Sunday 29 April 2012

Improving Access to IP Advice

One of the more contentious aspects of Hargreaves was the criticism of patent agent's ability to provide the IP Advice service that SMEs require. In early April the IPO published a discussion paper called From Ideas to Growth: Helping SMEs get value from their intellectual property and the accompanying page now announces some round table discussions in London on 8 May and 22 June and in Newport on 16 May. Chapter 2 of the booklet deals with ideas to get IP advice to SMEs at lower cost.
Lovable low cost Advice or a Home Office from CitrixOnline
Let's face it this is not going to be an easy discussion in which to get the mainstream patent profession to participate. The report was a direct attack on the existing profession. We are not providing the required service at the right price or at all. The initial response to these new proposals is likely to be defensive rather than  constructive.
IP advice is not regulated, nor is patent drafting. Only qualified people can call themselves patent agents, so there is plenty of scope for advisers to enter the market if they choose to. Many have, so the first proposal the IPO have put forward is to publish an online directory that provides names and qualifications so businesses can pick and choose what they think they need. That seems to be about the extent of the proposed involvement of the private sector.
The next section deals with getting advice into public sector programmes which seems to be more awareness related and something the IPO itself will take on.
There is a short section on the Technology Strategy Board's Catapult Centres. They sound interesting places and it would be very interesting were they to contain some patent resources. Are there any jobs or even office space going in these organisations? Some SOLO members might find it fun to be based in one.
The PatLib Library Network gets a welcome boost and maybe some much needed resources.  See its blog which highlights some of its members activities. Note that business can have a free one hour consultation with a patent agent if they are prepared to wait up to 6 weeks.
Local Enterprise Partnerships may have a role.
An Independent IP Advisory service is then proposed which suggests what many SMEs want is patent advice on a subsidised basis. The ides is that this might be associated with or linked to the Manufacturing Advisory Service

So far I don't see any proposal for a Business Masterclass for patent agents to make them more commercially aware of how IP really develops within a business. Only occasionally do patent agents get full feedback on the impact of IP on the long term business cycle and never if they work in firms who major on the profitable agency work, so access to real business school training might be welcome.

The effort needs to go to support those businesses prepared to accept some level of risk, who aim to develop businesses on a decent scale and can attract and manage significant levels of investment. Those are perhaps businesses likely to apply for TSB grants, rather than those who walk into a library. It is to be hoped that this project really helps to boost the benefits of working with competent IP advisers. Perhaps I will see you at the IPO's new Westminster office on the afternoon of Friday, 22 June to toss these ideas around a bit more. Question is how do you reserve a place?


  1. " An Independent IP Advisory service is then proposed which suggests what many SMEs want is patent advice on a subsidised basis. The ides is that this might be associated with or linked to the Manufacturing Advisory Service" (MAS)

    I've had a quick scan and can't see any mention of the match funding already available via MAS. Manufacturing companies can get up to £3k towards projects.

    IP was included in the list from Jan this year.

    You have to register, individually not as a company, at the MAS website.

    I realise it's only one sector but it is a start.

    Regards, mark

  2. Here is one firm of patent agents making a contribution in the way of grants from a growth fund

    They will be small grants and you need both a track record and need to be made into a PR story

  3. Lost in all of these discussions about IP service providers is the quality of the services provided by the patent office themselves. I am not talking about the dodgy business advice and the ridiculous conflicted assistance given to private applicants.

    I am specifically referring to the quality of their patentability searches as well as the recommendations given to grant bodies such as the former development agencies.

    I have repeatedly received poor quality searches for clients' UK applications, which indicate that the there is little damaging prior art. Clients then invest considerable resources in further R&D and expect to obtain patents in all countries of interest and file PCT or EP regional applications as a result. Unfortunately, they are brought down to earth with a bump when the EPO produce a thorough, professional, search that drives a coach and horses through the claims of the PCT.

    The development agencies also obtain searches from the patent office to help determine the value of a proposal only to receive the results of a poor quality patentability search, attached to which is advice from the patent office on both freedom to operate and level of innovation. Of course, such advice is ill-founded, but then it is cheap and that is what UK IP is all about.

    There is, of course, the expensive advice that is available from traditional UK private practice attorneys. Well-educated, but completely lacking in commercial aptitude. Fit for agency work and nothing else, but that suits them because there is plenty of agency work to keep them well-clothed.

    There are plenty of solo-practitioners out there giving good advice at affordable rates, but the vast bulk of work available is fed directly to the well-established, but no-better, traditional firms.

  4. I sympathise with positive UK results that fade at the PCT stage. You can get a Japanese IPO search nearly 10 years on that does the same thing. Equally in infringement actions, the infringer will leave no stone unturned and hey you survive one infringement action and the second defendant gets you. Meanwhile let's hope you have made something out of having the patent application while it lasted. What about PatLib searches? Any thoughts on present quality?