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About Success Builder

How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features HSE University graduates who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences and lessons learnt and talk about how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.

Alina Akinshina earned her fourth university degree when she completed the HSE Corporate Research, Development and Innovation Management programme. She is now the CEO of Online Patent, an intellectual property protection company, and teaches at the HSE Department of Innovation Management. In this interview with Success Builder, she explains how to study in a new programme, what intellectual rights are and why innovation doesn’t always pertain to technology.

What was the first degree you earned?

I earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Stavropol State University (SSU). After finishing high school, chemistry seemed like a very interesting area to pursue professionally. I have a total of four degrees from different universities. After SSU, I attended master’s programmes in IT, construction and innovation management.

How did you hear about HSE?

My first encounter with innovation was during a student innovation project to develop trenchless pipeline restoration. It was a very technical project that, as is often the case, was difficult to develop commercially. That was when I understood that, sure, it’s great to be able to invent something, but loads of inventions and new technologies in general never get beyond the lab research stage to find application in the real market. There is a gap between research and business.

Bridging the gab between labs and business is a fascinating topic that has fascinated me with its complexity

It was far more interesting than creating a new technology as such. I wanted to understand the problem and figure out how innovations could reach consumers and the real market quickly.

I began looking for programmes where I could gain the competencies necessary to achieve these goals. The search wasn’t easy because very few innovation programmes existed. But I got lucky: HSE was just starting to take applications for its master’s programme in Corporate Research, Development and Innovation Management. The programme taught exactly what I was looking for — how to ensure that the technical innovations that companies or individual teams develop will see the light of day.

There was one problem however: the programme was very expensive. The only hope I had of paying for it was to win the Future Innovation Director competition that was held at the time by HSE and the Russian Venture Company. I worked hard to prepare for it, won, and received a scholarship. It’s great that the Department of Innovation Management had so much faith in me as a student because I simply wouldn’t have found such an exciting and rich educational programme anywhere else. In this way, my personal path dovetailed with the first-ever HSE innovation programme.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

I really liked this programme’s applied focus on implementing innovation projects and achieving tangible results. And, while you’re still a student, you know exactly what your efforts are aimed at and that your work will prove useful and be in demand by society. I really appreciated the fact that almost every session of the program, in one way or another, answered the question: ‘What has to be done so that projects develop and become successful?’

How did you become part of the Online Patent team?

I studied in the HSE programme with Alexander Atamanov, who launched Online Patent in 2013. I joined the team in the second half of 2013 and in 2014, the company became a resident of the Skolkovo Innovation Centre. For the nine years since, Online Patent has continued its development as a technological platform for managing intellectual property.

Today, Online Patent provides a wide range of solutions for protecting and managing intellectual property. We help domestic and foreign companies protect their cutting-edge innovations in a wide variety of fields.

What are intellectual property rights anyway?

Any company that brings innovative products and technologies to market needs to maintain its front-runner advantage because it has incurred significant costs in research, development, and so on. These investments must be protected for a certain period.

The Institute for the Protection of Intellectual Property provides tools for this that enable companies to secure a legal monopoly on their innovations. With regard to individuals, the Patent Institute ensures that they receive fair remuneration for the technical solutions and inventions they have created.

What makes Online Patent unique in the Russian market?

We develop digital solutions for the offline management of intellectual rights. We initially developed our products as an IT company providing comprehensive digitalisation of intellectual property management processes. A simple analogy is an online bank and an ordinary bank branch. Of course, online banks are much more convenient, but they did not spring up overnight. It’s the same with the intellectual property protection market — Online Patent offers digital solutions so that processes are automated, are more efficient and save time.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

For small client companies, we provide simple services that are usually aimed at solving a single task. For example, an online store wants to protect its Internet domain. A user goes to our website, fills out a simple form, makes a couple of clicks, and starts the trademark registration process for their domain name.

For larger players, the platform offers a set of IT tools that allow you to store information about various intellectual property entities and systematise data concerning the methods chosen for legal protection. This is vital for large companies because almost every division creates its own valuable solutions while the staff of specialists involved in managing intellectual property rarely exceeds a handful of people. Imagine what an array of tasks falls on the shoulders of such a small team at an enterprise with a staff of thousands or tens of thousands. Without a range of tools for the technologisation of those processes, it is almost impossible to deal with them effectively.

Do you work only with innovations?

