How do you take an invention further and make the right decisions to protect your innovation? Patent engineer Maria Lundström provides a helping hand in the delicate processes of patents, trademark and design protection.
With more than 25 years of experience, patent engineer Maria Lundström has gained much insight into the world of patents through her various jobs and continuous education. She studied civil engineering at Luleå University of Technology during the late 1980s, specializing in industrial working environment and product design. Her plunge into the world of patents started while she was in the middle of her education. Maria had applied for a summer job at the Swedish Patent and Registration Office, to gain an insight into different constructions. She didn’t get the job, but once she had graduated she applied once more and this time she got the job.
Maria started working at the Patent and Registration Office in the Swedish capital in 1990, where she would remain for the next eight years. During this period she attended several internal courses at the authority to gain better knowledge about patent law and develop in her position as an inspector of patent applications. Maria also had to study German at the municipal adult education level to meet the language requirement from the Patent and Registration Office. In 1998 her career took a new path as she joined IP firm Zacco at their Skellefteå office.
As a patent consultant, Maria helped clients with issues revolving around inventions and patents over the whole process. The post also entailed broadening her understanding of patent, trademark protection and design protection and she also attended various courses in sales, marketing and internal computer systems.
Providing guidance for Umeå students
Then last year, after being headhunted, she started her new position as a patent engineer and IP strategist at Umeå Universitet Holding AB, the university’s holding company. Maria was offered the job through a phone call and her curiosity of seeing the world of patents from the university perspective made her accept. Her role is to share her knowledge on patents, trademark protection and design protection and help students, postgraduates and researchers at Umeå University to analyze and assess their innovations.
“Sometimes a registered protection is a possibility and we assist in the process through the collaboration partners that we have procured.”
Maria meets people who can have an idea or have worked for several years with a solution. Some want to start a business around the idea, others want to sell, while others want to sell but keep developing the idea further.
“My task is to discuss the possibilities, tell them about my experiences and what should be considered during different steps of the process. Since I have worked so much with patents I naturally focus on this. However, you can’t apply for a patent on everything, but an idea can still have a great value. That’s when you need to find other ways to claim exclusive rights,” she says.
Extended knowledge and skills
As she has done throughout her professional career, Maria is continuing with further education at her new job. She attends a number of courses to prepare and deepen the work connected to the university and the government. Extending one’s professional knowledge during your career can be beneficial both for your current job and for future opportunities. Academia for example offers great possibilities for this, according to Maria.
“Many universities have courses in entrepreneurship, business, marketing and finances and these provide information early on about important parameters, including patents, trademark protection and design protection,” Says Maria.
Maria Lundström also emphasizes some important skills in the role as a patent engineer; understanding technology is one, comprehending legislation and the people you meet, both those with inventions and those who perform the assessment work.
Being a registered patent attorney in Sweden and Europe, or similar experience, is also a good qualification.
“Often you are provided with the opportunity of education that leads to this in your employment, but if you already have it, that is of course a merit,” Maria states.
Possible career change
Working as a patent engineer there are also great opportunities for development, says Maria, both within the technological know-how area, but also in communication and digitalization adapted for the area. If she would ever decide on a slight career change, there should be several possibilities, she says.
“I have changed track within the world of patents a few times. That has gone well and I have further developed both within my profession and also as a person. So doing a familiar job again is one possibility, or working at a company with patent issues. I could also consider working with development work and planning processes in various situations. Another challenge would be working in-house at a firm as a patent expert, close to the development,” Says Maria.
Challenges and rewards
As with any job, it also comes with some challenges. Every now and then it’s the lack of time, Maria says, making her not altogether satisfied with her labor input and advisory services. Keeping a balanced level of dedication and composure is also tricky.
“The hardest part of the job is to quickly understand something that a person has spent years pondering on, and to become involved in it but at the same time remain level-headed. It’s so easy to get carried away by the enthusiasm! An interesting challenge, in other words,” States Maria.
The best part of the job she finds is the many personal meetings with clients.
“Meeting all these people who have come up with something clever that they really believe in and have and hope for is great!”
New European patent a hot topic
As a patent engineer Maria also comes across various issues and topics that are debated, such as current political questions.
“The Swedish government wants to see more useful innovations from the universities and that is of course something that is being discussed. How should this be realized? What kind of support will there be? It also raises questions about timescale, responsibility and quality,” Maria informs.
Maria says that in the world of patents there are still speculations about the new European patent that are being vented, as well as the legal aspects of dealing with invalidating approved patents or managing infringement. Much of the activities will no longer take place in Sweden, as a new European patent court will be set up later this year. Europe’s Unified Patent Court, part of which will be based in London, is expected to open in December 2017. There will be branches of the court across the EU with major divisions in Paris, Germany and the UK.
Photo of Maria Lundström: Mattias Pettersson