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Multidisciplinary approaches – the rise of multidisciplinary inventions

In this blog post we will discuss the importance of considering the multidisciplinary nature of inventions when seeking patent advice, along with some nuances to patentability for specific subject matter areas, and finally highlighting some of the benefits of having a multidisciplinary team of patent advisors in such cases.

What do we mean by “multidisciplinary”?

The term “multidisciplinary invention” in the context of this discussion refers to an invention requiring a technical understanding of two or more of the classical patent disciplines: life sciences (biology, biochemistry and pharmaceuticals); chemistry; digital technologies, physics and electronics; and mechanical engineering.

The steady rise of multidisciplinary inventions

Rapid advances in computing power and functionality over recent years has meant that the term “multidisciplinary invention” is increasingly used to describe an invention which includes some novel computational element (e.g. machine learning). One current example is bioinformatics – which makes use of computational power to perform complex data analysis tasks in areas such as genomics, where traditional analysis methods are insufficient. For more information on our experience with bioinformatics inventions, please see our podcast on this topic (Season 6, Episode 6 of our Innovation Talks Podcast series). Other examples include “wearables” and other medical devices, which often combine biological and mechanical engineering and/or computing concepts. Disciplinary crossovers can however come in countless forms, and throughout the lifetime of a multidisciplinary patent, a patent professional is invariably required to combine the unique patentability considerations for each respective discipline.

Patentabillity considerations

Patent law historically took a “one size fits all” approach to determining the patentability of inventions. Over recent decades this approach has largely been transformed to take more of a technology-specific approach, not least due to the fundamental differences in how patents are applied and used by patentees in various technology sectors.

For example, in the pharmaceutical industry a product can take several years and an immense budget before it reaches the market, such that inevitably only a short period of time remains for a patentee to make use of the 20-year monopoly provided by a granted patent. Additionally, medicines targeting one ailment can exist on the market for many years before it is determined that those same medicines can also be used to target a second ailment. These unique considerations in the pharmaceutical field have caused patent law to follow suit, permitting, under specific conditions:

  1. some pharmaceutical patents to have an extended lifespan; or
  2. some medicines to be “re-patented” for a different medical use.

For biological or therapeutic inventions, there can often be ethical concerns regarding whether monopolies ought to be permitted, such as those that may prevent a doctor from practicing in the best interests of a patient, or that may place a monopoly on a human being, an entire plant variety, or an essential biological process.

Advances in computing have forced similar updates to patent law, specifically relating to software-related inventions, and whether executing portions of computer code to perform particular tasks constitutes a “patentable invention”.

Patent law, as it relates to each of these subject matter areas, is constantly evolving to remain in step with advancements in technology, along with changes in established viewpoints and practices. It is therefore important for patent professionals handling patent applications to inventions which overlap more than one of these disciplines to stay abreast of the unique considerations applied to each respective discipline. This challenge is increasingly relevant since the rate at which these crossover inventions occurs, particularly those having a computational element, is always increasing.

To hear more from us on Multidisciplinary Approaches, please listen to our Innovation Talks Podcast on this topic available here.

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