As AI powers more and more medical technology don’t overlook patenting - Tim Hargreaves & Rhona Muir

Scotland has a thriving Medical Technology (MedTech) industry, with more than 250 companies, and approximately 9,000 people employed in the sector. Many of these businesses have Artificial Intelligence (AI) powering them, as AI’s ability to analyse large swathes of data in a matter of moments enables faster diagnosis and improved patient outcomes.

Tim Hargreaves is a Partner with Marks & Clerk.
Tim Hargreaves is a Partner with Marks & Clerk.

Scotland has a thriving Medical Technology (MedTech) industry, with more than 250 companies, and approximately 9,000 people employed in the sector. Many of these businesses have Artificial Intelligence (AI) powering them, as AI’s ability to analyse large swathes of data in a matter of moments enables faster diagnosis and improved patient outcomes.

The complexities of AI are not just limited to the advanced technologies at play, but also the legal protections that need to be put in place to protect inventors and developers.

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AI is being used across several sectors from retail and e-commerce right the way through to cybersecurity and Scotland is no stranger to AI’s potential. In March 2021, the Scottish Government released Scotland’s AI Strategy, and in October this year it announced Scotland’s first ever AI Summit, which will take place in March 2022 in Edinburgh. This investment by the Scottish Government indicates how important AI will be.

A report conducted by the Digital Health and Care Institute in 2018 highlighted the key areas where AI is likely to have the biggest impact, namely diagnostics and, relevant to today’s climate, early identification and tracking of potential pandemics. AI for diagnostics specifically is a fast-growing area in Scotland, with many start-ups and spin-out companies, some of which are having great success in shortening care times, easing waiting room overflow and reducing pressure from other primary healthcare facilities.

As part of the Scotland-wide plan to accelerate and grow AI in MedTech, the Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD) was established in 2018. The centre brings together partners from academia, the NHS, and industry, with a focus on the application of AI to digital diagnostics. It is hoped that facilitating this collaboration between clinicians and industry will enable many healthcare challenges to be solved more efficiently, resulting in better patient outcomes.

Many cutting-edge projects are currently supported by iCAIRD. These technologies aid clinicians, leading to faster diagnosis, and ultimately better outcomes for patients. Alongside supporting these projects, iCAIRD is driving the formation of ecosystems for AI development. AI development requires appropriate platforms and infrastructure to be in place, and by providing this through these ecosystems, many barriers for SMEs trying to develop their products will be overcome.

One of the industrial partners of iCAIRD, Canon Medical Research Europe, has been a leader of MedTech in Scotland for over 20 years. It develops medical software, focusing primarily on medical imaging, and recently more emphasis has been placed on AI-related inventions. In fact, an AI platform developed by Canon is currently in use in two major Scottish hospitals: the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Growth in this sector can also be seen in Europe as the uptake of AI in MedTech is accelerated in companies such as Ada Health and Infermedica. As the sectors continues to advance there has been an increase in patent filings in both the MedTech and AI sectors at the European Patent Office.

With the plethora of people working within the AI sector, it is crucial for inventors and developers to protect any AI-related inventions they develop. Patenting AI can be more challenging due to some rather complex legalities companies need to be aware of, that can limit eligibility for patent protection. However, such an invention can still be patented if it has technical character – for example, if it overcomes a technical problem in a specific field of technology.

The value in the future of AI technology is exponential and the steps to secure its future must be taken cautiously. Companies must not overlook the importance of patenting algorithms and their technology. Forgetting this crucial step could lead to future hold-ups, loss of technology or even having to put projects on hold.

Tim Hargreaves is a Partner with Marks & Clerk. This article was co-authored by Rhona Muir, who is on secondment with Marks & Clerk from the University of Strathclyde.