Today the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) published its plans for “helping SMEs get value from their intellectual property”.
Readers may recall that in 2011, the Hargreaves Report recommended, among other things, that:
The UK Intellectual Property Office should draw up plans to improve accessibility of the IP system to smaller companies who will benefit from it. This should involve access to lower cost providers of integrated IP legal and commercial advice.
We reported on that Hargreaves proposal here. Last December, as we reported here, the UK Government responded to Hargreaves in a paper entitled, Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth. That response included a commitment on behalf of the IPO, that:
The IPO will further consult businesses, business advisors and IP specialists on providing additional specific lower cost legal advice at a ‘paralegal’ level.
Today’s document from the IPO sets out their conclusions in this area. No mention is made of a new breed of paralegals. Instead, the IPO proposes the following concrete measures:
- The IPO will be offering masterclass training for business advisers through the network of 13 UK patent libraries, as well as training through other agencies, eg the TSB’s Catapult Centres.
The IPO is also “considering” whether to implement the following further actions, and seeks further input from SMEs on these ideas:
- To create an online directory of advisers, that will state whether the adviser is an attorney, solicitor, commercial adviser claiming compliance with BS8538, business adviser who has completed the IPO’s masterclass training programme, or an adviser who has completed the core modules of the IPO’s Business Adviser Training Tool.
- To stimulate the development of stronger, more affordable IP advisory services within the marketplace, which might include a diagnostic service offered by a third party adviser, potentially with a payment subsidy from the IPO.
IP Draughts has some sympathy for the IPO on this issue. It was presented with a half-baked task by Hargreaves, and the task was confirmed by its parent, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. In best Civil Service fashion it is diligently trying to find a way of completing the task, no matter how fruitless it may be. The solutions that it has come up with are as good as any, and enable the IPO to tick the box and declare the task completed. But they are unlikely to be a good use of Government money and resources or to solve the basic problem that many SMEs cannot afford specialist legal advice.
The IPO’s paper identifies a large number of other activities that the IPO is undertaking to assist SMEs. Many of these it is doing already, but some are new. Two are of particular interest:
- The IPO will fund 200 IP audits in 2012/13.
- The IPO will consider whether to abandon its mediation service, which has only conducted 13 mediations in the last 5 years, and only 1 in the last year.
On the first point, the paper doesn’t say how much Government money will be spent in this exercise. On the second point, it is good to see that, in this instance at least, the IPO is willing to consider reducing its role in response to market demand.
One of the IPO’s claimed actions caused IP Draughts’ eyebrows to raise. Is it really the case that the IPO can take credit for introducing the small claims track for low value IP claims in the Patents County Court? Since when did the IPO receive a power of attorney over Government policy with respect to the courts? Doesn’t the Ministry of Justice have some say in this matter, perhaps in consultation with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills?