Saudi Patenting Q&A (with 3-Expert Panel)

Over the past several weeks, my series on the 2014 Dental Innovation Forum, organized by Umm Al-Qura University’s Faculty of Dentistry, covered 3 main sessions.

Saudi Patenting Q&A

  1. How to Become More Creative and Innovative (with Prof. Sultan Al-Mubarak)
  2. Making the Most of Patenting and Commercialization Opportunities (with Dr. Ashley Stevens)
  3. Building your Brand as a Technological Innovator (with Dr. Cale Lennon)

Now, this final article will cover a major topic that the above experts tackled after their individual sessions: patenting in Saudi Arabia and abroad.

The Patent Process

After being asked to explain more about the patent process, Professor Sultan Al-Mubarak recommended that innovators pick up a book just published by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) titled Innovation Guidelines.

According to Sultan, this book “gives telephone numbers and contact details for all the citizens that are involved with creation and innovation, whether it’s private sector, or governmental sector, or civic governmental sector.”

More specifically, he pointed out that there are two patent offices in Saudi Arabia: the GCC Patent Office in Riyadh and the Saudi Patent Office at KACST.

Sultan said that there have been many positive changes within these patenting offices recently. For example, in 2013, Saudi Arabia became the 147th country to join the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), an international patent law treaty that has set up a consistent procedure for filing patent applications in each participating state.

Of course, the fact that a patent is enforceable doesn’t make it commercially viable.

“There’s a few organizations and institutions that may give you financial as well as registry support to file your patent if it looks commercially viable. So, out of 100 patents, there might be less than 5 patents that would be commercially viable,” explained Sultan. “If your patent looks commercially viable, then you might have a client that will inject some support to that—logistic or financial support, or both.”

He warned, however, that the “valley of death” is deeper and wider for medical sector start-ups than for most start-ups. The valley of death is the scary phase between proof of concept and revenue from actual customers. The scary part is that, without investors, there is no money coming in during this period time, regardless of patent status.

As factors than lengthen and deepen the valley of death, Sultan cited logistics issues, regulatory factors, the need for financial support from pharmaceutical companies, and the many steps needed at the various clinical trial phases. There are always major risks, such as having a drug pulled from the market because it didn’t work the way it was meant to.

That’s why Sultan said that, as Director of Badir for Biotechnology, he has had a tendency to focus on medical equipment rather than pharmaceutical products.

Obtaining a U.S. or International Patent

Upon being asked about filing a U.S. or international patent, Dr. Ashley Stevens quipped, “I’m sure a lawyer would be happy to take your money and file a patent wherever you want him to.”

However, since a patent protects both the sale and the manufacture of the product, Ashley encouraged innovators to weigh both where they intend to sell their product and where they intend to manufacture it.

“You’re seeing a lot of U.S. universities that’re in the electronic space file patents in India and in China, not because they’re interested in the markets there, but because they’re concerned about the product being manufactured there and then being exported into the U.S.,” said Ashley.

Patenting Support Cooperation Among Innovation Centers

Next, an audience member asked Professor Sultan Al-Mubarak whether there existed cooperation between KACST, the Ministry of Higher Education’s innovation center initiative, and the universities in Saudi Arabia.

Sultan said that the issue of cooperation would be factored into the second iteration of the National Science, Technology and Innovation Plan, slated to cover the Kingdom from the years 2015 to 2019. He added that, although the first iteration of this Science, Technology and Innovation Plan was not 100% successful, it still achieved important goals.

More specifically, Sultan said that one cooperation-related issue is that most Saudi universities rush to file patents just for the sake of filing them. They don’t consider the commercial viability of each patent. According to Sultan, KACST bears the cost of such patents.

That is why this second phase of the plan, which KACST will hopefully support by September, will encourage holding off on aiding technology transfer until each corresponding patent application is evaluated.

According to Sultan, there is currently more cooperation between different Saudi governmental organizations, although with some overlap and some repetition. KACST itself is working with large organizations, especially to facilitate warranties, as well as cooperating with the Ministry of Health.

“We welcome any suggestions and/or comments that you can provide to us,” said Sultan, asking for submissions regarding the second Science, Technology and Innovation Plan.

In closing, Dr. Ashley Stevens said that, as a member of Saudi Arabia’s Association of University Technology Managers, he believes “there is sufficient momentum in technology transfer in the Kingdom that it’s time to form some sort of association.”

He cited many other countries, like South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland, that have their own technology transfer associations, and said it’s time for Saudis to think about following in these footsteps.

I hope you have enjoyed my article series on the 2014 Dental Innovation Forum and this final Saudi patenting Q&A article.

My next article, 20 Questions with Dave McClure, will cover a question-and-answer session conducted here in Saudi Arabia by self-described Geek/Marketer/Hustler/Investor Dave McClure, Founding Partner of California venture capital fund 500 Startups. Be sure to check back for it.

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