10 June 2008

"Innovation Nation": who is HMG trying to kid

I have just finished ploughing my way through the latest white paper on innovation "Innovation Nation" which appeared in March and I really wish I hadn't. White papers, reports, reviews and policy statements on innovation from this government rival Zimbabwe dollar bank notes in their profusion and value. We have had HM Treasury Science and Innovation Strategy 2001, the DTI Innovation Report 2003, Lambert, Gowers in 2006 to mention just a few. All gathering dust as will this one.

The one report which actually gave HMG some sensible advice is the IPAC Report "The Enforcement of Patent Rights" (November 2003) which now appears only on Mandy Haberman's website. That report together with Mandy's and Roland Hill's minority report Patent Enforcement for SME and Lone Inventors - A System Failure and several others made the point that the cost of IPR enforcement in the UK is many times greater than what it is in the rest of Europe. The cost of a typical patent infringement action is £150,000 to £250,000 in the Patents County Court and £1 million in the Patents Court compared to about €50,000 in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Is it any wonder that the UK trails those countries and much of the rest of the world in patenting?

The response to the IPAC and Haberman/Hill papers was a supercilious and complacent response from HMG that the Patents Court is expensive because it is good and if you want quality you have to pay for it. Shortly afterwards IPAC was wound up.

The advice that anybody who advises an SME has to give time and time again is that the cost of litigation is usually more than the IPR is worth and often more than the company or indeed the company and its directors. So SME don't sue and since an IP is essentially a right to bring a law suit they ask themselves, not unreasonably, why bother?

Just out of curiosity I made a keyword search on "enforce", "infringe" and "court" in "Innovation Nation". "Enforce" did not come up once. Neither did "infringe". "Court" showed up three times in the context of HMG's support for a European patent court.

Gordon Borwn, John Denham and the rest of the gang should note that SME are fully aware of intellectual property. No amount of quangos like SABIP and awareness days will make them use apply for more patents or even do more research. What might would be bringing down the cost of enforcement or funding it better. There was once a source of funding for clever inventors and designers. It was called legal aid. That was abolished by para 1 (h) of Schedule 2 to the "Access to Justice" (ROFL) Act 1999.

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