The work that the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) conducts and the experts deliver behind the scenes is critical to UK Defence and Security. As part of our ongoing series about Dstl spin-outs and their founders, we had the opportunity to sit down and interview audio subject matter expert (SME), Senior Scientist and Dstl Inventor – Dr Phil Glasson to discuss all things IP, research and development (R&D).

Phil has been at Dstl for the last five years, and we can bet that with any research related to audio, Phil is most likely involved in some shape or form.

To begin, how did you get into audio and its utilities to solve challenges? I would imagine that audio is a field that not a lot of people would equate with government-backed Research and Development (R&D)?

Prior to my time at Dstl, and this is going back some time – I was an academic, a lecturer/researcher, and that wasn’t solely focused on audio, but it did have elements of measuring audio frequency as part of that role. It was great, I can’t lie, but there soon grew limitations, such as, I was writing research papers for select audience of 10 other people across the world. It seemed we were all writing papers for one another and that no one else was really that interested. I wanted to make more of an impact with my research: maximise the ideas and thoughts I had to make a difference, so I knew I needed a change in direction.

Now, initially I was going to be a teacher, so as one does, I started going through with the training, and then I saw an advert in New Scientist or publication of the same genre. It was two halves of a policeman, blending between the different uniforms police officers wear, standard vs operational, and the advert’s tagline was something like “Do you want your science to help support police?”. I thought ‘yes please’, so I applied and got the role and stayed for about 15 years. Which lead me to become the Home Office’s audio domain specialist in measurements, developing and inventing technology concepts that focused on sound and frequencies, deleting background noise and such. Of course, I can’t go into a lot of detail, but I can safely say that there was a lot of work, and it was making a difference.

And how did you end up working at Dstl?

The capability area in which I was involved in within Home Office, sat within what was then called the Centre of Applied Science and Technology (CAST), which through an integration programme into Dstl, meant that the area I sat within was going to transition, integrate and operate within Dstl. Over I went and five years later this change doesn’t feel much of a hassle or any different, I’m still researching, I’m still developing ideas, I’m still doing what I enjoy and working towards greater impact. The way this change felt to me was it presented a new opportunity, and here I am still doing really interesting work.

And this interesting work you mention, is this what lead to the Intellectual Property (IP) you’ve developed yourself and is “yours” so to speak?

Yes, exactly. The really nice thing about Dstl, and something I’ve noticed since I’ve been here, is that Dstl takes IP really, really seriously. This is an extremely good thing, because it not only stops your inventions from being taken by other companies, and them putting stoppers on anyone else using it, but it also opens up opportunities for you to form companies around your IP or get other organisations such as Ploughshare to license it. So not only can you benefit from inventing your own IP, but you also can benefit financially. But it also makes money for government, which means ultimately at some point less burden on the taxpayer.

It’s even to the point where when I first joined Dstl, we had a visit from Gordon Scott, from Ploughshare, who asked us if we had any good ideas to support in operators’ greatest challenges. Of course, we provided a pretty comprehensive list and he took a shine to a few of them, and they have since become the backbone, all patent protected, to one of the key capabilities that I’m working on now, which created a spin-out company that I’m a part of: Telesemica.

It was literally – do you have ideas that we can help you protect under IP Law, that we at Ploughshare can help turn into a company for you? A company that would not only make me and my colleagues a bit of money, but also money for the UK government. I will be honest, this approach was alien to me, but it definitely showed me how the science that I work on can have an impact; the impact that I wanted to be having back when I was a lecturer and researcher. Making that initial internal thought for change and greater impact truly worthwhile.

That seems to be a running theme, actually, in all the people we’ve been speaking to: a desire to have positive impact. Was that desire to create positive impact what pushed you towards commercialising your technology?

That’s a good question, I have two points there. Firstly, yes, and so it should. Science and Technology can and does have an impact that many people don’t either see or think about. It’s astounding the amount of positive impact and influence government-supported research possesses.

Secondly, absolutely. Gordon and Ploughshare want to create value and impact out of the science that goes on at Dstl and wherever else. They are good at it, and they are invaluable in the process. Ploughshare’s enthusiasm and infectious drive got me going down the commercialisation route. They have the contacts and network to help move quicker than a normal start-up’s might, and to bring in people to help scope, create and shape a business. The CEO of Telesemica – he’s not a scientist, he’s a business expert. I am not a business expert; I am a scientist, and I wouldn’t have the first idea of where to start. And I think that’s what’s great about that partnership, its balanced. I’m learning non-scientist things, and doing more of them every day, but I’m very much catching up.

Ploughshare enabled this partnership between me and my CEO to happen. Its value is being the grouping that brings all these disparate parts together almost, to create links so that a spin-out can thrive – it’s quite remarkable when you think about it

Our final question: Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who is considering going down the commercialisation route – whether it’s through licensing or spinning out?

First I’d say, yes, do it. If you have the opportunity to do it, why not? It’s not something I necessarily thought I’d do as a scientist at Dstl, but here I am. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s immensely rewarding.

Secondly, and this is perhaps more pertinent and actually useful: stop, and think through the entire thing, and ask yourself why you are doing it and where do you want to go with it. It’s thinking about the impact you want to have and where you want to end up that becomes the most important things here.

And finally, always throw in the IP and get it protected, always have open conversations with others, build trust, but really have in mind where you want to go and the impact you want to have. The influences that you have in the beginning can make a very large difference on where you end up, and having an active role in being your own guide is important, as you can make decisions rather than be carried along by others. It’s exceptionally beneficial adapting your mindset to think and practice these things, to achieve the impact you want to have.