Slim pickings for IP in the New Year Honours

downing streetGovernments claim to be interested in intellectual property, but their interest in sporadic. Sometimes, the interest is aligned with a greater commercial or political interest, such as protecting and promoting the national economy. This blog never tires of praising the Prime Minister, David Cameron, for personally negotiating to have the UK as the location for the life science part of the central division of the unified patent court. This is a rare example of political capital being used at the highest level to further an IP-related national interest.

At other times, the UK Government’s interest in IP seems all fur coat and no drawers. Every New Year’s Day, the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, makes awards to people who have contributed to Britain. Sometimes, a few people from the IP world are honoured.

In passing, we should recognise that not everyone thinks the honours system has merit. For some, it smacks of an outdated, cosy, “establishment” view of the world. Others dislike the hierarchical nature of the awards, with knighthoods for the toffs, and the lowly British Empire Medal for salf-of-the-earth types. There is a feeling that it honours mainly civil servants, donors of cash to bennettpolitical parties, and celebrities, none of whom “deserves” an award. Yet the system continues to be popular. In the words of the UK playwright and national treasure, Alan Bennett, in his play, An Englishman Abroad, “In England, you only have to be able to eat a boiled egg at ninety, and they think you deserve the Nobel Prize.” This quote, though it uses the example of a private, Scandinavian honour, sums up both the enthusiasm and the scepticism that Britons variously feel about the honours system.

The 2015 New Year’s Honours List names 1,164 award recipients. Searching the list for IP-related words sometimes reveals a clutch of interesting names. This year the pickings are slim.

A search of “intellectual property” produces just one name, Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the wind-up radio in the 1990s, and more recently the founder of a company that provides services to small-scale inventors. He received an award in 1997 and might not have expected another, classier one, in 2015. Is it impertinent of IP Draughts to mention that Mr Baylis is now aged 77?

Searches using terms such as “patent”, “copyright” and “technology” revealed nothing that caught IP Draughts’ eye.

Two other names in this year’s list attracted IP Draughts’ attention, though the awards were probably not IP-related. The first is the award of an MBE to Ralph Antony Smith for legal services to the British Embassy in Madrid, Spain. IP Draughts assumes this is the Ralph Smith with whom IP Draughts worked at Bristows over 20 years ago, and who now works in Spain; if so, congratulations Ralph! The citation doesn’t state whether the legal services provided to the embassy concern IP.

The second name that IP Draughts spotted was that of Philip Wood, formerly a prominent banking partner at the major London law firm, Allen & Overy, who receives a CBE. IP Draughts recalls seeing, in the late 1980s, a copy of an internal Allen & Overy document, prepared by Philip Wood, that provided drafting notes on a wide range of contract clauses. The notes were well ahead of their time (nothing like them existed then at Bristows), and helped to inspire IP Draughts to write several books on contract drafting issues.

Readers, have we missed anyone in this year’s list who should be mentioned?

Happy New Year, everyone!



Filed under Intellectual Property, News

4 responses to “Slim pickings for IP in the New Year Honours

  1. Happy New Year Mark, and many thanks for your kind comments. Yes, I’m delighted to confirm that I am the same Ralph Smith ex-Bristows (1987-93)mentioned in your article. There was indeed some pro bono IP work involved in the areas of the MBE citation, but this was limited and you are right; unless you are destined for the bench, a career in IP does not appear to put you on a fast track to the Honours List. Having said that, there’s obviously a huge amount of all sorts of wonderful things being done out there, and the new year’s Honours List is presumably just a small selection.
    Happy New Year to all,
    Ralph Smith, Madrid

  2. Happy New Year, Tamsin! Swimming off your island in December sounds… Refreshing? I am looking forward to my trip to New Zealand and Australia in 11 days time.

  3. Tamsin Miley

    Thanks for your careful research, Mark. Am delighted to hear of Ralph’s gong. From my damp and chilly isle off Vancouver (where braver souls than me indulged in a polar bear swim yesterday), I send best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2015. Lots of canoeing for you, I hope, and lots of dancing for me!

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