Christian L. Christiansen (left) and Finn Strøm Madsen (right) from Plougmann Vingtoft.

Getting Products to Market: How Life Science Start-ups Can Harness Intellectual Property Strategies

It often takes very large and very long-term investments to develop products in the life science industry. Intellectual property rights (IPR) are critical to securing investments and getting products to market.

According to Finn Strøm Madsen, CEO of the full-service intellectual property rights (IPR) consultancy, Plougmann Vingtoft: “IPR must be a fundamental part of the business strategy and plan from day one.”

Over the past years, he has witnessed first-hand how the development from industrial to digital society has increased the importance of IPR within the life science industry. Echoing this, his colleague Christian L. Christiansen – who is the head of biotech and pharma at Plougmann Vingtoft and a European patent attorney – claims that start-ups can accelerate their time to market if they create the right strategy around their IPR:

‘A strong IPR strategy can support the process of acquiring the right investments from investors or larger companies. It shows the investor that the start-up company is on top of things and takes IP protection seriously. A lack of patent protection or dominating competitor rights can be a complete show-stopper’.

There is more to it than the initial patent

Generally speaking, there are several factors that make up a strong IP strategy – from patents, trademarks, and design registrations to a combination of several types of IP:

‘First of all, it is important to analyse the IP landscape among possible competitors to identify whether there is a ‘freedom to operate’ in relation to the product. You also need to consider the possible competitive patent rights and take steps to secure your freedom to operate in the long run. Surveillance of close competitors’ IP rights are also part of a strong strategy’, Christiansen cautions.

Timing is an essential consideration in order to ensure the longest possible protection of a firm’s commercial products
Christian L. Christiansen

More than a patent on a particular product, IPR concerns all the processes surrounding development and use. Protecting all of the essential aspects of a commercial product is also a matter of timing:

‘Timing is an essential consideration in order to ensure the longest possible protection of a firm’s commercial products’, Christiansen points out.

IPR is a continuous process

Life science start-ups don’t hold assets in buildings or production facilities. Because their most important assets are ideas, it’s vital to maintain a strong IP strategy. Neglecting this will likely result in issues that delay time-to-market or perhaps even kill the business, Christiansen explains:

‘In the life science industry, businesses are often built around a few successful products. Therefore, a weak IP position can be detrimental to the commercialisation of these products’.

Investors in the life sciences field, including larger life sciences companies, are highly aware of these issues and are more inclined to invest if the start-up company is on top of their IP. This does not mean applying for as many patents as possible. It means doing the necessary market research and making a conscious decision about IPR and its strategic use-value.

Concluding the point, Madsen explains: ‘When you set up an IP strategy, you are forced to consider whether you need to protect your brand, the functionality of your product, or the particular design. IP rights may not even be necessary in your market position. But if you want a strong business plan you should, at the minimum, be able to argue for your choice or dismissal of IP rights’.