What do the following multi-national corporations all have in common?
They have all chosen to locate themselves in Cambridge because of its world-renowned reputation as an innovative ecosystem. In this article, I look at some of the world’s biggest scientific and tech corporations that originated in or have moved to Cambridge. I also discuss how different forms of Intellectual Property (IP) can work together to protect not only innovative patentable research and development but also the consumer facing branding identities associated with these technological and scientific successes.
From the perspective of a trade mark and branding specialist, reading the various articles penned by my patent colleagues in the past 11 months has highlighted Cambridge’s credentials as a city of innovation, as well as providing an interesting insight into the subject. From Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Watson, Crick and Franklin to Apple, Qualcomm and Arm the list is long and impressive. It is no surprise, then, that today there are around 23 companies located in Cambridge that are worth over $1bn .
This series ‘Cambridge: City of Innovation’ has included discussion around a number of businesses and organisations that are big players in Cambridge’s innovative research and development. Most, if not all, will own IP to ensure their research and development is protected and ultimately rewarded. At the core of their IP, most will have patents.
In March, my colleagues Georgia Rundle and Jian Siang Poh discussed the emergence of next generation sequencing, sequencing-by-synthesis and the important part that the Cambridge based company Illumina Inc plays in applying innovative technologies to the analysis of genetic variation and function .
In the third article,  Philip Martin discussed how Cambridge Enterprises bridges the gap between academia and entrepreneurialism, being the University’s not-for-profit commercial arm. He also touched upon how, perhaps, Oxford University is the more traditional whereas Cambridge the more entrepreneurial.
In April, Ed Carter beamed us up into a discussion around the telecoms sector when, at the time of writing, it was the fiftieth anniversary of the first public mobile phone call made by then-Motorola employee Martin Cooper. We also found out how Qualcomm acquired Cambridge Silicon Radio in 2014 for a reported $2.5 billion, 15 years after it was founded in Cambridge. Today, Qualcomm is listed at No. 32 in the Top 100 most valuable global brands and, like CSR, is a Cambridge based company. Since then the research and development capabilities in Cambridge have attracted well-known global telecoms companies such as Apple, Samsung, Nokia as well as the smaller but equally as established semiconductor company Arm. Whilst these businesses may not necessarily cut across the same fields and specialisms they do, however, share some similarities – apart from having a major presence in Cambridge and owning patents they all own and are recognised by their distinct trade marks and branding identities.
It would be fair to say that most of Cambridge’s innovation and business value is premised upon IP, most of which will be patented inventions. Recent statistics show that the East of England is the most innovative region in the UK and more so than London. A total of 851 patents were granted to applicants in the East of England, representing 17.4 per cent of the UK’s total. Cambridge’s innovation and entrepreneurialism has very likely had a lot to do with making this statistic.
Some more stats - did you know that three out of the top five of the 100 most valuable global brands have major bases in Cambridge – Apple (No.1 valued at USD 880 bn), Microsoft (No. 3 valued at USD 502bn) and Amazon (No.4 with a value of USD 469 bn). Other major corporations who made Kantar’s BrandZ Global Report for 2023 were Intel (52nd), Qualcomm (32nd), Samsung (54th) and Huawei (58th) and, yes, these too have chosen Cambridge to work in. Whilst all of these corporations will own patents and innovative technology, it is, however, their brands that high street consumers identify with.
There is a common misconception that term ‘brand’ simply relates to the name of a business. A ‘brand’ is what you stand for in the mind of your customers and potential consumers - a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service. Ultimately, it is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced as it enables a buyer to identify the offerings of a particular company. A brand is therefore much more than just a name as it also encompasses how a business and its products look like.
The strongest brands in marketing terms are those that not only have a distinctive name but also a strong overall image consisting of designs and packaging, as well as advertising. The distinct and world-renowned Apple is a great example of a business with a strong brand identity. Everyone knows who and what Apple is, whether it is the name itself or the look and feel of an iPhone. The evolution of a strong brand identity generally not only takes years of hard work and investment in research and development but, in addition, advertising and promoting the business and its offerings. A strong marketing plan will have the ultimate objective of winning and keeping loyal customers who knowingly see the brand as a source of high quality products or services. If the plan is executed correctly, a key part of achieving this goal will involve protecting IP such as trade marks and registered designs that work in harmony to protect different aspects of a name, logo or product.
