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Instead of lecturing others, UK politicians should be addressing their own country's patent failings

It is a well-established fact that politicians and patents just do not mix. This week the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) was the latest to show why. In a much trailed speech about the UK’s on-going membership of the European Union – always a hot potato in a country where Euroscepticism is a long-established tradition - George Osborne set out the reasons why he believed the EU has to undergo fundamental reform. One of his themes was how Europe is falling behind the rest of the world. And among the things he used to make his point was patenting activity. “Make no mistake, Europe is falling behind,” Osborne stated. “Look at innovation, where Europe’s share of world patent applications nearly halved in the last decade.”

Putting aside the fact that it is totally muddle-headed to seek to equate patents with innovation, and that actually you’d expect the proportion of global patent filings having their origins in Europe to decrease as more countries industrialise, the simple fact is that if you are going to lecture others on where they are going wrong you need to make sure your own house is in order first. And when it comes to patents, for the UK the house is not just a bit untidy – it is falling down.

Just a couple of days after Osborne’s speech the European Patent Office issued a press release which provided details of a record-breaking 2013 in which it received more patent applications than ever before: 265,000. The UK’s share of that number was a paltry 6,500 or 2.5%; not only way behind Germany and France, Europe’s big players, but also below both Switzerland and Sweden. And, as this blog has shown, when you look at European patent filings on a per capita basis, the UK’s performance is lamentable – 15th place overall and 10th among European countries.

It’s a similar story outside Europe too. In China in 2012, UK entities filed a total of 1,874 applications. That’s lower in absolute terms than those from the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Germany; and on a per capita basis than those from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria and Belgium. Meanwhile in the US, British entities were granted 5213 patents by the USPTO in 2012 - fewer in absolute terms than those from both France and Germany; and less on a per capita basis their Swiss, Swedish, Dutch, Finnish, Austrian and Danish counterparts. If you look at applications submitted via the PCT, it’s the same story again: the UK behind both France and Germany in absolute numbers; and below a host of other European countries on a per capita basis.

The simple truth is that when it comes to patents, it is the UK more than most European countries that finds itself “falling behind”. As such, its political leaders have nothing to teach their counterparts elsewhere. Instead of lecturing others and thereby revealing their complete IP ignorance, they would do well to spend a bit of time looking at the country’s patent malaise, working out why it is occurring, understanding how damaging it could prove to be further down the line and then doing something about it. To be fair to George Osborne, the patent box regime he introduced after it had first been proposed by the previous UK government might be a start; but it has yet to prove itself. Until it does, he would be best off steering clear of patents and talking about other stuff instead.   

Joff Wild
IAM Magazine
17 January 2014

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IP management, IP politics, Patents


RE: Instead of lecturing others, UK politicians should be addressing their own country's patent failings

How would he know any better if no one tells him the facts? There is a lot of delusion in the UK around innovation and our "lead" in the world.

Take a look at graphene patents. Europe and other parts of the world are well ahead of the UK!

Nicholas White, Tangible IP on 17 Jan 2014 @ 23:34

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