Wednesday, April 18, 2012

'First, kill all the lawyers'

Kidding:) OK, now I have your attention...

At the kind invitation of a small business support network locally, and having been encouraged by Dr. Vince Cable leads following an event here in Herefordshire recently, I have shared these thoughts as requested here. I hope the investment in time will be of value and pay off.

Vast amounts are being invested in all sorts of support; we simply need to ensure this is not just on process to please the awarders, or money to please awardees initially, but in deriving long term end results that please all, and deliver end benefit to the country.

"We would like to hear your views on these plans"
Mine are, of course, based only on personal, if not always great experience. However, we learn from mistakes, and if those I have experienced can help others then great. More selfishly, if a problem shared can see it reduced by collective experience and brainpower... even better.

First a general comment. Appreciating designations and parameters are of course as necessary as they are inevitable, under SME there is of course, a world of difference between a 249 staffed 'M' vs. a lone 'S'. But that latter of course can just as easily be where the ideas that need protecting emanate.

I'm not complaining, but it is a simple fact I merely ask be borne in mind by some who, perhaps enjoying experience more from larger enterprises, can forget that the person doing the looking and chasing and filing and researching may be the same one trying to create and sell and fill out the tax returns and week's end invoicing.

And while any professional input on IP may equally be a phonecall away, it may not, as can be, in-house and free, but with a hefty hourly charge attached.

This needs bearing in mind when asking for input on documents that can run to many pages. The small SME owner does not earn a salary or generate (immediate) income reading these, much as they can be helpful and warrant the investment. I was not aware, for instance, that we had in Baroness Wilcox a Minister for IP. One I may well be getting in touch with about special relationships with trading partners.

This will provide them with the knowledge they need to identify the opportunities and risks that IP presents for their business and to seek further advice at the right point

I have, in my time, been lucky enough to enjoy many opportunities to learn more on the topic, and indeed benefit from the odd award (Fillip via our RDA a few years ago). On the whole these have been OK, but have tended to avoid, perhaps for fear of scaring folk off, the utter nightmare of the the long term costs simply on renewals, much less what happens in the case of a fight.

Also, with some recent, bitter experience, the apparently well known pitfalls of government level hurdles in some markets have not been highlighted.

* We are also considering further options to create new networks across the country to reach out to SMEs: first, working with the Local Enterprise Partnerships to offer tailored local advice to businesses in different regions and second stimulating the creation of business and IP advice networks across the UK.

This was mentioned by Dr. Cable and would be a good step forward.

* A new mentoring portal to provide a single, easy to use route to find experienced business mentors

As is this.

* too often they miss opportunities to maximise the potential return on their investment in innovation by failing to protect their ideas or intellectual property in ways which would help defend against competitors or generate revenue through licensing

Or... they do all by the book, and get screwed over by very dodgy national practices.

* identifying three broad areas of difficulty for SMEs:

1. The complexity of advice offerings;

2. A lack of strategic business advice;

3. The cost of IP management.

Yes, yes, and yes.

* In 2006, the Gowers Review estimated that, faced with an infringement claim, the cost of challenging a patent could be £750,000 even for a relatively straightforward case.

A one man band with a great idea... how is that kind of money even worth getting into?

This goes to the heart of ideals vs. realities, and routes folk get seduced down.
Chapter 1 Raising awareness and understanding of IP

Apologies, but much here is way too simplistic at practical levels. Is the intent vague box tickings on 'awareness' or helping resolve tangibles?

The Masterclass may go towards solving this, but who gets it and at what cost is unclear.

Helping business manage and exploit its IP
Dr. Cable mentioned the latter, and this is necessary and welcome. A core point was that few who are good at creating IP-worthy ideas may have the necessary skillsets alone to then develop and market them. A team is needed, and at least at government/NGO level, help in matchmaking complementing partners.

Strategic IP Audits

This looks more promising. I note the funding, but concerns again are inspired by what gets you launched and then left. £3000 is the cost of appealing (so far, I know) a silly objection from the Patent Office in just one market.

Improving access to IP advice

For many SMEs, and especially start ups when minimising costs is a priority, yes...

IP is often not seen as a critical factor, despite evidence that shows that those companies that effectively use their IP have a better chance of survival and growth

...and, not in my experience.

We are keen to hear from SMEs, their representative organisations and advisors operating in the IP space whether they feel that a directory of this sort would be helpful.

...couldn't hurt, but again is but the tip of what can become an iceberg.

I am pretty confident I have by my efforts and helpful pointing from others (Coventry & Aston Unis) found the right and best in their fields, but as a one man band the costs, especially when advice can often carry 'on your own head caveats', can be prohibitive.

My needs are twofold:

One involving advice higher up the strategic ladder of IPO, and matchmaking with much more usefully complementing talents in exploitation.

Integrating IP advice within public sector business support programmes
The following therefore look attractive:

* Access to high quality facilities by partnering with leading business incubators, science parks and Technology Innovation Centres;

• Advice on how to identify and protect intellectual property and copyright and develop strategies to commercially exploit IP and innovation;

• Specialist help to commercialise innovation and to build a culture of innovation within the business...... Cost? Consultancy? Commission? Duration?

• Fast track access to trusted sources of specialist advice and support such as the Technology Strategy Board and UKTI;

• Access to business and knowledge networks. ... can be a huge time drain if not channeled, with dangers of 'little knowledge' on top.

