One of the striking, albeit predictable, issues identified in the independent review on intellectual property and growth, carried out by Professor Ian Hargreaves, was the difficulty faced by SMEs in obtaining the advice they need to make effective use of their IP.
When meeting small technology firms at TechHub, Hargreaves found that nine out of ten were interested in “an integrated source of advice which combines commercial and technical insight with legal expertise”.
A key problem Hargreaves notes in his report, along with the complex array of services on offer, and difficulties in determining which are reliable or trustworthy, is that:
At present, long established IP legal advisers (for example, patent attorneys) seldom offer expertise on the commercial aspects of IP. Conversely, IP advisors with a business focus lack the detailed knowledge to assist SMEs in obtaining [intellectual property rights].
Based on this report the IPO is searching for solutions to facilitate access to this expertise, which can be crucial to the success of new businesses. Surely, in light of the raft of other changes currently reforming the legal landscape like the introduction of Alternative Business Structures, and given the height of demand illustrated by Hargreaves, legal professionals will take the hint and respond to this need.
I discuss the problems with the recommendations in more detail in my blog post Hargreaves: Why Internet and Social Media are Key Reasons SMEs Lack Access To The Right Type of Advice.
One issue is how the IPO might use solicitors to educate the public about IP. Most people will have reason to visit a lawyer’s office at some point, and it could be a better use of the IPO’s time and resources to take advantage of the expertise, connections and sheer manpower that already exists in the legal sector, rather than investing further in developing their own offerings that have so far failed to address the problem.
My own view is that the report conspicuously failed to highlight the need to educate both lawyers and the public in IT. The world has changed a great deal for businesses recently, and the web is now the main platform SMEs will use to launch new services. Unfortunately, the lack of IT expertise in the profession means legal advice often fails to adequately account for this. The report does note a number of positive steps that could improve access to IP advice, such as buddying up law firms with relevant expertise and smaller firms that lack it, or accrediting lower cost providers of integrated IP legal and commercial advice. However, facilitating access to the legal profession does not address some of the core problems – as the next generation of lawyers come through the ranks, SMEs should be entitled to expect them to understand IT, the web, Social Media and other topics that influence modern business decisions. I do wonder why such training is not a mandatory requirement of LPC students and trainees, and why the IPO is not spending public money more usefully in educating the professions, rather than trying to find low cost providers of IP/commercial services.