“The first step in winning the future,” declared President Obama, “is encouraging American innovation”. So how is the UK doing in the area of winning the future?

Sadly, the answer is, “not very well” as evidenced by the feeble patent output coming from the UK in hugely important fields of endeavor such as graphene research.

Graphene is a two dimensional layer of carbon atoms resulting in a material with huge potential in a wide range of applications from medicine to IT to energy.

First discovered and initially developed at a British university so one might reasonably conclude the UK should be leading the world in filing patents on the application of graphene technology.

But sadly while the story of graphene started in the UK, the story ending is not a good one.

CambridgeIP, a British IP firm, pays close attention to the graphene patent landscape. What CambridgeIP found is startling but sadly not surprising.

CambridgeIP found that the UK has just 54 graphene patent publications to its credit whereas China has a staggering 2,240. Even South Korea is well ahead of the UK with over 1,000 graphene patent publications while America has over 1,700 graphene patent publications to its credit.

So what’s going wrong in the UK?

Let’s look back at what President Obama said: “The first step in winning the future is encouraging innovation”.

But the UK government has pumped over 50 million into supporting research on graphene so the problem is not, per se, a lack of British tax dollars devoted to supporting research at British universities.

So we are still left with finding the answer to the perplexing British problem of failing to win the future. We might again look at what President Obama recently said that it should be easier to patent ideas.

To this end at a High School just a few minutes drive from my apartment, the President signed into law the American Inventors Act which is geared to make it easier to patent inventions and new ideas for the express purpose of expanding the US economy and creating jobs in the 21st century. These are among the concrete steps that President Obama’s administration is taking to ‘win the future’.

In addition the White House is supporting steps to convert ideas from America’s universities and research labs into new products to expand the economy and create 21st century jobs.

That’s the key isn’t it? The key that is missing from current UK’s efforts in attempting to win the future for Britain.

In the UK, tax payer funded research pays very little attention to converting discoveries from British universities and research labs into new products to expand the economy and create 21st century jobs.

Without proper patent protection any Tom, Richard or Harry can copy, sell and/or distribute a pioneering British invention and apply for patents on versions of the discovery without any fear of patent infringement suits.

This happened in the case of monoclonal antibodies (MABs), a quintessential British invention made using British taxpayers’ money – and a whole world wide industry spawned from that invention but the UK benefited very little in terms of job creation for lack of patent protection. Billions of dollars of turnover, thousands of jobs – but very few of them created in Britain.

By not filing patents, we are winning the future. YES?

Meanwhile China, South Korea and yes, America too – file patents and focus on converting university research discoveries and breakthroughs into quality, fulfilling jobs for the 21st century.

Instead, our focus seems bizarrely to “give” these jobs on a plate to China and others.
It’s time to maximise graphene’s potential for the British economy and future UK-based jobs.

Dr Christopher Wood is a patent attorney based in Washington, DC.

Innovate to WIn, Graphene’s Huge Jobs Potential
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