Patent attorney’s ‘give back’ attitude

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Industry, People
  • 3 years ago

14 May 2021

Dr Jenny Petering has been practising as a patent attorney in Australia for 30 years but outside what she calls her ‘day job’, this one-woman wonder also wanted to give back to the research sector which she has worked with for so long.

The result of her give back efforts is a long list of pro-bono activities including helping start-ups secure funding and matching university students with mentors. These activities this week saw Dr Petering presented with the Distinguished Leader’s Award 2021 by BioMelbourne Network.

Even though service providers only recently became eligible to receive the prestigious award, Dr Petering’s strong and sustained contribution to the sector made her a standout, with BioMelbourne Network noting her nomination received such strong support and testimonials about how she had contributed to the life science sector she was an easy pick.

“When you’ve been around as long as I have, I guess you do learn a thing or two,” Dr Petering said in response, noting she was both surprised at the nomination and the subsequent win. “I just see my purpose as trying to add value to this industry.”

Dr Petering said ensuring Australian start-ups had their innovations properly protected through patents was one way of giving back as having strong IP protection was essential both for getting into the global market and for attracting large pharmaceutical investors but was only “one part of the jigsaw”.

“There are so many things that these companies have to think about and have covered off, and IP is just one of them,” she said. “It’s one part of the puzzle, there’s a lot of others that you have to think about. How good the technology is, the funding, the market, manufacturing, getting your clinical trials done, regulatory issues, getting drugs approved through the FDA, for example. All these things are what companies are dealing with and IP fits into that.

“My day job as a patent attorney is a pretty clear way to add value but there are other ways. I teach a patent subject at Melbourne University, I’m on commercialisation committees for a few research institutes – this is all pro bono work. It’s a lot of just giving back, I guess.”

‘Angels’ help start-ups

One of Dr Petering’s main ‘give back’ initiatives is called Scale Investors and provides funding for small organisations with good ideas that require financial assistance to get off the ground or expand. She said Australia lacked a strong venture capital culture when compared to the US or UK, meaning angel investors were needed to help early-stage companies get off the ground or through to commercialisation.

Her involvement with Scale commenced about five or six years ago after she had been a patent attorney at FB Rice for more than 20 years and wanted to step back and contribute more to the industry.

“Scale Investors was one of the first things I did. It’s an angel investment group but it’s really looking at supporting entrepreneurs and startup companies. The angel investors put in funding, but also help with questions about getting started, and mentoring. I’ve been involved with that for a long time. I love it.”

Dr Petering said her long career history of working in the biotech industry and the amazing people she had met inspired her to keep working for it.

“We’ve got brilliant research here, really first-class research institutes and universities. We need to lift our game a little bit, I think on translating that from academia into real health outcomes for people and that means translation and commercialisation of research from universities. That’s something we need to focus on. It is exciting though – a very exciting opportunity.”

She finds teaching young people coming up through the ranks “very, very rewarding”, particularly those in academia.

“You’re looking at these people who are about to finish a PhD or master’s degrees but what opportunities are there for them outside of academia?” she asked. “It’s getting harder and harder to just stay in academia. Only one in 10 students at university will actually be successful in having an academic career.

“Australia is great with the academic research, but we need to have a close relationship between academia and industry to really help with the translation and commercialisation of the research.”

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