The Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Propert: Where next? - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

5  Advice for SMEs

161.  The Hargreaves Review identified an advice gap in awareness of intellectual property for SMEs. The Review recommended:

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.[146]

In oral evidence, Professor Hargreaves explained that SMEs needed advice that combined legal and commercial help but that the IPO was constrained, not least by resources, on what it could advise on itself.[147]

162.  Sir Robin Jacob agreed that there was an issue with availability of advice from patent attorneys:

The British patent attorney profession is probably one of the best, if not the best, in the world. They are well trained and they are better than they were when I was younger. The only complaint I have of them is they do not take enough students on and I think they should be bigger. But they do not; they keep themselves about the same size […] Probably there are not enough of them.[148]

However, unlike Professor Hargreaves, he did not think that the answer lay with creating a new professional layer.[149]

163.  John Alty of the IPO explained his perception of the gap in the market:

The system works well when you know what you want to do and you know that you have something valuable worth investing in to get the returns. What does not work so well is when you are not quite sure what the value of what you have is and you do not really understand the IP system. That is the area that we want to focus on. We are not talking about trying to disrupt the attorney market; we are talking about whether we can find some other way prior to getting to a point where you know you need an attorney. One way that people have described this is the difference between a GP and a specialist. If you need a specialist that is fine and you may even be paying for it, but you want a GP who can help you diagnose the problem.[150]

164.  Expanding on the theme of combined advice, the Federation of Private Business pointed to the contrasting needs of start-up businesses and more mature businesses:

Of course our members would value the opportunity of a one­stop shop, if you will, where they can get financial, legal, commercial and regulatory advice on IP, but I think that is going to be much more useful to the start­ups or businesses that are new to IP, rather than those that have been in the market for a while, which might require slightly more specialised services.[151]

The Federation of Private Business also extolled the virtues of the British Library's advice service for small businesses.[152] We had the opportunity to see that service for ourselves on a visit to the British Library on 9 February 2012 and were similarly impressed.

165.  In April 2012, the IPO published From ideas to growth: helping SMEs get value from their intellectual property.[153] This proposed a number of solutions to address SME needs, including:

  • Awareness raising seminars organised by the IPO in partnership with bodies such as the Institute of Directors;
  • More online tools from the IPO;
  • IPO-funded masterclass training for business advisors within other public sector business support schemes, such as Business Coaching for Growth, the Technology Strategy Board's Catapult Centres and the Patent Library network;
  • An IPO partnership with the British Library to extend the model used at the Business and IP Centre in London to six regional patent libraries; and
  • Working with universities to help students understand intellectual property to benefit their future careers and the wider economy.

The paper suggested scope for further outreach:

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.[154]

166.  It is encouraging that the IPO has so comprehensively researched the gaps in the market for IP advice required by different business categories. From ideas to growth is a well argued and impressively detailed paper on which the Minister is to be congratulated. We are pleased that the options being proposed work largely within existing systems rather than envisaging new layers of professional advice which might make the market in IP advice less, rather than more, transparent.

167.  We are impressed with the range of solutions that the Intellectual Property Office has developed to address SME needs in the area of intellectual property. This is an important area to address to support growth in the economy and we recommend that in its Response to this Report the Government set out in detail its commitment to this service in terms of money and resources.

146   Hargreaves Review, Recommendation 9 Back

147   Q 56 Back

148   Qq 142 and 147 Back

149   Q 144 Back

150   Q 266 [Alty] Back

151   Q 190 Back

152   Q 189 Back

153 Back

154   Page 5 Back

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Prepared 27 June 2012