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7th Apr 2014

A triumphant press release from the UK Intellectual Property office (UK IPO) heralds a “boost for businesses and inventors” as the UK signs a new working arrangement with the European Patent Office (EPO). A rosy picture is painted, with claims that “the UK is once again a nation of inventors”, but does this message stand up to scrutiny?

The announcement is very light on detail, and simply states that the plan outlines a “better working relationship” between the UK IPO and the EPO. The cooperation possibly relates to sharing of information, training tools and IT services between the two offices, and may lead to some minor efficiency improvements at the UK IPO. A small victory, at best, but not a particularly big boost to UK innovation.

According to the press release, the number of European patents granted to UK companies and inventors has increased by 25% over the past five years, and the UK ranked 8th for patent filings at the EPO in 2012. The EPO’s own figures, available here, show that, in 2007, the number of patents granted to UK originating applicants was 1,912. In 2012, the latest figures available at the time of the press release, 2,020 patents were granted to UK originating applicants. A modest increase of 5.7%, and a long way from the 25% increase claimed by the Government.

And what of the 8th place for the UK in terms of European filings? The 2013 figures from the EPO show that this position hasn’t changed since 2012, with the UK filing 4,567 applications. This compares with 26,645 for Germany, 9,754 for France, 6,651 for Switzerland and 5,826 for the Netherlands. If we also factor in PCT applications that do not enter Europe then the UK has, in fact, dropped from 8th place to 9th since 2012.

The UK clearly has some way to go before it rivals the likes of Germany, or even France, in terms of the number of European patent filings. If this number is taken as an indicator of the level of innovation then UK businesses and inventors are going to need a far bigger “boost” than that offered by the enhanced cooperation arrangement. Well thought out improvements to the patent system are always welcome, but will not have a drastic impact on the level of innovation in the UK. For that, we need to look more closely at our manufacturing and research sectors.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.

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Pete Sadler
Partner
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