17 May 2017

How to Access Useful Cost-Effective IP Services in Yorkshire

Percy Shaw's Cats' Eyes - Possibly Yorkshire's most
famous invention
Author ELIOT2000
Source Wikipedia 

Jane Lambert

Our national prosperity depends on the competitiveness of British industry and that, in turn, depends on the propensity of our businesses to create and innovate.  Start ups and other small and medium enterprises ("SME") are among the most creative and innovative businesses in our economy.  They need to protect their investment in branding, creativity, design and innovation with intellectual property rights just as much as any other business but they do not appear to do so.  According to the European Patent Office, only 5,142 European patent applications originated from the UK in 2016 which is only 163 more than in 2007. In that time we have slipped from 7th place in the number of European patent applications to 9th having been overtaken by China and South Korea in our own backyard.

Soon after it entered office, the Coalition government commissioned Prof. Ian Hargreaves to review how the intellectual property framework supports growth and innovation and, in particular, "the cost and complexity to SMEs of accessing IP services to help them to protect and exploit IP". Hargreaves found 3 issues that impede SME in obtaining the support they needed:
  • the complexity of available offerings; 
  • a lack of broad-based, strategic business advice; and 
  • the substantial costs involved in IP management.
He recommended that:
"The IPO 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."
Although the government accepted that and all Hargreaves's recommendations, not much has been done to implement it.  Arguably access to IP services is worse now than it was when Hargreaves delivered his report because Yorkshire Forward and Business Link Yorkshire which signposted entrepreneurs and other business owners to the appropriate services and often funded them was abolished shortly after Hargreaves delivered his report.

The gap left by Business Links and Yorkshire Forward has been partly filled by the PatLib Centres at the Leeds, Sheffield and Hull Central Libraries which have been re-branded as Business and IP Centres in association with the British Library and funded by Arts Council England.  According to the British Library website:
"The British Library Business & IP Centre National Network provides entrepreneurs and SMEs across the UK with free access to databases, market research, journals, directories and reports worth thousands of pounds. There is a programme of free and low-cost events and workshops on a range of topics including business planning, marketing and intellectual property."
The British Library also hosts Linkedin and Facebook groups which carry useful articles and discussion.

So what does an entrepreneur, inventor, business angel do now if he or she wants to access the sort of cost-effective integrated business advice that Prof Hargreaves recommended?  Well here are my tips.

Tip #1.   Find out as much as you can about IP generally before you seek professional advice.
A good starting point is the IPO section of the Government website.  Particularly useful pages are:
I also recommend the IPO's IP Basics animations such as What is Intellectual Property? which you will find on the IPO's YouTube channel. If you want to learn more about protecting your intellectual assets outside the UK, a good place to start is the Protecting your UK intellectual property abroad page on the IPO website. The IP BASICS: Should I protect my Intellectual Property overseas? video is also worth watching. You will also find useful information on the European Patent Officee, EU Intellectual Property Office and World Intellectual Property Office websites. Each of those sites will introduce you to other resources. You can get a very thorough grounding in IP law from those and other materials.

Tip #2   Attend a Workshop or Seminar
Each of the Business and IP Centres in Yorkshire holds workshops and other events on IP law. I give one at Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre ("BBIC") in conjunction with BarnsleyBiz Surgeries on the second Tuesday of every month between 17:45 and 18:30. The IPO also holds regular events which you will find on the IPO events calendar.

Tip #3  Attend an IP Clinic
These are free consultations with a patent or trade mark attorney or a special st lawyer that would otherwise cost you quite a lot of money. The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys holds clinics once a month at Leeds and Sheffield Central Libraries (see the IP Clinics page of the CIPA website) and I hold one on the second Tuesday of every month at Barnsley BIC between 16:00 and 17:45. If you want a 30 minute consultation with me call George on 020 7404 5252.

Tip #4  Get a Search before consulting an IP Professional
You can only get or keep a patent if your invention is new and not obvious having regard to what what is already known. You can find out what has been invented before and what was known by searching the prior art. That is essentially a search of the register of British, European and other patents.  Similarly, you can only register a trade mark or keep a trade mark registration if the same or similar mark has not been registered for the same or similar goods or services. You can find out whether such a mark has been registered by searching the British, EU and WIPO registers. Finally, you may lose any design registration that you may obtain if the similar designs have been registered before. Leeds and Sheffield Business and IP Centres will carry out searches for you for a very reasonable fee. Call 0113 378 6010 for further details.

Tip #5  Consult a Regulated Professional
There are a lot of people who offer advice and assistance on IP but not all are reliable. In particular, there are businesses or individuals who promise the earth, charge a hefty fee and then supply information which is either wrong or available from other service providers free of charge or for a much lower fee or fail to deliver altogether. You should be on the lookout for them and avoid them like the plague. 

There are, however, other advisers who follow a code of conduct enforced by a professional regulator which requires them among other things to insure against the consequences of negligent advice. These are patent and trade mark attorneys and specialist counsel and solicitors. 