‘Innovation’ typically refers to technical solutions, although this is only the formal sense of the word. Innovation can be organisational or marketing-related, as well as technical. Thus, it would be more accurate to say that our users and customers are those companies that launch new products (or businesses as such). At the same time, we are talking not only about protecting new technical solutions, but also about protecting the identity of new products that are being put on the market. For example, it might be sausage that uses original packaging that makes it more attractive to a wide range of people. Such packaging can be protected using a patent for an industrial design. In addition, the sausage itself is a brand of sorts and the brand is also an object of intellectual property that can potentially be protected in the form of a trademark.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

Thus, Online Patent services are in demand for almost any business that launches new products or projects, or else intends to optimise existing processes. Brands, design solutions, components of new products and technologies for their production can all have intellectual rights requiring protection. It is important to note that the companies using such products might be interested in having them legally protected in different countries. It’s not enough to receive a patent in Russia alone; after all, patents have a territorial principle of operation. If you want to sell your product abroad, you need to secure your intellectual property rights in all countries where the product is made and marketed.

For example, Yandex.Taxi holds a number of patents for self-driving vehicles. However, a dispute broke out concerning claims against Yandex.Taxi in Kazakhstan. As a result, a court ordered Yandex.Taxi i to halt activities in Kazakhstan due to infringement of the patent rights of a Kazakh company. Of course, that ruling was later appealed, but the fact that it happened is very significant.

What did you find especially interesting about the HSE programme’s community of teachers and students?

The programme had a practical orientation in large part because specialists from the innovation industry were invited to workshops — of which there were many. This was an extremely important addition to the theoretical part: at the master classes, we could reevaluate what we had learned and discuss specific cases. Also, it seems to me that it was of great importance for the programme that the student body included established specialists with interesting professional experience . There was a constant exchange of ideas and opinions and we were immersed in an extremely interesting professional environment. In my opinion, it’s the people and unique atmosphere at HSE that make the education so effective.

Does the Department of Innovation Management collaborate with industry in some way?

At one point, HSE co-founded the Directors of Science and Innovation Club. This was one of the country’s first professional communities of innovation leaders and the department’s staff helped create and develop it. For students of the master’s programme in innovation and the department’s continuing vocational education programmes, this was a special opportunity to gain knowledge, competencies, experience, and networking opportunities directly through events held by representatives of the professional business community. Leading Russian companies such as Gazprom, Rostelecom, Aeroflot, Rostec, etc. are widely represented in the club. They comprise a unique group of participants who are actively implementing innovative development programmes. The department continues working with the Club to this day and establishes direct relationships with market participants and development institutions, including joint programmes with Skolkovo.

You have also done research on the interaction between universities and industry. What did you find?

Yes, the Club implemented several research projects, including for the Russian Venture Company and the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programmes. The work was aimed at expanding the array of knowledge available at that time in Russian-speaking circles about the collaboration between universities and industry and developing new approaches to structuring such work, taking into account the specifics of the Russian market.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

It was very interesting — at least we managed to dispel some persistent and rather harmful myths. For example, the idea existed that Russian universities should earn a lot through the direct commercialisation of intellectual property rights in the ‘patented and sold’ format (in which they sign an alienation agreement) or ‘patented and provided for use under license’.

For some reason, Russian universities didn’t earn much on this commercialisation model. However, it turned out that universities abroad receive only a small share of their income through the direct commercialisation of intellectual property. More often, the opposite is true: all rights to inventions (and future patents) belong to the company that ordered the research, while the greater part of the money universities earn from their collaboration with industry comes from conducting targeted research projects — or, as they say in Russia, traditional contractual R&D. This work revolutionised my views to some extent concerning the ways in which universities interact with business.

What subject matter are you teaching now that you’ve returned to HSE as an instructor?

April 9 will mark the start of our new Applied Issues of Intellectual Rights Management in Innovative Projects continuing education programme that the Online Patent team developed in cooperation with the HSE Department of Innovative Management, and that is now taking applications from students. The programme is devoted to practical issues in the management of intellectual property rights. We teach business owners and managers, department and project heads to make managerial decisions concerning the creation, use and implementation of intellectual property rights and to use the entire arsenal of tools in this area as efficiently as possible, thereby increasing the competitiveness of their products and raising their business to a new level.

To sum up, to what extent would say the knowledge you gained at the HSE programme helped you in your actual business activity?

My master’s studies really did synchronise to some extent with the growth of Online Patent and what I was learning found real-world application almost immediately.

I could take the information I was learning in lectures and seminars and literally apply it in ‘battle’, in an actual innovative project

I see this as a major advantage of the programme because the market needs a large number of specialists now who are prepared to manage innovative projects. In effect, all competitive companies in the market are innovative in one way or another. Even if they aren’t implementing new technologies, every successful company creates organisational or marketing innovations. And this means there is a great demand for managers who are willing to work under difficult conditions in order to introduce innovations.