In Conversation With Debbie Slater, Patent Attorney
At Prevayl, we understand the importance of protecting our Intellectual Property (IP) and developing a strong, robust IP strategy to mitigate risk. That’s why, from day one, we’ve worked on building a strong in-house Intellectual Property team.
With over 40 years of experience under her belt, Debbie Slater is one of our resident IP experts. As an integral part of the IP team, she’s responsible for all things patent, from working with the wider team to identify IP opportunities, and to responding to risk factors related to an IP right.
In this interview, we speak to Debbie to reflect on her career and find out what makes Prevayl’s IP strategy so special.
Q: Could you please start by introducing yourself?
A: I’m Debbie. I’m one of the patent attorneys in the in-house IP team at Prevayl. I’ve been in the IP world for 40 years now and coming to the end of my career... although I’m not planning to retire anytime soon, as I’m still really enjoying myself.
Q: How did you get your start in IP?
A: In 1982, after I graduated with a Physics degree, I went to work in the Netherlands at the European Patent Office (EPO). And that’s how I got started in the industry. As a profession, it’s hugely flexible and I have been able to use my skills around the world: from Perth in Australia to the Hague in the Netherlands, and now, Manchester.
Q: What brought you to Prevayl?
A: After my time in the Hague with the EPO, I moved into an IP management role, but I felt that my career would benefit from qualifying as a patent attorney, which I did in the late ‘90s.
In 2000, I emigrated to Australia with my family, and I carried on working there as a patent attorney and an IP management consultant for 12 years before moving back to the UK in 2012. After a brief return to Australia, we decided to settle in the UK in 2019 – Chester, to be precise.
At that point, my husband had retired, and I didn’t have a job to come back to. One day, I came across a job ad for this role at Prevayl so I sent off my CV and cover letter to Sam (Director of IP), who invited me to come in for an interview – and the rest was history.
Q: How did you feel about the business’s emphasis on IP at the time, being such a young company?
A: When I came for my interview, I thought Prevayl had been around much longer than it had. Usually, for a company so young, there wouldn’t even be one patent attorney in the team, let alone two; and we have an IP Lawyer in the team as well, which means we can provide a holistic service to the business.
Obviously, a lot of foresight went into that. From the year dot, our IP strategy has been of primary importance to Adam (CEO) and the team. Thanks to their understanding of the difference it can make for a startup, when it comes to leveraging commercial interests, supporting licensing negotiations and so on. Starting with a clean slate gave us a really great opportunity because we were able to establish the way forward in terms of IP strategy.
Fast-forward to today, we have far more patent applications than some of our competitors, which is very unusual for such a young company, but I think we’ve shown that it works.
Q: How does working here compare to other jobs you’ve had throughout your career?
A: What I enjoy about this role is that it is not your traditional patent attorney role. Compared to working in a private practice where you work for lots of clients, there is only one client here: Prevayl. That allows us to get to know the business in much more detail than we would in a private practice.
Q: Can you give us an insight into your day-to-day role?
A: In the IP team, we talk to our colleagues throughout the business on a regular basis to identify inventions that they have come up with, and to assess the best way to protect these ideas going forward. We draft, file and prosecute patent, design and trademark applications. We also get involved in commercial aspects, particularly in relation to IP. We monitor our competitors’ IP to assess potential impacts on our business and seek to identify opportunities for licencing our IP to third parties. It’s very much a team effort.
As a big part of our job is communicating with individual inventors and working in-house gives us the opportunity to gain a much greater insight into their work, so we take advantage of that.
We’ve recently started to outsource some of the patent process and to bring in specialised expertise. For example, we’re now filing applications overseas. We can’t handle those internally, so we’ve enlisted some help from external firms.
Q: Ultimately, what’s the goal for your role within the company?
A: I see our role as a support service. It’s about supporting the strategic goals of the business – the way forward and the way the team wants to go. We're responsible for obtaining the protections that will make it easier to achieve our business goals later. In a way, I see us as a force in the background that facilitates the operation.
That said, what I like about being in this role is that we still feel part of the team. Even though we’re not directly involved in creating products, we’re still very much part of the team. And it’s our job to do the right thing so that the business can move forward.
Q: Other than the nature of the role, what is your favourite thing about working here?
A: The people! For me, it is always about the people. In 40 years, I’ve had a lot of jobs and when it comes down to it, you have to want to come to work so, for me, it’s the people. And, being the oldest person in the team, where many of my colleagues are either the same age as my sons or younger, it keeps me young.
Q: Before we wrap up this interview, can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
A: I once missed out on being a film extra in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. I’ve been dancing since I was a little girl – and I still dance – and I got the opportunity to be an extra in a dance scene, but I missed out because they didn’t have a costume to fit me…