A Specialist in IP Strategy with Knowledge of the Growth Process of the Telecommunications Industry [Inaugural Interview].
On March 31, 2022, WARPSPACE announced the appointment of two new directors, a COO (Chief Operating Officer) and a Chief IP&Corporate Strategist (Chief Intellectual Property and Corporate Strategist), newly established.
In this series, we interview the four diverse members to share their enthusiasm for the company, which was not fully covered in the press release.
The fourth member is Masaki Kataoka, who was appointed as Chief IP&Corporate Strategist. We asked him about the interesting aspects of WARPSPACE’s business from the viewpoint of an intellectual property expert, as well as his enthusiasm for his new position.
Masaki Kataoka [Chief IP&Corporate Strategist (new position)
Background: Patent Attorney; AIPE Certified Intellectual Property Analyst. He was with Sony’s Intellectual Property Center for about 12 years until the end of 2017, where he promoted strategic IP activities in Japan, the U.S., and Europe. He was named one of the top 300 IP strategists in the world by IAM Media in the U.K. He joined Sony in April 2021 and became Chief IP Counsel in the same month.
“Intellectual Property Rights” to protect technology from rival companies.
-Kataoka-san, you joined WARPSPACE in April 2021 as Chief IP Counsel, and you are in charge of intellectual property matters. First of all, what are intellectual property rights?
To put it simply, an intellectual property right is a right granted by the government to the person who first created a certain value so that they can monopolize that value for a certain period.
For example, it is easier and less expensive to imitate what someone else has created than to create technology from scratch. If people are allowed to do business by copying technology that others have spent money and time to develop, we will end up waiting for someone else to create a new technology, and we will end up with a society that does not produce innovations. This is why the legal system of intellectual property rights was developed.
There are various types of intellectual property rights. Typical examples are “copyrights,” which protect writings, pictures, music, movies, and other art; “design rights,” which protect designs; “trademark rights,” which protect names that identify products and services, such as product names and logos; and “patent rights,” which protect technologies that have been developed. Think of intellectual property rights as a generic term for all of these.
The activities of a typical business firm include collecting and investing funds from investors and other sources, creating and selling products and services of higher value, and then making a profit on the sales of those products and services. The company then invests the profits from the sales of those products and services. The process is repeated. However, if the results obtained from the investment are easily imitated by others, the business will cease to be profitable.
To protect your technology from being imitated by others, you should make it invisible to them. However, some products, such as bicycles, have a mechanism that can be understood by looking at the product, and some products have a manufacturing method that can be understood by the buyer analyzing the product. In such cases, it is important to create a situation where rival companies are not legally allowed to copy the technology.
Start-ups, in particular, must grow their businesses while protecting their strengths from other companies, which large companies with ample resources do not have. To do so, a strategy is necessary. For example, it is necessary to acquire and protect intellectual property rights to proprietary technologies that are a strength. It will be very important to create a system to prevent other companies from easily imitating the strengths of your business in order to attract investment and scale your business.
-Is it difficult for engineers to apply for patents on their own?
There are two conditions for an invention to be granted a patent: it must be “new from a global perspective” and “not easy to do from a global perspective. First of all, it is not easy to determine what is new and what parts of the technology you have developed are likely to be granted a patent in light of inventions that have already been published around the world.
For example, how can you determine that the technology you have developed is not available anywhere else in the world? Even as we speak, there may be people doing the same thing on the other side of the world, or it could even be a technology that has already been published somewhere else that you are not aware of.
What is really difficult, however, is the strategy of whether to obtain a patent right for an invention, if so, what the scope of the right should be, and how to use the right to protect your business. No matter how good the technology or invention, if there is no strategy for obtaining the rights, the patent rights can be completely worthless. This is the part where the legal theory makes up a large proportion of the work, and the ability to deal with the situation will vary greatly depending on how much experience you have in the actual situation where companies actually exercise their patent rights.
Moving to Tsukuba reminded me of my longing for space.
-I am sure you have some background in natural science.
Yes, I do. I majored in electrical engineering until graduate school. After graduation, I joined Sony Corporation as an engineer and was in charge of designing logic circuits in application processors for cell phones and system architecture including hardware and software.
I was fortunate to have several excellent senior engineers around me. For example, they were always thinking about programs day in and day out. I thought to myself, “This is the kind of person a real engineer is. In my first year with the company, a respected senior said to me, “So, Kataoka-san, in what field are you going to be the best in the world? I have always remembered those words. The message was that as an engineer, I had to aim for a level in my field that was second to none in the world.
I felt that I was very halfway there. At the time, I was participating in the development of a cutting-edge telecommunications terminal and frequently traveled to Europe and the U.S. to work with local engineers on development, which I enjoyed in my own way and could have continued as an engineer if I wanted to. However, I didn’t think I could become the best in the world or become the “real engineer” that I ideally wanted to be. I lacked passion. I also felt that my own interests might be a little different.
