A report on “Intellectual Property Enforcement in Smaller Firms” (originally commissioned by the now disbanded Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property) has been published by the UK Intellectual Property Office. The report, executed by the Intellectual Property Institute (IPI), considered enforcement issues for SME’s and cost implications within the current IP framework and made certain recommendations. Although just under 2000 SME’s were targeted, only 170 responded. Despite the fact that only a quarter of those questioned had IP insurance, IP rights are considered to be important by smaller firms and 25% of those involved in the research had been involved in IP disputes – and not necessarily against big business. Mediated settlements accounted for 40% of the dispute resolution with approximately 50% decided in a Court hearing. It comes as no surprise to those at the ‘coal face’ that a significant stumbling block for SME’s, whose IP rights are infringed, are the cost and time constraints to legally pursue. The impact on R & D costs were considered a significant factor by those whose rights had been infringed. Pursuing IP infringement overseas is out of reach for most SME’s because it is cost prohibitive. Those who do take legal action, either in the UK or overseas, have to ensure the availability of funds to sustain the battle.
Those who took part in the case studies confirmed that there is no level playing field for IP enforcement. Enforcement of IP rights rarely reaches criminal courts and the majority seek redress before civil courts. Generally, specialist IP advice comes at an enormous cost to SME’s but, in the case of patents, the UKIPO can be approached for opinion. Alternative dispute resolution means are to be encouraged and this has been reinforced in the recent Jackson Review of Civil Litigation. In terms of the economic and business implications of IP enforcement it would appear that the report’s recommendations are to find cheaper enforcement procedures that would be attractive to smaller firms. “Advice and information to smaller firms on how to view their IP strategically, so that it becomes a better means of extracting value from their inventions, rather than just a means of protecting them from infringement” is a key recommendation.
Dids Macdonald, CEO of ACID (Anti Copying in Design), an IP organisation representing over 1,000 SME’s, said of the report, “It’s high time the ‘consultation culture’ was streamlined and action taken to get on with providing real solutions to the IP issues that SME’s face. I am delighted that the UKIPO has published these recommendations. However, this costly report (£65,000) only confirms ACID’s (and other similar organisations) dialogue with the UKIPO over many years. The report states the obvious. Access to a cost and time effective framework for dispute resolution should be a priority for Government to its grass roots work force. This, together with providing the right tax incentives for creating and exploiting IP in the UK as a real champion for innovation would be a sound basis for IP policy for SME’s! The creative industries contribute significantly to the UK’s GDP (120 billion) and are a quantifiable provider of employment.”