patents  ⋅   people  ⋅   ip careers

Science and art combined in the work of an IP veteran


March 4, 2019

Timo Pykälä was the first Finn to pass the examination of the European Patent Attorney and is a person really skilled in his own profession. At work, he often makes progress through stupid questions.

“Competence is the artistic side of my work”

Many seem to think that patenting is an exact science. However, only the technology for which a patent is sought is science. A patent is a monopoly, so a legal right to forbid others making exactly the same technology. Patenting is based on legislation, and behind laws there is a political will. It is therefore the political machinery in the end, which defines what can be patented. My work, on the other hand, is a combination of science and art: science introduces preciseness in it, art the competence. A patent application always reflects the patent attorney’s skill to form the application so that the application is accepted. Each patent attorney has their own penmanship in the applications, and I prefer a very precise and concise way of expression. The grounds need to be clear, and there must be few of them so that the essential is highlighted.

“I have not abandoned programming”

It will be 30 years this spring from the start of my career as a programmer: I studied computer science and worked as a software developer and programmer. I even set up a company with three colleagues of mine, which is now a listed company. At Nokia’s network unit, I got great work experience both in Finland and Germany. They were awesome times, at work we used C++ and a real time operating system − the same that was used at the time in fighter planes the Swedes had developed. 23 years ago I ended up at Kolster’s Oulu office where I was able to combine my technical knowledge with patent legislation and customer service. At first, I worked as a patent attorney, and in 2000 I passed the examination of the European Patent Attorney as the first Finn. 

“My work is based on continuous communications”

My work sets high requirements for communications: An inventor first communicates their invention to me, then I must understand it as fast as possible and be able to enter the essence of it in a patent application. Next, an examiner at the patent office reads the application and decides whether a patent is granted. An application communicates the invention to the examiner as well as the competitors and the public. Often, some new twists find their way into communications from other languages, because inventors can be anywhere in the world and the application is translated to different languages. In addition, online communications is commonplace in my work. Yesterday, for example, I had a remote connection from Oulu to an inventor living in Paris. For the outcome, that is, the patent application, to be good, I must have the courage to ask silly questions. This skill often helps me get to what is essential. At times, however, I feel that the most difficult thing is to know what question is too stupid!

I succeed when my patents are accepted

After Nokia, many new technology companies were set up in Oulu, and at our Oulu office a notable cluster of European Patent Attorneys have gathered from early on. Our common competence and experience have over the years become world-class.

My work focuses on telecommunications, mobile phones, base stations, software, and the well-being technology.
I file 10 to 20 patent applications per year and 50 to 100 office actions. I measure my success by having patents accepted. During my career, I have filed more than 300 first-filing applications that have led to roughly 900 patents all over the world. The best part of my work is the clients: when our work concerns high technology, the brain must be in full working order. And when things go well, the feeling of success is rewarding. In a way, we, patent attorneys, are mercenaries beavering away for the Finnish industry. At best, I have helped my customers build patent portfolios that help them succeed in the storms of the world markets also in the IP sense. Some of the patents I have drafted have been part of the “great patent wars.”

Software patenting too unclear”

When I started in the IP sector at the end of the 1990s, the common conception was that software cannot be patented. I still bump into this misconception every now and then. However, software patenting has always been successful when an IP professional was involved as a partner. The European Patent Office, EPO, recently issued new guidelines for software patenting, but the EU has not harmonized the patenting by a directive. The unclarity of the situation continuously affects my work so that the definition of the patentability of software is at times difficult, even though I have many decades of software experience. More and more inventions these days include software, so it would be important to get this matter in order in Europe.

“Patenting is also trade politics”

I am regularly in contact with American, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Russian, Australian, and Canadian patent attorneys, as well as patent attorneys from various countries in Europe. In practise, our competitors and partners are all the patent attorneys in the world. Internationalization has turned patenting work more and more a part of trade politics. In the trade war between the United States and China, for example, one of the main points seems to be who applies the most patents and for what kind of technology.

“Innovation information for the school-aged”

Even today I still stumble across an inventor publishing their invention before its patentability has been assessed and a patent application filed. Too early a publication will, however, prevent patenting. Making use of innovations could rise to an entirely new level, if this basic fact of patenting were taught to children as young as the school age. Years ago, I took part in a project that encouraged high-school students to make innovations. This could use a boost. At the secondary school, at the latest, the basics of logic should be taught, this would after all be a great way along with mathematics to develop logical thinking and argumentation. We should all know what logical syllogism, for example, is: at first, two default sentences are presented, based on which a conclusion is made. This skill would be of use at an election debate as well as in many other situations.

“The way of thinking of Inspector Brunetti is fascinating”

As a counterbalance to patent publications, I also read much else. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a library heavy-user. In the past years, I have digged in military history, in particular, and detective stories by Donna Leon and Michael Dibdin, taking place in Italy. I’m particularly hooked on the slow thinking processes and description of family life by Inspector Brunetti − likewise the fact that he has not become a cynic. There’s a good goal for myself, too. In contrast, you cannot say the same of Inspector Aurelio Zen − which makes him an interesting character. The best advantage of living in Oulu is the fact that I am able to live at a distance of a nice walk in the forest from my office and can walk or ride a bike to work. Everything is close by and the scale is human-size. Lapland, too, is within an easy reach; once you reach the Arctic Circle, the atmosphere turns magic.

Contact us

Timo Pykälä
+358 50 5284119