Last week, IP Draughts was an invited speaker in a discussion at the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) annual Congress. The subject of the discussion was intellectual property (IP) and small and medium sized businesses (SMEs). Our Chairman, Alasdair Poore, began by referring to the task that the UK Goverment has recently given to the UK IPO, arising from the Hargreaves Review, of finding a way of enabling SMEs to gain access to low-cost, integrated legal and commercial advice to help them commercialise their IP.
Some of the points that IP Draughts raised were:
- SMEs need more than a high-quality, technical service. They also need help from their advisers in understanding how to make best use of the IP system, whether it be in registering, enforcing or commercialising IP.
- This help may stray into the area of giving commercial advice, which IP professionals (patent attorneys and lawyers) are traditionally taught to avoid. However, if SMEs have no experience of these areas, they may need support from their advisers. While IP Draughts wouldn’t give advice on the right royalty rate, he might well advise on typical deal structures and provide information on the general level of payments that he has seen.
- In IP Draughts’ experience, patent attorneys focus on technical excellence above other considerations, which can make them ill-equipped to help on commercial aspects.
- SMEs come in many shapes and sizes, from publicly-listed companies to local tradesmen. Some SMEs are not equipped to make good use of IP. Legal advisers and government policy makers should focus on the SMEs who are likely to make good use of IP, eg graduates setting up their own businesses.
- It will be interesting to see what proposals the IPO makes for SMEs to get access to low cost services. IP Draughts has met some of the people at the IPO who provide a telephone helpdesk service to individual applicants. While he admires their dedication and helpfulness, he can’t help wondering whether too much Government money is spent on this activity. He has a sense that the IPO would like to transfer some of this activity to the private sector, but doesn’t know where to send the callers.
His Honour Judge Colin Birss QC, the judge of the Patents County Court, who was on the panel at this discussion, suggested that the solution was to let trainees and junior lawyers provide cut-price or pro bono services to these individuals, which would also give the lawyers experience of acting for clients. IP Draughts could see this working, provided there were national coverage, and advice was not limited to London and one or two other cities. One possibility would be to set up a charitable network of walk-in centres, similar to Citizens Advice Bureaux. This would be a better solution than leaving SMEs in the clutches of unqualified commercial advisers who claim adherence to the IPO-sponsored British Standard for IP Commercialisation Services.