IP Draughts has been doing some holiday reading, studying the UKIPO’s recently-published Five Year Corporate Strategy for 2011-16.
Much of the document describes the multiple roles of the UKIPO and how it plans to fulfil these roles better, more cost-effectively, and with greater customer satisfaction.
IP Draughts would summarise the main roles of the UKIPO, in its present incarnation, as being:
1. an adviser to the UK Government on policy issues
2. a provider of examination, registry and technical information services
3. a help-desk service for SMEs and individual inventors, and
4. a Government education service on IP
The Strategy shows that careful thought has been given to the general approach that the UKIPO intends to take over the next 5 years, and how it will do a better job of responding to Government policy, dealing with cost constraints, motivating its staff and keeping its customers happy. Taken on its own terms, it is a thorough and polished work product.
What it lacks, though, is any fundamental analysis of why we need a UKIPO. Some in the IP community take the view that it has become an anachronism, that well-informed large companies prefer to make their initial patent filings abroad (eg with the EPO), and that it is better to apply for a European trade mark in Alicante than a purely UK trade mark in Newport. As a result, so the argument goes, an increasing percentage of the UKIPO’s work has been dealing with small-scale UK inventors and businesses who are not well-informed enough to realise that their filing strategy is sub-optimal, and who are either self-filing or are relying on UK IP attorneys whose vested interest is to file locally. Advocates of this view would prefer to see the UKIPO relegated to being simply a branch office of the EPO and OHIM, facilitating European filings in the UK.
Whether or not one accepts this harsh view, it is only concerned with part of the UKIPO’s role, particularly item 2 above. Logically, the argument depends on abolishing national varieties of IP. As long as we have purely national IP (eg a UK patent not based on an EPC application), we need a national registry to deal with it.
There will always be a need for a Government policy unit dealing with IP issues (item 1 above) and applicants who do not use the services of an IP attorney will continue to need assistance from a help-desk service (item 3 above).
In recent years, the UKIPO has increasingly focussed on the needs of SMEs and on general educational initiatives (item 4 above). IP Draughts thinks the UKIPO’s collaboration with the Wallace & Gromit people is an excellent way to introduce schoolchildren to IP. When it comes to educating the adult public (and in particular SMEs) about IP, we think the UKIPO’s performance is patchy and lacks an overall game-plan. It should cut back on awareness-raising initiatives with regional “representative bodies”, and stop being a kind of Citizens Advice Bureau for individual inventors. Instead, it should focus on developing structured, long-term training programmes. The EPO has a well-funded European Patent Academy. If the UK Government is serious about increasing awareness and understanding of IP issues, it should consider investing in an educational body that runs or facilitates courses (vocational, undergraduate and post-graduate) on IP subjects. We would call it the National IP Academy. It should be run with a degree of independence from the UKIPO, so that there is no embarrassment factor if it wants to do or say something that is not in line with current Government policy.
Final question: has UKIPO stalwart Jim Houlihan been moonlighting as a model in the photograph on page 17 of the Strategy? IP Draughts thinks the public has a right to know the answer to this question.