9 December 2011

Bradford Rising Stars: a local opportunity to implement Hargreaves

One of the recommendations of Prof. Ian Hargreaves in his review of intellectual property and growth published earlier in the year was for the IPO to draw up plans to improve accessibility of the IP system to smaller companies who will benefit from it. He added that this should involve access to lower cost providers of integrated IP legal and commercial advice.

I discussed this recommendation at some length in my article "Does Hargreaves say anything new?" (24 June 2011):
"The review recognized that SME want is an integrated source of advice which combines commercial and technical insight with legal expertise, helping them to commercialize, as well as protect, their IP. It also found that such advice is not always available from patent agents. That was just the sort of service that many – though, alas, by no means all - Business Link advisers used to provide. Hargreaves called upon the IPO to “draw up plans to improve accessibility of the IP system to smaller companies who will benefit from it”. The review added that “this should involve access to lower cost providers of integrated IP legal and commercial advice.” Again, these are worthy aspirations but there is a limit to what the IPO can do. The 13 PATlib libraries may be a better platform. Many such as Leeds, Sheffield and, of course, the British Library run IP clinics and inventors’ clubs. They also hold considerable collections of marketing and general business as well as legal materials which they make available to the general public. Unfortunately, our second city no longer offers the services of a specialist patent librarian and Liverpool library is closed for refurbishment."
The day before the IPO announced a package of measures to implement that recommendation I was at Bradford Chamber of Commerce meeting the Rising Stars team. The Rising Stars programme is a project funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Bradford City Council and administered by the Chamber to "help a select group of Bradford businesses to push ahead and grow." This help includes "a free, dedicated and personal advice service to entrepreneurs and established businesses within the Bradford area."

I was invited to meet the team because several had clients with intellectual property issues who had difficulty in obtaining affordable advice from patent and trade mark agents and reliable advice from anybody else. As Professor Hargreaves recognized at paragraph 9.9 of his review
"At present, long established IP legal advisors (for example, patent attorneys) seldom offer expertise on the commercial aspects of IP. Conversely, IP advisors with a business focus lack the detailed legal knowledge to assist SMEs in obtaining IPRs."
I had a very good discussion with the advisers. After explaining the difference between intellectual assets and intellectual property and the different types of legal protection that were available for brands, designs, technology and creative works, I outlined the services that were available for artists, designers and inventors and entrepreneurs and investors. I told them that these services were listed nationally and regionally on my Inventors Club website and updated regularly in my Inventors Club blog. I mentioned some of the services that I offer nationally through my NIPC Clinics and locally through my Third Thursday clinics at Gumption.

In Q & A I was asked precisely what I did and how my services differed from "pay-tent" attorneys and solicitors. After explaining as patiently as I could that the word for the monopoly of a new invention is pronounced "pat - tent" ("pat" as in grass at least as pronounced locally) and that "pay-tent" refers to the type of leather used for court shoes, I described the services offered by each of those professions. I explained how the relationship between patent and trade mark attorneys, solicitors and the patent bar was analogous to the relationship between general practitioners and consultant physicians and surgeons in medicine.

In answer to a question from Peter Briggs, who was determined to put this airy, fairy, uppity lady barrister in her place, as to when exactly he should send a client to me, I replied that I was a member of a referral profession and that in an ideal world clients should come to me through patent agents and solicitors. However, I added, I had noted that this was far from a perfect world and that by the time clients came to me it was often too late to help them. Sometimes they had spent all their money on applications for patents that they could not afford to renew let alone enforce or they had been to solicitors or other professional advisers on a learning curve who had tried to issue patent infringement claims in the local district registry or county court. That was why I had set up the clinics and inventors clubs to make sure that as many members of our local business community as possible get as much advice as possible at as early a stage as possible.

Mr. Briggs asked whether filling in the on-line form would oblige inventors to disclose their inventions. "No it wouldn't" I assured him. "It would simply enable me to find the best sort of help for them." I had a panel of experts with whom I had worked in the past and whom I could trust to do a good job at a reasonable rate:
and all sorts of other specialists whose expertise runs from China to ceramics. "Well won't those folk charge" asked Mr. Briggs. "Only after they have identified the problem, decided whether they can help the client and quoted for the job" I replied.

The time at Bradford passed very quickly and, before we knew it, it was up. In an email to Carolyn Coleman who chaired the meeting I mentioned some of the other resources that I have not mentioned in this post such as my presentations on Slideshare, articles on J D Supra, blog on IP developments in the Gulf and, of course, my website.

Should anyone want to discuss this post or IP rights in general he or she should call me on 0113 320 3232 or use my contact form.