Is the UK Patent Framework helping or hindering home-grown innovation?

The European Patent Office’s Annual Report 2017 showed that only 3% of EP patents filed originated from the UK, ranking 9th, with the US ranking 1st at 26%. With a 2.4% growth of UK to EP patent filings from 2015 to 2016, which is the fourth consecutive year of growth, and an upward trend on a par with the EU28 average growth of 2.6%, we are still wondering why the UK’s ranking is low compared to their European equivalents. Only 80 patents are filed per 1 million population, which is far behind Germany with a ratio of 360 patents filed per 1 million population. One of the positive statistic from the EPO report, is that there was an increase of 22.4% of EP patent filings from the UK in the medical technology field from 2015 to 2016.  In 2017 there was a further increase of 7.1% in 2017, overtaking transport as the UK’s major technology field.

KPMG’s recent Global Technology Innovation report showed that the UK has been ranked as the third most promising market for innovation, disruption and technology breakthroughs that have global impact, just behind the US and China. The head of KPMG in the North of England stated that “Innovation from the UK technology industries continues to drive economic value”, which resonates with the UK Intellectual Property Office’s (UKIPO) latest report…

…It seems that the UK has the ambition to be known as a nation of innovators, and that having better knowledge and an improved understanding of the UK Patent System will support this notion.

“The patent system is an important part of the innovation ecosystem, playing a vital role in enabling innovators to realise the returns from their research and development. The Government has an ambition to be the most innovative country in the world. As such, there is a need for a better understanding of the performance of the UK patent system”, (UKIPO, Building the Evidence Base on the Performance of the UK Patent System, 2017).

However, despite the UK Government’s desire to become the most innovative country in the world, and with reports indicating that they are on the way to being so, a shocking 93% patents filed at the UKIPO comes from foreign applicants. This therefore begs the question, is this statistic a true reflection of the state of UK innovation?

Innovation is “(the use of) a new idea or method” (Cambridge dictionary)

Even though the patent system is recognised as being an essential aspect of the innovation ecosystem, patent protection is not the only means of protecting innovation and, thus patent filings should not be used as the only indication for the levels of innovation within the country. Another factor which may limit UK applicants’ appetite when applying for patent protection at home, is the lack of information regarding the various options for patenting within the UK. Consequently, as the report suggests, there is a need to have an improved understanding of the UK Patent System, which includes improving awareness of schemes such as the Green Channel process and Patent Box.

One factor we need to consider as to why British inventors are not filing patents (other than a lack of knowledge of the UK Patent System) is that the process for applying for a UK patent, including drafting and filing, can be costly and time consuming, and for SME’s and start-up companies this can be off-putting. Currently, any invention arising from government grants must be in the public domain, which means companies are less likely to apply for these in order to protect their inventions. Even though the UK had a major reform to modernise the IP Framework back in 2014, with the then Minister for Intellectual Property, Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE stating that ‘these changes are going to bring our IP laws into the 21st century’, is this really the case? Four years later, with an increased development in software, technology and manufacturing, is it not time for a radical reform of UK IP Law?

At Aalbun, we are bringing IP into today’s modern and online society in a fully digital way, making it accessible for everyone. With a pool of IPR experts and a fixed fee pricing structure, we ensure predictability for each project. Due to our global reach, we are able to draft in any technical field at a competitive cost.

With the Aalbun system, we are able to support the SME’s and start-up companies throughout the patent process, making it a cost-effective, user friendly and an efficient way to start to apply for a patent.

Is this the way forward for IP? Or is the UK and its global counterparts, despite the need to revolutionise, stuck in their ways of the old-fashioned patenting system?

By Julia Fusi