July 12, 2019As a patent attorney and chemist, what Krister Karlsson enjoys most of all is working closely with clients. Even though his work as a technical judge for the Market Court spanned the whole field of patenting, it was the customer-centric work at Kolster that drew him back. As an experienced patent attorney and fan of detective novels, Krister hopes he doesn’t run into patent disputes in his free-time, too!
My career has been really wide-ranging, but it both begins and ends with Kolster.
I first worked as a patent attorney for Kolster in 2005–2010. At that point, I still wanted to develop a more comprehensive understanding of patent practices, the processes involved in developing inventions and refining them prior to a patent decision being made. That was my motivation for starting off in industry as an in-house patent attorney before moving onto the Market Court as a technical judge working to resolve patent disputes.
The opportunity to work at the Market Court was simply too good not to snap up. There is only one lower court in Finland that deals with patents and other IPR issues. In my role as a technical judge, I got to see how the world of patenting is structured and how it works at the macro level.
One characteristic essential to the work of a technical judge is impartiality. A judge cannot step into anyone’s shoes, whereas picking a side is precisely what a patent attorney is tasked with doing. The sides can be, for example, a patent applicant and the patent office, or the holder of a patent and the party with whom they are in dispute. In the end, I began yearning for a more customer-oriented approach to the work of a patent attorney alongside the case-centeredness of the Market Court. I returned to work as a patent attorney at Kolster in November 2018.
“I’m a tutor and a sparring partner”
I ended up working in the IPR field by chance. I graduated as a chemist from Åbo Akademi University and needed a job. Kolster happened to be advertising for a chemist in the newspaper at the time. I didn’t really know anything at all about the world of patenting, but I decided to seize the opportunity to find out.
Work in the IPR sector is an intriguing mix of law, technical expertise, and interaction and communication skills. Legislation provides the framework for what we do and then I get to bring in my expertise and knowledge from the field of chemistry. Above all, though, the driving force for the work is always from the needs of the client. In other words, it is vitally important to be able to negotiate with the clients to find the best course of action for them.
In addition to drawing up and processing patent applications, I also work as a tutor for my younger colleagues. While they may well be tremendously capable from a technical perspective, they don’t necessarily have much practical experience of working with patents. I also act as a kind of sparring partner with our clients who don’t have much prior experience of patenting practices – working out what is worth patenting, how, when, and through which channels.
Organic chemistry is still close to my heart, but another of my strengths is being able to identify a client’s needs. If a client is not used to thinking about their work from the patenting angle, they don’t necessarily recognise the kinds of advantages that patenting can bring or how and when to protect their work. I feel I’ve got a lot to give clients in these areas, regardless of the technology in question.
“Product development in the chemical industry can take decades”
One factor that stands out in the chemical industry is the need for perseverance. For example, you might invent something truly amazing, like a new diagnostic method for measuring blood sugar levels. But before this new method can be proven, further developed and tested, various permits and licenses generally need to be applied for. In practice, the testing phase of a new invention can take several years.
Productisation also takes longer in this industry than in others. One can’t suddenly start selling new chemical inventions in a pharmacy. For example, the process of taking an idea for a new snow shovel to market is notably much shorter. In the IT industry, a product’s service life may be as short as five years, whereas in the chemical industry, it can take tens of years to advance from the ideas stage to a functional product.
For their part, legal and technical expertise go hand in hand with client relationship skills. One also needs the right know-how – the basis for a patent attorney’s work is being an expert in the line of industry at hand. And when it comes to client work, one cannot make compromises. You need to understand the client’s needs, be able to listen and talk through the available options, and then take the patent process forward. When you’ve got a solid footing in the field, it’s easy to feel confident when working with the client. With enough legal and technical expertise you are free to focus on the interaction with the client and genuinely be present in the moment.
“Patent disputes are significant investments”
A patent is a prohibition. In addition to licensing and other forms of commercialisation, utilising a patent can also mean filing a dispute. To begin, one must consider what the desired outcome of the dispute is and what the long-term goal looks like. The next factors to be considered are the various means of achieving this goal. For example, has the most suitable method been agreed upon, is cross-licensing a consideration, will there be any silent tracking of the party with whom you might be in dispute, or shall we take the dispute to court?
During my time with the Market Court, I got to follow patent disputes from the perspective of a judge. When there is a patent dispute, the court is set the task of deciding who, at the end of the day, has the rights to the patent and what these rights are. As a judge, I learned what kinds of issues are worth disputing. When a dispute begins, one must always adopt a defensive position. In other words, you have to carefully do your homework – there needs to be rights that you want to defend and knowledge of what you own and how to capitalise on it. There also needs to be a concrete benefit to coming out on the winning side, because disputes are expensive. All told, it’s an investment into what can be patented. In other words, it is never a good idea to start a dispute merely for the sake of it.
In fact, disputes are rarely initiated by filing a lawsuit. Instead, the parties concerned may get together to decide if they can both capitalise on the situation or come to an agreement. If there is no benefit, you need to find some way of ensuring that your patent is not exploited or infringed without permission. Filing a lawsuit is one way of doing this.
“There’s a trend towards IPR awareness”
When I started out in this industry fifteen years ago, chemical patenting was not such a big deal in Finland. Nowadays, however, IPR is taken into account in the early stages of business ventures and firms have lots of questions about patenting. Many of us have heard about the huge IPR dispute between Apple and Nokia or at least know that Nokia currently pretty much survives entirely on revenue from IPR. And there are more trademarks on the streets now than ever before. As knowledge and understanding of IPR issues expands, the old business models and concepts are increasingly being challenged. Through this, the collective standard of IPR expertise is improving.
Finland alone is not big enough for biotechnology and chemical companies. Nevertheless, internationalisation works in two directions – while Finnish businesses do go abroad, companies come here, too. This is the point at which IPR protection becomes more significant. You need to be more aware of both your own protection and how foreign companies operate in relation to IPR. The Kolster China Desk, which specialises in the Chinese markets, is a good example of how many IPR opportunities there are to explore internationally.
“Down time from patent disputes”
I’m only a beginner when it comes to summer cottage getaways and my dream cottage is still far off. It is easy to see a summer cottage as a to-do list – if you don’t stay on top of the gardening, you’ll soon end up with an entire forest in your yard. The hammer stays barely in my hand and there are mosquitoes and midges everywhere.
Having said that, I’ve learned to enjoy the unique brand of tranquility that spending time at a summer cottage provides. I have no interest in taking all life’s mod-cons there – no TV and no Internet! And while it’s got electricity, water has to be brought in by hand.
I find music to be a good way of shutting yourself away in your own bubble. I played the guitar in my younger days and it’s a skill that I’d like to pick up again. Reading remains my favourite pastime, though. Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind is a book I’d recommend to everyone. When it comes to detective novels, I think Jens Lapidus is a fantastic author. And as a lawyer, he is very convincing in his portrayal of legal proceedings. I’m yet to stumble across any patent disputes in his books, but perhaps it’s better that way!