster. There is diverse and innovative industry in the Tampere region, big and small companies operating on the international market, as well as universities fuelling inventions. I have been able to gain different experience from the business environment and strategy of each of my clients.
The responsibility for leading the Tampere office from 2013 all the way to 2018 brought along additional spice and broader viewpoint to the specialist work I do. As head of the unit, I was in charge of managing clientships and finding new clients, and as of February 2018 I have been doing this same development and marketing work for the whole company. However, it is my wish to continue my specialist and client work also in the future. Whenever the talk turns to so-called serious business, such as IP disputes, risk analysis, or IP strategies, I want to be closely involved in client work.
My current role also includes developing Kolster’s international IP partner network. I also represent Finland in FICPI, International Federation of Intellectual Property Attorneys. As a member of its Executive Committee, I introduce Finland’s opinions in the international exchange of views in the patenting field.
At the same time, FICPI is an excellent forum to get to know the best experts in the field from different countries and to further develop Kolster’s extensive partnership network. When our clients experience specific IP challenges in some part of the world, it is always beneficial to know personally local attorneys whose know-how and ethics can be trusted.
Patent disputes and sport orienteering as passion
My evening read often consists of dispute and appeal cases of patents, but not because I fall asleep more easily. Quite the opposite, they often make me stay up too late, because they are so interesting. I’m completely enthralled by my work. It is my passion to go through these cases.
My free time also includes sport orienteering. It has been a hobby of mine since I was 10, both as an individual and team sports. When orienteering, I must not think of anything else, so it is a good way to get away from the patent world every now and then.
I enter 20─40 competitions a year, and I have participated in more than 30 Jukola Relays, of which four of the previous competitions in a family and relatives team. Last summer, I and my wife made a 30th wedding anniversary trip to the Bavarian Orienteering Tour week, and finished five events during the week. Orienteering, too, has become a passion.
Concentration, finding out the essential, and observation are things a patent attorney and orienteer share. Both are individual and team sports. In orienteering relays, I am answerable to the team, too, and as a patent attorney to the IP team and management of my clients. As part of the work community, I share my expertise, and will also be supported by the entire patent team of Kolster.