Gravitywell Meets: Withers & Rogers

In this series, Hugo chats with some of the tech world’s most exciting startups and services. Next up is Theo Worsley, Associate at Withers & Rogers, one of the UK and Europe’s leading intellectual property law firms.

Theo, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Right, why should a tech startup take notice of Withers & Rogers?

Of course, Withers & Rogers is not the only IP firm but when independent feedback is conducted with our clients, they always say how easy we are to get along with. This is obviously great to hear! Our relationships with our clients and individuals often last for many years and continue even after said individuals move and change companies. 

The attorneys at Withers & Rogers have such a variety of technical and scientific expertise. This enables us to thoroughly understand the technical details of our clients’ innovations. On a personal note, I have an MEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and my colleagues have doctorates, master’s degrees and undergrad degrees in subjects like Biochemistry, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics.

In addition to the technical side, the attorneys at Withers & Rogers work together as part of sector-specific industry groups (e.g., Robotics, Medical, Space, Cleantech, etc.). As part of these groups, we discuss and attend industry events so that we’re in the best position to offer our clients thorough industry-specific advice about IP strategies and the range of options available to them.

Thorough indeed! In simple terms, what is IP protection?

Well, ‘IP’ is short for Intellectual Property, an umbrella term for inventive, functional, or creative works which can be protected as if they were a form of physical property. So, we protect ideas and creativity. IP can come from an individual or company and we help make sure their brand, design and/or innovation can’t be copied or taken advantage of by another source. Patents, trade marks, designs, copyrights and trade secrets all fall under the IP umbrella and it’s our role to offer help and advice as to which type of IP protection might be in the best interest of a client.

For any tech startup, IP should be on their mind. Tech startups are typically founded based on a new technological development or new tech-based idea which makes IP a core asset. IP can be used in many ways to provide investor confidence, generate revenue, protect the startup, and serve their needs.

This makes a ton of sense. What’s been the biggest milestone in Withers & Rogers’ journey so far?

We are celebrating our 140th year in 2024, which we think is a fairly big milestone. Brexit made life interesting for a while but we have since re-structured to include German and French offices. Being able to handle anything IP-related across Europe is very helpful to our clients.

I bet, especially given the trajectory of startup hubs like Stockholm and Berlin. What is unique about technology & software when considering IP?

Different technologies have different considerations for IP, for example with software, there are open-source licences attached to most open-source software libraries. Most tech start-ups interact with these software libraries to some extent to get a Minimum Viable Product off the ground. It’s important to understand the implications of using these software libraries for the future of the company. For example, do they restrict the startup to non-commercial activities? This would be a problem for a commercial company! So we can help guide founders through these considerations.

I’ve heard from some founders that they’ve not considered patent protection because software cannot be patented, full stop. This is simply not true, and it’s a huge oversimplification! Patenting software is possible, we do it all the time, although there are certain hurdles that me and other patent attorneys in the field know to look out for. To put it simply, software developed by a tech start-up will most likely be patentable and some software is best protected via other forms of IP, such as copyright. This is why it’s great to start a dialogue around IP.

Great advice. So, how early in the startup process should a founder consider IP protection?

From the start! Almost all startups in the tech space are born from a mission to bring their idea/technology to the world. Therefore, since tech is the core of the company, the IP associated with that tech should also be thought of as a foundational pillar of the company. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean spending any money on IP at the start. Instead, talking to an IP professional (such as myself) early can help identify any current/potential IP and map out a brief plan to protect it going forward, and to avoid any problems. For example, we may identify a potentially patentable invention and map out a path to start filing a patent. This will consider the current development timeline, a potential upcoming disclosure, and an investment timeline.

Keeping your ideas close to your chest is the best option to start with. Many great commercially viable ideas have been sunk by the inventor being too generous with their information before getting proper protection, so beware.

Founders, you’ve been warned! What mistakes or missed opportunities do you commonly see?

For successful patent and/or registered design protection, it is a requirement that the invention/design has not been publicly disclosed (in a publication, website entry, presentation, etc.). This is a common pitfall for tech startups since most originate in an academic environment where publication is the norm. I’ve also heard of an accidental disclosure from an enthusiastic inventor at a showcase! This is why it’s ideal to talk to an IP professional early, so these situations can be avoided.  

There are also some underutilised grants and incentives for innovative startups and scaleups, such as the IP Audit and IP Access Grants available from Innovate UK EDGE, West of England Combined Authorities’ Growth Hub and Patent Box (an HMRC Tax Relief Regime). These incentives are not widely used by a lot of companies, but they do offer a really good opportunity.

Awesome. What’s the best thing about working at Withers & Rogers?

We have a good culture of encouraging discussions on cases, situations, and other niche areas of the law. That means that when an unusual situation pops up, there is a high chance that a colleague or I will know how to deal with it/know who to talk to. It also means that cases are dealt with using a wide range of ideas, as often a solution will be based on thoughts from a range of colleagues rather than just one or two. This ultimately means that we can offer the best possible advice to our clients.

Collaboration is one of our core values at Withers & Rogers, and it’s great to work within multidisciplinary teams when our client’s work is also multidisciplinary e.g., a Biotech AI invention or Cleantech construction innovation.

Last but not least, what’s the best-kept secret in Bristol?

I’m a big comedy fan, so you can often find me under the roofs of the Bristol Improv Theatre (Clifton), The Wardrobe Theatre (Old Market), or The Room Above (St Michael’s Hill). These are all great venues for comedy in Bristol which, in my opinion, aren’t discussed enough!


A huge thank you to Theo for being interviewed.

You can find Withers & Rogers on their website, LinkedIn, X and YouTube.

Written by Hugo Walker (Head of Marketing & Digital Content). Read more in Latest by Hugo or check our their socials , Instagram