Although there is considerable overlap in the work that members of each of those professions carry out, there are differences in training and experience that equip members of one profession to perform a particular task better than any of the others. For instance, patent attorneys have natural science, engineering or technology qualifications as well as legal ones and are trained to draft patent specifications in a way that  is clear enough and complete enough for the invention to be performed by a person skilled in the art and claims that afford the widest possible monopoly while remaining valid. Similarly, barristers are trained as advocates which equips them to present cases to judges and hearing officers. They are therefore well placed to advise on difficult points of law and draft complex legal instruments which they are often instructed to do by members of the other professions. All the judges of the Patents Court, Intellectual Property Enterprise Court and the rest of the Chancery Division practised at the Bar before their elevation to the bench (see Jane Lambert IP Services from Barristers 6 April 2013).

Patent attorneys are members of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys whose website has a searchable databases of patent agencies. Trade maek attorneys belong to the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys who also have a Find an Expert feature. Most barristers who specalize in IP law belong to the IP Bar Association  Many but by no means all law firms that specialize in IP are members of the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association.

Tip #6  Ensure Adequate Funding for Litigation
Enforcing or defending IP rights can be expensive even in IPEC and the IPO. Because of the length and uncertainties of litigation very few cases are undertaken on a "no win no fee" retainer, particularly as success fees and after-the-event insurance premiums are no longer recoverable under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (see Jane Lambert Intellectual Property Litigation - The Funding Options 10 April 2013 NIPC Law), It is therefore prudent for businesses to consider before-the-event insurance when they apply for patents, trade marks or registered designs or when they create a copyrught work or original design. For information on IP insurance, see IP Insurance, CIPA's paper 1 May 2016.

For fiurther information, call me during office hours on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

5 May 2017

How can I protect my Idea for a New Service?

Author TeaLaiumens
Source Wikipedia 
Creative Commons Licence

Jane Lambert

Intellectual property law developed in the 19th century when the first industrial revolution was in full swing. An invention was necessarily a new product or a process for making products. Until the Trade Marks (Amendment) Act 1984 it was not possible to register trade marks for services in the United Kingdom. I remember accompanying the late Hugh Laddie to the Patent Office in 1984 when I was legal adviser to VISA International for Europe, the Middle East and Africa on an appeal against an examiner's refusal to grant VISA a trade mark for printed matter on the grounds that it was a roundabout way of obtaining a service mark for travellers' cheques.

The economic picture has changed a lot since then. Services now account for nearly 80% of GDP in advanced countries like the UK, France and the USA. But the law does not cater for innovation in services even though a new financial service using blockchain technology such as a new virtual currency can be every bit as ingenious as a new drug or communications device. One of the reasons why the law lags behind technology is that the leading industrial countries agreed to protect the intellectual assets of each other's nationals on a reciprocal basis in the Paris and Berne Convention of 1882 and 1886 because reciprocity requires such legal protection in all participating states to be approximately the same.

So when a client comes to me with an idea for an innovative new service his or her options are limited. It may be possible to patent a product or process used in delivering a new service such as a drone or even in some circumstances a software implemented invention but it is not possible in any country to patent a service as such. Even in countries like the United States where there is no equivalent to the statutory exclusions in s.1 (2) of our Patents Act 1977 the protection of methods of doing business has rolled back since the decision of the Supreme Court in Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593 (2010).

Generally I advise a client to keep his or her idea to him or herself until he or she is ready to launch. If the client needs to talk to a contractor, collaborator he or she should do so in confidence. Every disclosure in confidence should be acknowledged in writing by the confident, recorded by the confider, closely monitored and strictly enforced. After the launch the idea will be in the open for anyone to see and, of course, imitate. Nevertheless, the innovator may still derive some advantage from being the first to market the service. Any reputation or goodwill accruing to his or her business can now be protected by registering the brand under which it is supplied as a trade mark.  All forms, manuals and other stationery used in the business will be literary works in which copyright will subsist automatically, If properly coordinated and supplied under a brand, the client may have a business format that can be franchised.

In its early days any business will be vulnerable to legal action either to enforce such IP rights as it may own or to defend a claim for their invalidation or revocation.  Even in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court litigation can be ruinously expensive. Some form of IP insurance is therefore essential if it is to retain its market advantage.

I shall be talking about how to protect a service and other matters at Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre at 12:15 on 9 May 2017. If you want to attend that event you can do so by registering here.

2 May 2017

How can I protect my Business Idea?

Jane Lambert

Probably the question I have been asked most frequently in the IP clinics that I have run around the country is "How can I protect my business idea?"

It is not an easy question to answer because it depends on the nature of the idea and the size and the strength of the business.

For instance, patents provide the most extensive protection for new products or processes but they come at a cost:
  • several thousand pounds in Office fees and attorneys' costs for the UK alone and a great deal more if you want protection in other countries whether under the European Patent Convention or the Patent Cooperation Treaty;
  • Complete disclosure of the invention to enable those with the skills and knowledge to make or work it if the patent isn't granted, or if it is revoked or in countries where you haven't applied for patent protection;
  • periodic renewal fees that increase with the age of the patent in some countries; and
  • the costs of enforcing, or resisting an application to revoke, the patent that can run to many hundreds of thousands of pounds in some common law jurisdictions like the United Kingdom.
If nobody wants to buy or use the invention, all that money is wasted.

So is there a better way of protecting an invention? How about trade secrecy or unregistered design rights? Well, maybe, but then again, maybe not. Also, some of those costs can be insured again.

On Tuesday 9 May I will be talking about all those subjects and more at Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre between 12:15 and 13:15.  The talk is free but space is likely to be limited.

If you want to come you can register by clicking this link.