Innovation and the Patent Office
Lawrence Smith-Higgins, Head of Awareness Information & Media, The UK Patent Office
Innovation drives economic progress and for one of the world’s most open trading nations it is essential that we continue to innovate. For businesses it will mean sustained or improved growth. For consumers it will mean higher quality and better value goods, more efficient services and higher standards of living. For the economy as a whole innovation is the key to higher productivity and greater prosperity for all.
Government wants the UK to be a key knowledge hub in the global economy, to be a world leader in transforming scientific and technological advances into successful new products and services. Innovation can take many forms; each can be protected by different laws, known collectively as Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Some of the rights afforded by law are free and automatic, and some have to be registered. The management of Intellectual Property (patents, trade marks, designs and copyright) is crucial for innovating businesses. To transform scientific and technological advances into successful new products and services, it is essential that innovative businesses are in a position to make well-informed decisions on how to manage and protect their Intellectual Property (IP).
The system of Intellectual Property Rights can be used to support innovation by offering a means for businesses to capitalise on innovation. Intellectual Property should be seen as key consideration in day-to-day business decisions, not just viewed as an asset, but also as a means of increasing profit. While the UK has traditionally had a very strong system of IP rights and institutions, businesses, large and small, do not place a great deal of emphasis on formal IP protection. Patent based indicators show that the UK patenting activity lags a long way behind the larger economies, such as Japan and the US.
UK businesses spend less on innovation related activities. What evidence there is indicates that it is primarily because businesses, especially SMEs, lack awareness and understanding of IPR: they are unable to make informed decisions. As part of the DTI, we at the Patent Office were asked to identify how Intellectual Property Rights support innovation,and what could be done to improve things and by whom. The feedback we received confirmed our previous views, that whilst IP does play an important role in supporting innovation, there were several issues that needed to be addressed: A lack of awareness of IP; The difficulties, especially the cost, of enforcing IPRs for individual companies, particularly SMEs; The difficulties created by high and probably rising levels of IP crime. We are addressing these issues.
We hope to build confidence in protection, by improving the speed and costs of resolving IP disputes, by improving litigation and dispute resolution procedures. Towards the end of 2005 we will be implement new powers to give nonbinding opinions on patent validity and infringement in order to play a new and helpful role in resolving disputes over patents.
We have launched a consultation on implementing regulations that would make it simpler to enforce Intellectual Property Rights in civil law across the EU so giving individuals and companies developing new technologies and products much greater confidence that their ideas will be protected.
We have significantly stepped up efforts in the area of IP crime by developing, in conjunction with rights holders and enforcement bodies, a new national strategy for dealing with IP crime, which will involve improving the evidence base, removing administrative overlap, and setting out agreed priorities.
The production and distribution of counterfeit goods is operated as a largescale business, business that a costs tax payers and UK companies an estimated £4.5 billion a year. We have worked closely across government to develop a 4 point plan to tackle IP crime in Britain, bringing together brand owners, police, trading standards and customs.
As part of the DTI’s Innovation Group we will continue to work closely with other DTI Groups and stakeholders to help business convert ideas and knowledge into innovative, world-leading products and services. We will continue to help to drive the innovation agenda across government and play our part in making the UK a key knowledge hub in the global economy.
We see The Innovation Report and the Government’s 10 year Science and Innovation Investment Framework, as marking a new era for the Patent Office. We know innovation does not depend entirely on the knowledge, skills and creativity of people in the workplace. We know we have an important role as well. To create the best possible environment for innovation to fl ourish this Office will continue to evolve to address the new challenges facing us.
The direction of that evolution is clear in the light of the above. We have behind us over 150 years of delivering IP Rights and have created a qualitybased and customer focused approach. We can now build on the skills and knowledge we have developed to redefine what a Patent Office for the 21st century is about.