Storming Performance As Law Team Hits £500M Mark30 July 2007 Nottingham law firm Browne Jacobson revealed what it called a 'storming performance' in the first half of 2007 by its corporate team.
This expansion, which looks to become even more rapid once BioCity's third building, as well as locations in Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham's Jubilee Park become available, has also spawned another centre of excellence in Nottingham - patent lawyers with a world-class biotechnology and life sciences expertise.
Anyone who knows anything about biotechnology realises only too well that the best invention in this highly competitive world is worthless unless it's well protected. A biotechnology company's worth is only as good as the protection of its inventions and processes. And that's where the patent lawyers come in.
The BioCity event featured three speakers - Anton Hutter from BioCity-based Adamson Jones, who spoke about 'Developing a Commercial Patent Strategy'; Scott Farnsworth from Berryman in Nottingham, who spoke about 'enforcing your IP and dealing with infringers'; and Helen Johnstone of Eric Potter Clarkson, also in Nottingham, who spoke about 'IP Due Diligence'.
'Ten years ago, most biotechnology spin-offs from the universities of Nottingham or Leicester would have been forced to make their way to Cambridge, Oxford or London to start their business. However, today, a Leicester spin-off can just head 25 minutes up the road and set up shop in some of the most modern and cost-effective facilities in Europe here in BioCity Nottingham', said Hutter, a Patent Attorney at Adamson Jones.
As the Nottingham patent lawyer cluster flexes its intellectual muscles, local biotechnology companies can obtain world-class advice at rates that reflect Nottingham's lower costs right here on their doorstep, but without sacrificing the quality of the advice they receive.
Although no-one is seriously comparing Cambridge's success in creating a world-class bioscience cluster with what is happening in Nottingham today, Hutter points out that Cambridge has enjoyed certain advantages.
'Cambridge has had a head start, it's closer to London and it's in the Golden triangle,' he said. 'It would be arrogant to say that we're better than Cambridge. But now, thanks in part to BioCity, we've got the labs, the cheaper rents and the support, and we're also in the heart of the UK, making it easier for us to get to growing life science centres in the North such as York and Manchester, as well as locations in the Midlands and the South. So now we're in with a chance.'
Hutter pointed out that Cambridge is a world brand and companies enjoy the kudos of being linked to this, but as more opportunities arise in Nottingham, and as facilities here improve and rents in Cambridge increase, more biotechnology businesses seeking to take advantage of a more cost effective and convenient base will be looking to move to locations such as Nottingham.
'I'm hearing from my contacts about more and more companies in the South that are considering moving to Nottingham,' Hutter said.
However, according to Juliette Morgan, a research and development property consultant at Bidwells, which operates Cambridge Science Park, the inability of Nottingham biotechnology firms to access venture capital here has led to at least one Nottingham company abandoning the East Midlands and heading south.
'Cities such as Bristol and Nottingham haven't built up a critical mass yet,' said Morgan, 'and that lack of high concentration has failed to attract enough venture capital. This has resulted in at least one Nottingham company leaving Nottingham for Cambridge to attract funding.'
Such concerns have been echoed by confidential reports from the University of Nottingham. 'Nottingham isn't alone in this,' said Morgan. 'A Liverpool company also set up in Cambridge because it was unable to attract venture capital in the North-West.'
Morgan pointed out that with 1,800 high growth companies, Cambridge is well served by professionals, with many London-based firms setting up shop in Cambridge for the sole purpose of serving this lucrative market. She said that despite biotechnology expansion in both the East and the West Midlands, with growth being recorded in Loughborough, Nottingham, Pebble Mill, Coventry Hospital and Warwick Science Park, Cambridge is still managing to keep its critical mass and achieve much-needed injections of venture capital as a result.
Scott Farnsworth, a Nottingham-based solicitor specialising in patent protection in the biotechnology sector, is confident that Nottingham can achieve continued significant growth, despite competition from other parts of Britain and the world.
'Nottingham has become hugely important to the life sciences sector not only in the UK but in Europe,' Farnsworth said. 'Life sciences here is part of an overall much larger healthcare industry sector, and this sector's activity has been dominated in the last few years by the creation of BioCity, which isn't just big in Britain, it's one of Europe's biggest biotechnology science parks.'
Asked about a perception that Nottingham life science companies weren't able to achieve their natural growth in the past because, unlike Cambridge and London-based companies, they couldn't tap into the professional expertise needed to get over those difficult, initial hurdles, Farnsworth insisted that things have now changed for the better.
'If you are talking about access to professional support such as accountants, bankers and patent attorneys, then the answer must be that things have improved,' Farnsworth said. 'Banks and the large firms of accountants have developed or are developing teams dedicated to innovation and technology which cover life sciences. They can draw on the experiences of colleagues within their organisation, as well as other resources within their infrastructure, even if they are based in other parts of the country such as Cambridge or London. Law firms on the other hand have been much slower to follow and this has been due to a lack of experience and money. A lack of money can seriously affect a law firm's ability to develop a technical team able to provide businesses within the life sciences sector with the specialist advice they require. The problem first begins with the need for a law firm to be able to offer the highest quality of advice in the field of intellectual property.'
Farnsworth explained that unless a law firm could demonstrate a thorough understanding of intellectual property issues and their effect upon businesses involved in commercial arrangements such as collaborations, evaluations, R&D and even clinical trials as well as the regulatory issues affecting those businesses, then providing thorough advice could prove difficult. Businesses working in life sciences needed to have absolute confidence in their professional advisers' ability to deliver and deliver well.
'Berryman currently works with around two thirds of the companies at BioCity as well as many other businesses involved in life sciences around the region. Few other firms advise on intellectual property, let alone have teams dedicated to the discipline. Fewer firms still are able to advise on the legal and regulatory issues affecting life science businesses. I believe this is why very few firms have developed a successful reputation for this type of legal work in the region as a whole and not just in Nottingham. That, however, is beginning to change.'
The Berryman solicitor said he saw life sciences in the East Midlands going from strength to strength.
'The current status is very strong and will continue to grow,' Farnsworth predicted. 'One of the main areas of growth will be nanotechnology.'
Helen Johnstone, the third speaker at the BioCity event, said the East Midlands biotechnology cluster was growing fast but remained relatively small.
'Nottingham's position as a life science centre is not yet as important as that of either Cambridge or London. However, we're impressed and excited by the successful growth of BioCity.'
Johnstone, a Patent Attorney at Eric Potter Clarkson, said she wasn't aware of any particular increase in commercial ties between businesses operating in the East Midlands and Cambridge, even though her firm acts for companies in both areas. She did, however, predict continued healthy growth for the cluster: 'We expect the life science cluster in the East Midlands to grow, particularly because all necessary professional support is available within the East Midlands area.'
Such professional support includes accountants and bankers. For Paul Harris, a Midlands-based tax research and development expert at PricewaterhouseCoopers, there are no more excuses:
'Nottingham no longer lacks the financial support needed for life science companies to achieve their potential,' Harris said.
"While arguably cities such as Cambridge potentially have a greater pool of professionals who they can call on with life sciences experience, cities such as Nottingham can still take advantage of expert support,' he said.
'BioCity is an incubator facility for life science businesses in Nottingham and one that we among other organisations are already providing advice and support to. At PricewaterhouseCoopers, we can draw on experience from any office in the firm's network, which extends beyond the UK and across the globe. Certainly, there is a passion and commitment to work with developing, ambitious companies in Nottingham whether involved in Life Sciences or other sectors with real growth potential. Understandably, the more involved East Midlands organisations become, the quicker that local expertise will evolve.'