Intellectual property manager and innovation consultant: career case study

Intellectual property management consultant

What got you interested in physics?
I became interested in physics at high school. Fermilab was close to where I lived and I volunteered to attend Saturday morning physics talks at the lab. As an undergraduate at the Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign, I was then offered a job helping to build a detector for Fermilab, which involved working at height and doing lots of hammering and operating heavy machinery. I also gained a fellowship to work at Stanford Linear Accelerator near San Fransisco over one summer. This got me interested in particle physics in particular. It is a great subject because you can travel to interesting places and get to play with big shiny machines!

What did you study at school and university?
During my physics degree at Illinois, I spent a year as an exchange student at the University of Manchester. I returned to Manchester for my PhD with their High Energy Physics department, paid for by a Marshall scholarship. I did my PhD research at CERN a couple of years before the Large Electron Positron Collider shut down, and it was at this time I became interested in medical imaging. I gained a post doctoral research post specialising in magnetic resonance imaging and algorithmic development at the University of Manchester after some persistent badgering. This was in the renowned Division of Imaging Science and Biomedical Engineering; the division which developed the underlying technology for car registration recognition.

What was your career progression?
Before setting up as a freelance consultant, I worked for a small company, based in Edinburgh, called Voxar, which was founded by a computer science graduate from Edinburgh University and specialised in medical imaging software. Following my post doc I wanted to move north and noticed that Voxar were offering free fruit, which persuaded me to apply to them. One of my projects was to help to design, manage and build a virtual colonoscopy application, which analysed CT (computerised tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. While I was working at Voxar, one of my jobs was to help to invalidate another company’s patent. I found that I enjoyed the work and was good at it. I started to move into “intellectual property management”, helping to protect intangible things like inventions and trade secrets in the company. During my seven years at Voxar, I was also involved in market analysis, corporate espionage, technical research, and funding acquisition. The experience I gained as an academic researcher helped in most of my work in industry. I decided to move on after Voxar was taken over by another company.

What job do you do now?
I became a freelance intellectual property management consultant in 2007. There are around thirty consultants in Scotland, including a couple of physicists.

What does the work involve day to day?
Most of my work is with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who are involved in high-tech software and electronics. I help them to set up policies and processes which identify and protect the company’s intellectual property. I also work with the Intellectual Assets Centre which provides free intellectual asset management advice and information to businesses across Scotland, and I perform due diligence for investors which includes technology and IP audits and technical viability reviews. Much of my work with companies involves helping to: identify inventions, keep trade secrets secret, prepare patents, trade-mark, develop brands and manage relationships.

What benefits does the job provide?
I enjoyed particle physics because it involves asking fundamental questions in such spectacular ways. I enjoyed medical imaging particularly because it helps people out. I’ve now moved to helping businesses out, and each of those businesses contribute to and benefit society in their own way. The ultimate goal of my work is to educate and empower businesses to protect what makes them special and use what they’ve got wisely.

What personal skills or aptitudes do you need for the job?
I am an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys. While I’m not a patent or trade mark attorney, I keep a close eye on legislation and trends in the areas of patenting and trade marking. I also have to know a good deal about how businesses are run successfully. In most cases, it is helpful that I have some knowledge about the technology which the companies are marketing. I need to be able to communicate effectively with both technical and non-technical people.

What has been the highlight of your career?
Always doing what I want to do. I have only every worked in areas which I enjoy. Also I enjoy getting recognition for a job well done, whether it’s a stranger at a conference complimenting me on a paper I had written years before or getting an unsolicited testimonial from a client about how I have genuinely helped their business.

How does your physics training help you in that work?
In my work you need to be meticulous and have good attention to detail, both essential to gaining a physics degree.

Anything else you would like to add?
In my spare time I verify and write questions for the BBC’s University Challenge. A chance opportunity arose seven years ago and I have been doing it one or two times a year every since.

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