Things like this, and others can be of value in complement (if sometimes, confusingly overlapping, if not competition), but the caution must be that folk are launched into a highly complex and hugely expensive money pit that often confronts one, too late, with some unenviable options having been seduced into investing in areas that are perhaps not the highest priority or indeed wisest.

Catapult Centres
The IPO will work together with the Technology Strategy Board to develop an SME engagement pack.

Of interest, if 'assisted' in engagement.

Local Enterprise Partnerships
These were mentioned by Dr. Cable and bases have been touched already.
Again, reading the summary, I caution against 'fund and forget' box tickers, or any 'awareness' that seduces with basic knowledge into areas where much more, and worse, can lurk.

Independent IP advisory service

capped price consultancy support to do so, potentially with a payment subsidy from the IPO.

I have several more ideas in the pipeline. The cost and experiences in IP management to date has placed a curb on my enthusiasm. Such an offering may at least help, especially if introduced into a more supportive network, and with luck, motivated (by mutual reward) 'team'. The key is knowing where you stand and with some reliability, from start to a few years down the line.

I am in a black hole without end in sight, that has blown all budgeting estimates into touch as unexpected costs and delays have appeared from nowhere.

Long term skills development
Entrepreneurs and innovators of the future

I'll repeat it again here: an entrepreneur is just an innovator whose idea has made a profit. And any fool can have a good idea. The trick is selling it. I am, currently, just a bloke who tinkers in his shed. No more; no less. That one idea has a global market value of billions and true green contributions is, currently, neither here nor there. Or that there are others on the prototype jig.

My current view is that the costs and effort and delay I have ploughed into conducting (what may have been a flawed) IP strategy could have been better invested in getting to market first, biggest, best and with most noise. And risk the copycat notion of being first to be second being left in my wake.

However, that is not always practical, for reasons of cost, scale, expertise, logistics, etc. Back to building the team. And to share the idea to create one, you need IP reassurance. Win-win... or lose-lose?

Future work on dispute resolution
No one wants to think of problems. But they do happen. Best to acknowledge, and allow for them.

For future efforts, I like the idea of an opinion service, which I was not until now aware of, as it seems a useful interim before hitting the costs of professional IP lawyers.

But, with bitter current experiences ringing in my ears, I note a couple of omissions:

1) Disputes at official, national level - what about help when countries start playing fast and loose? I have a 3rd appeal on a frivolous and vexatious objection where, it seems, only masses of money will break the jam... at which point no costs can be recouped. This also raises...

2) Disputes with professionals hired to advise or help. Who can assist if dropped in a mess, or left to resolve one by a paid (or even funded) consultant, especially if having been seduced down a path from which there is now no easy exit or retrace?

Now like I say, this is all based on personal experience.

But views were asked for, and I have tried to offer them, perhaps with value from the perspective of the very small SME innovator who has hit hurdles. Some of these comments may be borne of ignorance or naivete. That... is the point. Folk who create out of thin air often are not blessed with more down to earth legal or business minds more suited to today's structured markets and administrative disciplines.



In the course of the above, I added the links and sections below, with a view to addressing these also in this response.

But looking at documents of almost 200 pages, I think that this is best left to a separate, future review and share on my part.

Sighs of relief noted. If there is value to be gained (not sure my area of expertise in economics), I'll give it a shot.

Our Universities, Research Councils and businesses are national assets that form the foundation of the UK’s future competitiveness. However, if we are to realise our vision for the UK’s future we need to strengthen our innovative capability and encourage further investment in innovation.

The Government has already made clear its commitment to the UK knowledge base by maintaining the annual £4.6 billion budget for science and research programmes with £150 million each year supporting university-business interaction. Going further we intend to maximise the impact of our research base on economic growth and have committed an additional £495 million to Science Capital Investment projects since January 2011.

The Government is improving incentives for companies to innovate especially SMEs. In addition to our successful changes to the SME R&D Tax Credit we will invest an additional £75 million to support small business innovation including additional funding for Smart, grants that support SME research and development. We will implement a new innovation voucher programme enabling small businesses to engage with universities and the wider knowledge base. We will invest more in the Small Business Research Initiative helping more small businesses to win government contracts for their innovative products and services.

The Government is putting innovation and research at the heart of its growth agenda through greater investment and increased collaboration ensuring that the UK has a promising future. This is our Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth (PDF, 1.1 Mb) .

Economics Paper

Underpinning the BIS Innovation Strategy is an economic analysis that sets out the conceptual and empirical thinking behind the Strategy. It rests on three bodies of work and evidence: recent results from innovation economics, recent policy-related studies, and new innovation data. Both theory and evidence show that innovation is the central source of economic growth. But innovation is changing its scope and forms: across borders, across institutions, and in terms of its methods and processes. It is necessary to look at innovation as a system, in which different actors (universities, infrastructures, companies, and the public sector) collaborate directly and indirectly. Four primary policy challenges are identified: the need to facilitate knowledge flows, the need to maintain a high-grade knowledge infrastructure, the need to support business investment in conditions of uncertainty, and the need to build an innovating public sector. View the Economics paper: innovation and research strategy for growth (PDF, 2.4 Mb) .

Working with Devolved Administrations

Components of both innovation and research policy are devolved, but we will work closely with partner organisations in the Devolved Administrations to raise awareness, build capacity and ensure coherence. We will:

help build the innovative capacity of businesses throughout the UK;
increase take-up of the innovation advice and support services being funded and delivered through the various bodies and agencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and
ensure coherence between the initiatives and investments being carried out in each of the Devolved Administrations with UK programmes and priorities, so as to maximise their reach and impact.

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