Dr Kirsty Brummell is the founder and director of Trademark Tonic, which helps founders, entrepreneurs, and creatives to realise the potential of their trademarks and designs. Kirsty is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA). Before launching Trademark Tonic, she was a global trademark counsel at RB, a fast-moving consumer goods FTSE 100 company.
“My PhD helped me to develop critical thinking and to be able to approach problems systematically…”
Curious about crystals
When I was a child (which seems like a long time ago now!), I was always curious about the world and enjoyed growing crystals and playing with a chemistry set. I went through a phase where I spent a long time looking down a toy microscope!
One of my favourite subjects at school was biology and I ended up with a first degree in biological sciences (microbiology) 2:1 from the University of Birmingham, followed by a Master of Science in molecular medical microbiology (University of Nottingham), where a research project led me to become interested in applying for a PhD in molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Sheffield.
From PhD to patents
My PhD was focused on research into potential vaccine components against the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, and during my first few years at Sheffield, our research team filed a patent application relating to a method for identifying antigenic polypeptides expressed by pathogenic microbes.
This was the first time I had ever come across intellectual property and I was curious to learn more about this area. So curious in fact, that I ended up taking a postgraduate certificate in intellectual property law at the University of Manchester.
My favourite subject during this course was trademarks and at this point, I realised there was a possibility and career path for working as a trade mark attorney (and I also realised that I did not want to spend my career doing lab work).
From Manchester to Boston, USA
I managed to secure a short internship with a trademark lawyer in Boston, in the USA, and applied for trainee trade mark attorney positions in the UK. I was lucky enough to be offered a trainee position in private practice and, when I qualified as a UK trade mark attorney (after around five years of training), I received an Adrian Spencer Memorial Award for the highest examination mark nationally in the advanced UK trade mark law paper.
I also completed a Master of Laws in commercial intellectual property with distinction from Nottingham Trent University, during my time as a trainee.
Upon qualifying, I moved to work in-house for RB, a multi-national FTSE 100 fast-moving consumer goods company and spent over six years there, which was a great experience taking care of global trademark and design portfolios.
The importance of trademarks and patents
Trademarks are valuable business assets and are primarily a badge of origin, symbolising a business and what it represents. They are also key advertising and marketing tools.
Trademarks communicate various messages to consumers in relation to origin, quality, trust, reliability and the benefits of certain goods or services. They help to protect brand identity and can help a business to grow, opening the door to potential commercial opportunities and revenue streams, for example, through trademark licensing and franchising agreements.
Patents are important as they encourage innovation, helping inventors and scientists to protect their inventions (which they will have spent time, effort and resources creating/developing) and to control the commercial use of their invention.
A patent holder has the right to prevent others from making, selling, or importing that invention/technology and creates opportunities for inventors/scientists to, for example, licence or sell their patented invention/technology.
Becoming an entrepreneur
Following my in-house experience, I decided to set up my own firm, Trademark Tonic, and have been enjoying the challenges of launching and running a business.
I mainly help businesses and individuals to protect and exploit their trademarks and designs. Day-to-day, my job can involve:
- Advising on the selection and clearance searching of a brand name or logo, to determine whether they can be legally used and registered;
- Filing and prosecuting trademark applications;
- Advising on conflicting brand names and designs;
- Helping clients to prevent and take action against the unauthorised use of their intellectual property (IP); managing any oppositions;
- Advising on the commercialisation of IP rights – e.g. licensing agreements and transfer of ownership of rights.
The role is very varied and there are other areas that I also advise on, such as copyright, domain names and geographical indications.
Setting up a business in the midst of the pandemic
It has certainly been challenging launching Trademark Tonic during the pandemic, especially with not being able to meet potential new clients and attend networking events in person.
However, it has also been exciting to become a director of my own company and to experience setting up a business during such an unusual period. I have enjoyed meeting new clients virtually and building up some great working relationships – in some ways I think the situation with COVID-19 has brought people and businesses closer together.
Transferable skills I learned during my PhD
My PhD helped me to develop critical thinking and to be able to approach problems systematically, both of which are important when dealing with legal issues. Also, my written communication and project management skills were fine-tuned during my PhD, and crucially I gained great experience of working within a large research team and learned about collaborating and effectively communicating with others.
All of these skills are put to good use in my job today, where I juggle various projects and collaborate and communicate with clients from different industries.
Advice for girls who want to follow a path in science
My advice would be to chat to women already in the science field, in a variety of areas if possible, to try and find out more about the work they do, their career path and what they enjoy about their particular area – one of the positives of social media is being able to find stand out and positive individuals that could help guide you!
Also, you could perhaps join a mentoring scheme or find a mentor who is willing to advise you and to point you in the right direction, when it comes to starting out in science.
Bringing together unique perspectives is helping to save lives
Having a varied team of people with unique perspectives can be crucial in solving problems in science and beneficial to the effectiveness and quality of outcomes. Working with individuals that think differently from you can help push you to work better and to think outside of your usual thought zone.
We can see from the COVID-19 situation that the collaboration between different scientific minds around the world has helped accelerate their understanding of the virus and treatment options, and has had a significant impact in terms of successful vaccine development.
Supporting those who want to make a positive impact in the world
I have decided to take Trademark Tonic slightly niche, with the aim to work with those businesses and individuals making a positive impact in the world. This could relate to brands and designs in areas such as sustainability, greentech, ideas to inspire communities, supporting people to achieve their potential, finding solutions to nurture, improve and conserve wildlife and nature.
I am looking forward to the day when it will be possible for people to safely meet up again, so that I can finally meet some of my clients for a coffee!