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Creating a strategy for early-stage life sciences to flourish

When you are an emerging life sciences company looking for capital in B.C., it can often feel like you are swimming around in a small bowl of little minnows all trying to bait that big, elusive fish.
Protect ideas in emerging life sciences. Photo by iStock.

When you are an emerging life sciences company looking for capital in B.C., it can often feel like you are swimming around in a small bowl of little minnows all trying to bait that big, elusive fish.

“In Vancouver and British Columbia, we don’t have much in the way of large, institutional pharma companies based here,” says Brian G. Kingwell, patent and trademark agent at Gowling WLG. “What we do have though, is a very lively, relatively small early stage company ecosystem.”

For over 20 years, Kingwell’s practice has focused on patent prosecution and strategic patent portfolio counselling in the areas of molecular biology, genomics, biochemistry, chemistry, chemical engineering and medical devices. 

As an Intellectual Property expert(IP), Kingwell advises innovative clients from companies in varying size across a range of sectors, including health care, biotechnology, agriculture and energy, on which ideas to retain ownership over and how to do so.

“[Life Sciences] is a risky business, most of the innovation ends in a dead end in a drug that doesn’t work and that isn’t the fault of the innovators, it’s a reflection of how remarkably complex human physiology and disease is,” says Kingwell. 

Although it can be a difficult journey, and early-stage companies are so often strained by budgets and constantly seeking capital for innovations, eventually one of these little fish gets noticed by a big pharma company, or finds substantial investment support, and a revolutionary new product is born. What’s important to remember is what to do when developing your idea.

“Early stage companies have decisions that need to be made around how best to allocate their limited resources to intellectual property,” says Kingwell. “Being good at strategically allocating resources to IP is a very important skillset for early stage companies to have.”

So, what can a little fish do to prepare for the volatile and turbulent world of the early-stage lifecycle?

Understand your IP landscape

Working at a life sciences company will undoubtedly be fraught with challenges so studying your space before you enter is the best way to find solid ground. Knowing the other players, studying various approaches and determining how your company will be different is very important.

“Your company will have ideas and things they are interested in but it is operating almost inevitably in areas where other people are also busy innovating,” says Kingwell. 

“Just like choosing your way on a map, you’ve got to have some idea of the landscape that you are operating in in order to make good decisions about how you allocate capital for innovation.”

Create a strategy for navigating the IP landscape

Innovations happen every day in life sciences. It can be easy to get distracted or overwhelmed with where your company is headed and what findings are the most valuable. Decide which innovations and ideas are vital to your company’s overall mission and commit to those principles.

“You can choose to spend lots of money and be aggressive about patenting and jurisdictions and trying to get the broadest patents possible, or you can choose to be focussed and get a particular patent for a particular innovation,” says Kingwell.

“Allocate your limited resources to optimizing your prospects of navigating the landscape – to make decisions about spending money on patents or enforcing patents, protecting patents, or getting freedom to operate – all those things cost money and time and they are choices you make.”

Effectively execute towards a destination

When the time comes to allocate resources to navigating the IP landscape, it is important that you do not waver and continue to efficiently enact your strategy even when times are tough. 

“All these things are fluid and they will change,” says Kingwell. “Devoting significant resources to execute on those strategies so you can feel comfortable that you are giving yourself the best chance you have is the best way to stay afloat.”

Eventually, one of these small companies will create something amazing and big pharma or big investors will come looking to develop your idea and put the necessary capital behind life-changing inventions. What’s important is to weather the path with a strong plan and an open mind for what may lie ahead. 

If you are interested in learning more about how Gowling WLG can advise you on patents, intellectual property or other intangible assets, please visit