|Percy Shaw's Cats' Eyes - Possibly Yorkshire's most|
Our national prosperity depends on the competitiveness of British industry and that, in turn, depends on the propensity of our businesses to create and innovate. Start ups and other small and medium enterprises ("SME") are among the most creative and innovative businesses in our economy. They need to protect their investment in branding, creativity, design and innovation with intellectual property rights just as much as any other business but they do not appear to do so. According to the European Patent Office, only 5,142 European patent applications originated from the UK in 2016 which is only 163 more than in 2007. In that time we have slipped from 7th place in the number of European patent applications to 9th having been overtaken by China and South Korea in our own backyard.
Soon after it entered office, the Coalition government commissioned Prof. Ian Hargreaves to review how the intellectual property framework supports growth and innovation and, in particular, "the cost and complexity to SMEs of accessing IP services to help them to protect and exploit IP". Hargreaves found 3 issues that impede SME in obtaining the support they needed:
- the complexity of available offerings;
- a lack of broad-based, strategic business advice; and
- the substantial costs involved in IP management.
He recommended that:
"The IPO should draw up plans to improve accessibility of the IP system to smaller companies who will benefit from it. This should involve access to lower cost providers of integrated IP legal and commercial advice."Although the government accepted that and all Hargreaves's recommendations, not much has been done to implement it. Arguably access to IP services is worse now than it was when Hargreaves delivered his report because Yorkshire Forward and Business Link Yorkshire which signposted entrepreneurs and other business owners to the appropriate services and often funded them was abolished shortly after Hargreaves delivered his report.
The gap left by Business Links and Yorkshire Forward has been partly filled by the PatLib Centres at the Leeds, Sheffield and Hull Central Libraries which have been re-branded as Business and IP Centres in association with the British Library and funded by Arts Council England. According to the British Library website:
"The British Library Business & IP Centre National Network provides entrepreneurs and SMEs across the UK with free access to databases, market research, journals, directories and reports worth thousands of pounds. There is a programme of free and low-cost events and workshops on a range of topics including business planning, marketing and intellectual property."The British Library also hosts Linkedin and Facebook groups which carry useful articles and discussion.
So what does an entrepreneur, inventor, business angel do now if he or she wants to access the sort of cost-effective integrated business advice that Prof Hargreaves recommended? Well here are my tips.
Tip #1. Find out as much as you can about IP generally before you seek professional advice.
A good starting point is the IPO section of the Government website. Particularly useful pages are:
- What intellectual property is
- Protect your intellectual property
- Patenting your invention
- How copyright protects your work and
- Design right.
I also recommend the IPO's IP Basics animations such as What is Intellectual Property? which you will find on the IPO's YouTube channel. If you want to learn more about protecting your intellectual assets outside the UK, a good place to start is the Protecting your UK intellectual property abroad page on the IPO website. The IP BASICS: Should I protect my Intellectual Property overseas? video is also worth watching. You will also find useful information on the European Patent Officee, EU Intellectual Property Office and World Intellectual Property Office websites. Each of those sites will introduce you to other resources. You can get a very thorough grounding in IP law from those and other materials.
Tip #2 Attend a Workshop or Seminar
Each of the Business and IP Centres in Yorkshire holds workshops and other events on IP law. I give one at Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre ("BBIC") in conjunction with BarnsleyBiz Surgeries on the second Tuesday of every month between 17:45 and 18:30. The IPO also holds regular events which you will find on the IPO events calendar.
Tip #3 Attend an IP Clinic
These are free consultations with a patent or trade mark attorney or a special st lawyer that would otherwise cost you quite a lot of money. The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys holds clinics once a month at Leeds and Sheffield Central Libraries (see the IP Clinics page of the CIPA website) and I hold one on the second Tuesday of every month at Barnsley BIC between 16:00 and 17:45. If you want a 30 minute consultation with me call George on 020 7404 5252.
Tip #4 Get a Search before consulting an IP Professional
You can only get or keep a patent if your invention is new and not obvious having regard to what what is already known. You can find out what has been invented before and what was known by searching the prior art. That is essentially a search of the register of British, European and other patents. Similarly, you can only register a trade mark or keep a trade mark registration if the same or similar mark has not been registered for the same or similar goods or services. You can find out whether such a mark has been registered by searching the British, EU and WIPO registers. Finally, you may lose any design registration that you may obtain if the similar designs have been registered before. Leeds and Sheffield Business and IP Centres will carry out searches for you for a very reasonable fee. Call 0113 378 6010 for further details.
Tip #5 Consult a Regulated Professional
There are a lot of people who offer advice and assistance on IP but not all are reliable. In particular, there are businesses or individuals who promise the earth, charge a hefty fee and then supply information which is either wrong or available from other service providers free of charge or for a much lower fee or fail to deliver altogether. You should be on the lookout for them and avoid them like the plague.
There are, however, other advisers who follow a code of conduct enforced by a professional regulator which requires them among other things to insure against the consequences of negligent advice. These are patent and trade mark attorneys and specialist counsel and solicitors.
Although there is considerable overlap in the work that members of each of those professions carry out, there are differences in training and experience that equip members of one profession to perform a particular task better than any of the others. For instance, patent attorneys have natural science, engineering or technology qualifications as well as legal ones and are trained to draft patent specifications in a way that is clear enough and complete enough for the invention to be performed by a person skilled in the art and claims that afford the widest possible monopoly while remaining valid. Similarly, barristers are trained as advocates which equips them to present cases to judges and hearing officers. They are therefore well placed to advise on difficult points of law and draft complex legal instruments which they are often instructed to do by members of the other professions. All the judges of the Patents Court, Intellectual Property Enterprise Court and the rest of the Chancery Division practised at the Bar before their elevation to the bench (see Jane Lambert IP Services from Barristers 6 April 2013).
Patent attorneys are members of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys whose website has a searchable databases of patent agencies. Trade maek attorneys belong to the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys who also have a Find an Expert feature. Most barristers who specalize in IP law belong to the IP Bar Association Many but by no means all law firms that specialize in IP are members of the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association.
Tip #6 Ensure Adequate Funding for Litigation
Enforcing or defending IP rights can be expensive even in IPEC and the IPO. Because of the length and uncertainties of litigation very few cases are undertaken on a "no win no fee" retainer, particularly as success fees and after-the-event insurance premiums are no longer recoverable under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (see Jane Lambert Intellectual Property Litigation - The Funding Options 10 April 2013 NIPC Law), It is therefore prudent for businesses to consider before-the-event insurance when they apply for patents, trade marks or registered designs or when they create a copyrught work or original design. For information on IP insurance, see IP Insurance, CIPA's paper 1 May 2016.
For fiurther information, call me during office hours on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.