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Youth in IP: Protecting the Future

In celebration of World IP Day 2022, IP and Youth and Innovating for a Better Future, Chelsey Edwards Patent Analyst at Patent Seekers shares her thoughts on the topic, entitled Youth in IP: Protecting the Future.

This year, social media usage has reached an all-time high with a double-digit increase in social media users predicted to spend 12.5 trillion hours online, according to the Digital 2022 Global Overview Report – published in partnership between We Are Social and Hootsuite. With more than two-thirds (67.1%) of the world’s population now using mobile phones and 92.1% of which using them to access the internet, time spent using connected tech continues to rise.

A recent survey of 1,500 British 16 to 25-year-olds commissioned by Samsung UK’s Solve for Tomorrow programme revealed that 89% of Gen Z say they would like to run their own business, with 70% looking to launch within the next 12 months. However, 39% revealed that they don’t know where to start and 22% believe they don’t have access to the support they need. Living in a world dominated by an online presence, it seems easier than ever to feel disconnected from others and the world around us. Despite this, 67% of young people aim to solve pressing global issues relating to education, sustainability, social isolation or diversity and inclusion, with their entrepreneurial endeavours. Embracing the ever-expanding presence of youth online may present a unique opportunity to merge the worlds of social media and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) learning. With a shortfall of over 173,000 workers in the STEM sector, it’s no secret that the UK is in the thick of a skills shortage.

A robust STEM education is fundamental to the economy as it allows students to work collaboratively; developing critical thinking, project management and problem-solving skills. Combining these skills with an understanding of the fundamentals of Intellectual Property (IP) could inspire the next generation of innovators. However, it is not enough to only teach students how to design, code and invent. They must be taught how to protect what they create or potentially face theft, misappropriation, and infringement. A way in which we can supplement a student’s IP knowledge is through incentivised innovation programmes. Programmes such as Solve for Tomorrow, Innovate UK’s Young Innovators Awards, British Inventor Show Awards and James Dyson Awards, aim to invest in young innovators along with providing them with valuable connections and mentorship in their respective industries. Winners can also bag themselves vital funding to help advance innovation and launch products to market.

One such individual is Penelope Roberts. The University of Essex PhD student received funding from Innovate UK Smart Grants for her company RoboNurse4NHS for their development of robotic companions for care homes and hospitals. Penelope hopes her innovation can help reduce the strain on current hospital and home care services by providing socially aware, semi-autonomous robotic companions as customisable and personalised assistants. As can be seen in figure 1, the development of technology utilising artificial life increased to an all-time high during 2019.

Fig. 1: A bar chart demonstrating the rapid increase in the number of patent applications under the classification encompassing Artificial life, i.e., computers simulating life since 2015 (created using data generated by PatWorld).  Patent application data for application years 2021 and 2022 may not truly reflect actual activity due to delays during the 18-month patent publication cycle.

Another example of the success of such programmes is Seyed Nasrollah, graduate of Imperial College, the University of Cambridge and regional winner of the Young Innovators Programme in partnership with The Prince’s Trust. Seyed believes his company, Unifiq Games, can use machine learning to revolutionise the games industry and help address the STEM-skills crisis facing the UK, through developing a social video game rooted in “a digital playground based on the laws of physics down to the atom”. The advancement of modern technology by way of machine learning continues to drive innovative tech solutions, as is evident by the increase in patent applications within this sector in recent years (see figure 2 below).

Fig. 2: A bar chart demonstrating the rapid increase in the number of patent applications under the classification encompassing Machine learning since 2015 (created using data generated by PatWorld). Patent application data for application years 2021 and 2022 may not truly reflect actual activity due to delays during the 18-month patent publication cycle.

Growth in the number of patent families published under STEM related classifications such as Artificial life, i.e. computers simulating life and Machine learning, as demonstrated in figures 1 and 2 would seem contradictory to the reported shortfall of over 173,000 workers in the STEM sector. However, it may allude to the lack of support and access to research, development and IP knowledge experienced by today’s youth. Invention requires creativity, the ability to imagine the possibilities and wonders of the world, and of course excellent subject knowledge; particularly in the realm of STEM. While innovation and transforming novelty into a commercial product is essential in rapidly changing markets, without invention innovation is impossible. Lack of inventive step or novelty will render an idea unpatentable, highlighting the significance of invention. Despite numerous grants and awards available for young innovators, there appears to be a clear lack of incentivised programmes encouraging the creation of novel inventions and knowledge on how to appropriately protect them through the patenting process.

The European Patent Office (EPO) have now established the Young Inventors prize in a bid to acknowledge young, problem-solving inventors across all technical fields with a focus on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda recognizes that “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests”. Programmes such as this could help provide Gen Z with STEM-skills and IP knowledge required to unlock their entrepreneurial potential. With its first ever winners’ ceremony being held on the 21st of June 2022, there will surely be corporations, charities and governing bodies looking to follow suit.

Chelsey Edwards is a patent analyst at Patent Seekers and is experienced in a broad range of biological research methods with an in depth knowledge of recent advancements within oncology. She has an MSc Cancer Biology and Therapeutics and BSc Hons Bioveterinary Science.

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