From the Russian Moon to GPS

From the Russian Moon to GPS

October 4, 2017

 

A Space industry lawyer believes that on the 70th anniversary of its launch, Sputnik still has a direct message to the growing UK Space sector.

 

Andrew Sparrow, Founder, Lecote Spacelawyers.net at the Harwell Campus, has for twenty years been heavily involved with Intellectual property issues in the technology sector.

 

He explained that Sputnik, both in terms of what it triggered and how its successor Space applications evolved highlights a vital issue:

 

‘70 years ago today (4 October) the space industry achieved a milestone because on October 4th 1957, Sputnik (the Russian Moon) was launched.’

 

‘As the world began to learn of this staggering achievement, two American scientists were immediately inspired to calculate the speed that the satellite was travelling and using the Doppler effect, worked out the points at which the satellite was closest and farthest away from their antenna. Their work soon led to satellites which could track submarines and establish their location in the middle of the Ocean.’

 

‘Which is how GPS was born’.

 

‘This technology trajectory experience is relevant in 2017 because now anyone can innovate and create on top of the GPS open platform’.

 

‘It’s also an example of the value of connecting ideas. Connecting ideas is what drives innovation in Space applications – but connecting ideas often leads to products which can also be protected as works of Intellectual Property (IP).  IP is a cornerstone of Space activity. In fact, IP may be the most valuable asset downstream UK space industry actors have.’

 

He continued: ‘Yet what constitutes IP and how it must be approached is often not recognised or given adequate attention in commercial negotiations and the contracts which govern relations between actors in a Space programme – particularly those companies involved in sub-system supply – whether that be flight software development, component manufacture and supply or service provision.’

 

‘Space businesses need to understand this aspect of a Space programme and identify what might constitute IP and how it should be treated in context of the project – including how to protect it and preserve the commercial value of the contribution to the overall programme. This may well represent the principal financial value of the company which provided the IP.’

 

‘The essential point to note is that it is easy to lose control of IP in contracts and deals – and once lost in context of one Space deal – it cannot easily be asserted in another.’

 

Mr Sparrow added: ‘But it is also important for UK Space industry companies not to fear IP in situations which could in fact enhance their space application.  Small companies are sometimes reluctant to collaborate on research because of their desire to retain control of their IP and to avoid IP ownership disputes. Or they may fear unplanned public disclosures being made by the collaborator. However, this situation can be managed by careful contract negotiation.’

 

He concluded: ‘The UK’s ambition of achieving 10% market share of the global Space sector can be realised – but the search for growth should be informed by a recognition from the outset of any commercial Space negotiations -  of the essential value of IP rights’.

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