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Understanding IP
for Engineers


Adam Bell

Adam Bell

"With our new knowledge, it is apparent that we can make a 3D scan and reverse engineer and, if we see fit, make the parts ourselves. We can also use the knowledge to go back to our supply chain and renegotiate…. allowing us to make some real cost savings for the business."

Verified by an engineer

Adam served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for nine years as a vehicle mechanic, working on a fleet of different vehicles. On leaving the Army, he was unsure of his career path but took a role as a rail contractor and then joined Network Rail’s High Output fleet on the reliability team. He has worked as a Fleet Engineer, a Senior Engineer, a Fleet Engineering Manager, and now a Principal Engineer (Rail Plant). “In my present role, I am the accountable lead for rail plant across Eastern region. It covers everything from assurance and strategy to team building and safety across the entire region.”

Adam’s career path wasn’t always obvious to him. “When I first joined the rail industry, I was turning spanners. By my early 30s, I had risen to a good position at Network Rail, but I saw all these really young, strong graduates coming through,” he recalls, now 36. “It was apparent that if I didn’t upskill, these guys were going to be my managers. So, I started a sponsored railway engineering degree with Network Rail at Sheffield Hallam, completed the Network Rail Accelerated Leaders Programme and am now working towards Chartered Manager status (CMI). I am also working towards Chartered Engineer with the IMechE. I am baffled that some people aren’t bothered by advancement – there is a strong personal development programme here. It feels so natural to me.”


Why the Understanding IP for Engineers course?

“At the time of taking this course I was working in Route Services, which is concerned with track-based machinery and plant. Network Rail is a big company and we are very risk averse, for obvious reasons. We were in the position where we didn’t know enough about Intellectual Property to challenge any of our contractors. For example, a supplier was saying, ‘You can’t reverse engineer that part and you can’t make it yourselves. It’s our IP. You have to buy it from us.’ We were paying a grossly disproportionate cost.

“Our internal team had taken the question to our legal team. Their opinion was, ‘If we don’t own the IP, then it’s better not to do anything.’ We found ourselves just having to agree because we didn’t know any better. Whereas, in reality, we felt, ‘We need to challenge this.’

“I only heard about this one-day IP course a couple of days before it was due to start but I jumped on it straight away. It was very relevant, and I was very keen. Network Rail has a strong relationship with the IMechE and we’ve booked a lot of courses with them. The instructors are always really knowledgeable. They’ve generally worked in the sector of interest and, for me, that brings a lot of strength. They’ve got real ethics.”

What was your experience of the course?

“This course was specifically for Network Rail employees and held in our Milton Keynes office. There were six of us. We all wanted to be on the course and, as a group, had a bit of an agenda coming into it. We were poised and ready to go at 9.00am!

“As we were all from the same company and also the same part of the business, we could really press on some of the direct issues we were having and adopt a more relaxed approach to commercial sensitivity. We were able to have an open conversation and just say in plain English what the issues were. It was fairly linear in terms of delivery, but we could stop and start where relevant, or go off on a tangent and that worked well.

“The course was taken by Donal O’Connell and he is one of the best trainers I have ever experienced. He has worked in IP for a long time, written books on it and absolutely loves his subject. There was nothing he didn’t know, and he rose to every question we threw at him. He was happy to be pushed on his knowledge and digress as we saw fit. All of us were fully engaged for the whole time and, when it came to five o’clock, we wanted to carry on. We all said we could have easily done a second day.”

What are the key reasons someone should attend Understanding IP for Engineers course?

1 “IP is much more important than most of us realise. It’s relevant to everything. Especially in the technological era that we all now work in.”

2 “Many people would think, if they’re going through a list of courses, I don’t need that one. I would say the opposite. It’s probably one of the most important courses I have taken. IP is very undervalued.”

3 “It’s a massive topic and there’s so much to learn, but the trainer, Donal O’Connell, is a real expert.”

What’s been the impact?

“Going into the course, we recognised we had a specific problem. There were areas of our business where we were being charged a disproportionate cost for parts and materials over a prolonged period. We had pressed on the issue a number of times and been told we had no choice. We were at loggerheads, but you can’t challenge without knowledge. It’s very easy to be in a position of ignorance.

“After the course, we all came away saying, ‘No, we can do more. It sounds like what we were being told about IP was not completely true.’ So, with our new knowledge, it is apparent that we can make a 3D scan and reverse engineer and, if we see fit, make the parts ourselves. We can also use the knowledge to enable us to go back to our supply chain and renegotiate.

“We have some really key suppliers and we will not cut ties with them – they will still make good profits working with us. Their parts are reliable but moving forwards we won’t be paying ‘gold’ prices for relatively basic fabricated materials – thus, allowing us to make some real cost savings for the business.

“The course has also helped us consider our own IP and clarify who owns what. For example, we had recently paid for some technical drawings and, during this course, we realised that due to the IP we didn’t own them. That means we can’t legally move on to manufacture using the drawings unless the rights are relinquished to Network Rail.

“In fact, when we contacted the technical drawing company, they were fine about this and did comply; but we need to put processes in place, so this won’t be a problem in the future. Nine times out of ten, the company or person doing the drawing likely doesn’t care but, for a big company in the public eye, we needed to be in a better place. And we are now taking steps to make sure we are.”

Three pieces of advice you’d give future attendees

1 “If you can, go with an agenda and some specific points you want answered, because the trainer taking this course will really be able to help you and guide you.”

2 “This is going to sound contradictory, but if you don’t have a specific reason to be on the course, go with a completely open mind. You will learn something new and IP is so important across all areas of business.”

3 “If you can, do the in-person course, rather than a virtual one. It’s much easier to be engaged and get involved when you are face-to-face.”

What’s next?

“I’ve moved to my current role, where I am taking a more active role in electrification and plant. It’s a more managerial position. In some ways, IP is not part of the day-to-day in this role, but what I learned from the course is that Intellectual Property touches everywhere. So, I am going to be making sure IP is part of the conversation going forward.”

Understanding Intellectual Property for Engineers

  • Duration:
    1 day
  • Location:
  • CPD Hours:
  • UK-Spec:
    B, C