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.
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”.
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
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.
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.
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.