Much of Cambridge’s innovative value will be premised on IP which is a form of intangible asset including patents, trade marks and designs. It has been said that up to 80% of a public company’s market value can vest in its IP and intangible assets which is an enormous amount considering IP is not physical in nature.
Once granted a patent can last up to 20 years providing it is renewed every five years. For some patents, for example ones falling in the medicinal or plant categories, an extra five years protection can be obtained to make up for time lost in gaining pre-market regulatory approval of the products. And after that? Patents enter the public domain where they can be commercially exploited by anyone.
In the UK, a registered trade mark can give its owner a monopoly and exclusive right to use a trade mark in perpetuity, assuming it is validly maintained and renewed every 10 years. A patent on the other hand will only last 20-25 years but whilst the patent’s value will effectively run out a registered trade mark will continue and carry on supporting the effort and investment vested in the original invention by building up value and reputation in a trusted brand. In the continual search for advancement corporations like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Samsung will carry on with the initial innovation through their research and development of their products and inventions resulting in new patents being granted. Long after their patents have expired, the longevity of a business’ trade marks and branding will however continue in pretty much the same way it always has.
One can see, therefore, how trade marks and branding are the constant in the eyes of the high street consumer. The association of brands as a strong identifier of origin and quality will keep customers loyal and motivated to make repeat purchases. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the work continues for scientific and technological development where patents are utilised to protect this. However, for various reasons, including budgetary constraints and the like, branding is often ignored or not a priority over and above securing patents. As Simon Portman suggested in his article from this series tech start-ups, for example, will usually be more excited and interested in protecting their patents which is understandable given how much mental, emotional and monetary investment is made.
Equally, however, it is also important to think about protecting your trade mark and branding because consumers will recognise this as the source of that investment. It will also be a trade mark or brand which conveys the quality and innovation long after the patent is in the public domain. You don’t necessarily have to be a tech start-up either and even if your invention cannot be patented consider trade marks, designs and other forms of IP to try and protect your brand identity so, at least, people will know who your business is for many years to come.
If you have a name and a brand image that requires protecting think of it as being an investment in your business because, as has been mentioned above, trade marks, designs and IP will become assets that can add value and attract investors. This would, of course, be in addition to any patented research and development you might be involved in. Branding will also help you in the fight against infringers to keep your identity strong, distinctive and highly valuable.
If you aren’t interested in securing brand assets for your activities, on the flip side it is always prudent and strongly recommended to ensure that any trade mark or brand identity you adopt does not infringe someone else’s rights. Overlooking this during the early stages of a start-up business may well prove to be very costly further down the line and the ‘cost’ will not simply be monetary but also reputational should you build up a client base and then have to re-brand. Therefore, think of the damage that could happen to the client and consumer perceptions of your business if your use of a name, at least, infringed a third party’s rights.
Whilst its neighbouring town Newmarket is better known for horses, it is nonetheless the Cambridge Dictionary that defines the old idiom ‘shut the stable door after the horse has bolted’ as meaning ‘to be so late in taking action to prevent something bad happening that the bad event has already happened’. The importance of this in regards to trade marks and branding cannot be stressed enough. Initial due diligence before it is too late could potentially save you a lot of harm further down the line. Being one myself, I would reiterate Simon Portman’s call to have a conversation with a Trade Mark Attorney during the early stages of undertaking any kind of business venture. This will lay a good foundation for the future where your products can at least be marketed and associated with your branding.
 ‘Patently obvious: Region’s patent approvals top the UK’ [Business Weekly, 28 June 2023]; https://www.businessweekly.co.uk/news/startups/patently-obvious-region%E2%80%99s-patent-approvals-top-uk
 ‘Trademarking a city with complex legal and branding needs’ – 31st July 2023