How do we exploit innovation to boost national economic vitality? One way is to be conversant with the rules that govern innovation on a national and international level.

More specifically, we need to understand the implications directly leading from rules governing commercial exploitation of innovation on the national and international stage. As someone once wrote, “Property does not have rights. People have rights”.

Both nationally and internationally, innovation generates opportunities for intellectual property rights that can be secured to both individuals and businesses.

In a recent article Su Maddock argues that central government should consider how local leaders are forging innovation strategiesin UK cities and in counties such as Cornwall. Such an approach is helping drive local business growth based on open innovation through networking and collaboration, defining a “systemic approach to innovation”.

But as patent attorneys know, innovation based on open collaboration can impact on the “people’s rights”.

Put another way, central government policy often serves to punish open collaboration by destroying intellectual property rights that might otherwise accrue through such open co-operation.

How so?

UK and EU patent laws have, and I would argue erroneously so, been set up to punish open collaboration and public disclosure ahead of filing for patent protection.

In essence, under the UK model securing IP rights based on local efforts require some element of secrecy prior to filing for patent protection.

So a new method of boiling an egg discovered say in Manchester through open collaboration can’t be patented under current UK law.

A new method of sterilizing food not much above ambient room temperature through, for example, exposing food to be sterilized to multiple sources of microwave energy would generate IP rights only if there was some level of secrecy ahead of filing a patent.

What can central government do to fix this seemingly intractable and perplexing problem? How can government legislate for new patent rules that boost Su Maddock’s systemic approach to innovation?

Surprisingly, the solution is eminently simple; central government policy should change to protect pioneering inventors’ rights to their intellectual property endeavours regardless of the level of open collaboration.

Providing the inventors and entrepreneurs can be identified, their property rights should not be infringed upon by an archaic patent legal system that actively punishes open collaboration at the local level.

The UK could move forward decisively by adopting “first to invent” over “first to file” and provide a grace period in which a patent can be applied for regardless of the level of open collaboration or public disclosure of an invention or idea.

This is not a new idea; the US economy was built on “first to invent” with 12 month grace periods offered to all the people to file for a patent regardless of the amount of public disclosure of an invention or new way of doing something.

Sadly, the US has recently adopted the UK and European model of “first to file” over “first to invent”. If, however, the UK wants to generate jobs and IP rights based on local collaboration, then central government can take the initiative and adopt a “first to invent” patent system, with a concomitant grace period.

Such US filed patents were eminently convertible to international patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Britain can do the same.

Central government should change its anti-local collaboration policy by adopting first-to-invent plus a grace period for filing patent applications. This way we can truly rebuild Britain and sustain a dynamic economy based on local innovation by pioneering entrepreneurs in partnership with established global businesses.

Dr Christopher Wood is a patent attorney from the UK working for a patent law firm in Washington, DC

From Local Innovation to Growing Global Market Share
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