It was then that I learned about patent rights at work and thought, “There is such a world out there,” and “This is interesting. The fact that about 80% of patent attorneys, who are experts in handling intellectual property rights, have a science background, having studied natural science fields at university, also pushed me to become a patent attorney. If prerequisite knowledge is required to understand the explanations of researchers and engineers, then naturally many of them would have a science background.
This would allow me to make use of my background as an engineer, and I also had a strong interest in the area of intellectual property rights, which is a cross between natural science and law, so I decided to jump in. This was my sixth year with the company. After transferring to the Intellectual Property Department, I decided to change my career path from an engineer to a patent attorney. This is my 16th year specializing in intellectual property.
-How did you get involved in WARPSPACE?
I was interested in space back in my childhood. When I was in the early grades of elementary school, I was shown Jupiter through a telescope at the home of a neighborhood science teacher, and I still remember how impressed I was. When I was in junior high school, I remember often reading the science magazine “Newton,” which my homeroom science teacher gave me in the classroom. I once wanted to study space at university, but the number of universities in Japan was limited, and I was just in a period of apathy at the time, so I didn’t take it very seriously. As a result, I chose engineering, and I remember that one of the reasons was the thought that studying engineering might someday lead to space.
After that, as I mentioned earlier, I joined a manufacturer as an engineer and was assigned to a department developing cell phones, where I encountered intellectual property rights. With this background, I started working in intellectual property and was posted to the U.K. and the U.S., where I was in charge of the wireless communications field in particular. In addition, I also assisted local venture companies with intellectual property strategies and fundraising.
After about seven years of overseas assignments, I decided to return home in 2017. Considering the choice of schools for my children, access to my parents’ home, which had always been far away, and distance from the company, I decided to live in Tsukuba City. Then I started living in Tsukuba City, and when I was driving to pick up and drop off my children, I could see rockets from various places in the city.
Seeing them over and over again brought back my childhood yearning for space! I decided that I should do something related to space here, so I started to attend events related to the space business to learn more.
Then I had a chance to see a presentation by WARPSPACE. It was based in Tsukuba, a start-up company, and in the field of telecommunications. I thought it fit my strengths and that I could contribute to the company. The communication lines that downlink satellite-imaged data to the ground are very thin, so WARPSPACE’s business of solving that bottleneck for future space development is a good eye-opener. It had a clear pain point that users wanted to solve, and it also had strengths that large companies do not have, and I thought it had dreams and opportunities.
I immediately contacted the CEO, Mr. Tsunemachi. I started by giving a lecture on intellectual property rights to WARPSPACE employees and eventually decided to join WARPSPACE as Chief IP Counsel.
Working Outside the Intellectual Property Box
-What is the difference between the role of Chief IP Counsel and that of the newly appointed Chief IP&Corporate Strategist?
When I joined the company as Chief IP Counsel, I was in charge of developing intellectual property strategies for WARPSPACE. In the year since joining the company and working with it, I feel that I have been able to see areas where I can contribute in addition to intellectual property. At a local venture company I was in charge of during my overseas assignment, I worked with the R&D team to develop strategies, pitch to companies for potential investment or partnership, and commercialize technology development.
I also have personal connections with overseas technology companies and VCs. So I decided to add the position of Corporate Strategist so that I can contribute to the company in a broader role, not only as an intellectual property expert.
-Lastly, please tell us about your enthusiasm for your new position.
In many fields, there is a certain amount of accumulated know-how on what kind of intellectual property strategy should be adopted. However, in the space industry especially in the field of optical communications in space, the “winning pattern” of intellectual property strategy has not yet been established. In this sense, it is a very interesting field for me. As for space objects such as rockets, probes, and satellites, once they are launched into space, their products and behavior cannot be freely examined, and I believe that until now there has been no common sense for private companies to take the initiative in business development competition and development, as in other industries.
In such a world called “Old Space,” the need for a strategy to achieve business superiority by acquiring patent rights, for example, was probably low. However, times have changed drastically, as is now known as “New Space. We are now in an era in which new space projects are being created mainly by private companies. The business that WARPSPACE is trying to do is similar to the so-called cell phone communication service.
I have more than 10 years of experience in this field and have seen intellectual property strategies around the world. I believe that my important role is to contribute to WARPSPACE’s intellectual property strategy and management strategy by utilizing that experience. I would be happy if it contributes to the development of space by mankind.
In this interview, we asked Kataoka, a specialist in intellectual property strategy, to share his enthusiasm. In the space business, where technology has a great impact on management, it is likely to be an advantage to have members who are familiar with intellectual property inside the company.
In the next issue, we will bring you an interview with Yuka Tanimoto, who has been appointed to the board of directors.