Scientific research and intellectual property go hand in hand
The Intellectual Property (IP) system plays a significant role in supporting people in their quest to bring incredible ideas to market. Today, multi-award-winning scientist Rossa W.K. Chiu, Choh-Ming Li Professor of Chemical Pathology and Assistant Dean (Research), Faculty of Medicine of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, explains how a big part of the ecosystem of scientific research is built around IP.
As we continue to celebrate World Intellectual Property Day held on April 26, Professor Chiu encapsulates this year’s theme of “Powering change: Women in innovation and creativity”. Widely acclaimed for her cutting-edge research and development of a non-invasive prenatal test that can detect chromosome abnormalities such as Down syndrome from a mother’s blood sample, she and her team continue to push the boundaries of science with game-changing inventions.
Discounting herself as leading the change for women, she says, “I am simply riding on the bandwagon of some of my predecessors and in my opinion, pursuing innovation is something that is not gender-bound. In Hong Kong, there are ample examples of very successful women scientists who have been making innovations and extracting the full potential of their intellectual property. I am a firm believer of the fact that we should maximise the talents, potential and resources that are available to any community.”
Her team of researchers are predominately female, though that is not by design. “Whenever we open a post, we interview capable candidates. It just so happens that so far we have more female than male applicants,” she explains. Keen to encourage students to develop their talents to advance science in the future, Professor Chiu says there is a need to push for all-round education and science has to become part of our daily lives as it would drive our future economy. “I feel that the community is getting more aware that science is related to the economy. It is no longer just a dead-end investment with some Frankenstein professors working in their little hut in their backyard,” she jokes. “Innovation drives economic benefit even down to the root levels of our community, with some students with STEM background getting hired in the biotechnology sector as soon as they graduate because they are hot properties now.”
IP makes science a tradable commodity
The economic benefits of science are numerous, and the implementation of intellectual property rights has made science become a tradable commodity. “Without IP, science becomes less tradable,” says Professor Chiu, who is also the Honorary Consultant of the New Territories East Cluster of Hospitals. “To protect our IP, we need to immediately write down any brand new ideas that we have to solve a problem, and then submit those ideas to various patent and application offices around the world. Initially, everything will be kept strictly secret to avoid copycats or being sabotaged by companies affiliated with other research teams working on similar areas. Eventually, time will tell whether we are the first group of people who have developed that concept. If that was subsequently proven, we have a high likelihood that the patent application will become successful. As such, companies will become more willing to invest in that technology, with an eye to getting the profit back from the investment such as a sole exclusive right to a drug.”
An investment and reward ecosystem
The investments from commercial private sectors are important for scientists to drive research. “The patent application and the potential exclusive right that could be exercised by the company is our offer in exchange for funding to do the research. I can then hire research staff which will drive employment. If we have a successful product like the non-invasive prenatal diagnostic test that we have developed, it’s used in more than 100 cities around the world, and it had led to the reduction of more than 30 per cent of the invasive prenatal diagnosis. So the invention became marketable. It got out of the research lab, and it is truly driving benefit in the patients,” states Professor Chiu. “This benefit will eventually extend to the public health sector. Some very senior patent lawyers have said that that the patent system was invented to drive innovation, with the benefit to be enjoyed by the future generation.”