24 January 2017

"Harnessing the Potential of the UK's Home Grown Inventors" - The Government's Proposed Industrial Strategy

Jane Lambert

Yesterday the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy ("DBEIS") published its green paper Building Our Industrial Strategy which might well have led the news had it not been for the controversy over whether the Prime Minister should have disclosed news of the Trident test failure to the House of Commons before the vote on the renewal of the nuclear deterrent. Today it is likely to be overshadowed by the Supreme Court's judgment in the Art 50 Brexit appeal. It is, however, an important document upon which the public is being consulted and there is a video summarizing its proposals for those who do not wish to plough through its 132 pages.

Very briefly the green paper suggests ways in which the UK could improve productivity and spread prosperity more evenly across the country and throughout society. After stating those aims it suggests 10 policies that it calls "pillars" to achieve them. One of those pillars is "Investing in science, research and innovation" to "become a more innovative economy and do more to commercialise our world leading science base to drive growth across the UK." The document mentions some of the steps that the government is already taking and then lists some new commitments on page 34.

One of those new commitments is to:
"....... seek to harness the potential of the UK’s home-grown inventors and stimulate user led innovation by launching a challenge prize programme. This prize, which will be piloted through the NESTA Challenge Prize Centre, will help inform our support to the ‘everyday entrepreneurs’ operating in companies and at home – such as through supporting enabling environments, incubators and maker spaces." 
If this commitment can be taken at face value and followed through it would be a very welcome development indeed. For far too long Britain's inventors have been ignored and in some instances disparaged but they could be an important contributor to industrial regeneration.

Other countries that have to make their way in the world outside large trading blocs such as Korea and Israel encourage their inventors. The Korea Invention Promotion Association ("KIPA"), which shares an office block in Seoul called the Korea Intellectual Property Service Centre with the Korea Intellectual Property Office, the Korea Intellectual Property Institute, The Technology Transfer Centre and related agencies has a slogan: "One Korean, one invention." If we are to emulate Korea which has a slightly smaller population in an even smaller land area than the UK we have to do the same and with all due respect to NESTA and the DBEIS it will take more than the Challenge Prize Centre.

A bit more action is promised in the next commitment though except for the proposal to station IPO representatives in the Midlands and the North it is very vague:
"We are reviewing how to maximise the incentives created by the Intellectual Property system to stimulate collaborative innovation and licensing opportunities – including considering the opening up of registries to facilitate licensing deals and business to business model agreements to support collaboration. We will place Intellectual Property Office representatives in key UK cities - starting with pilots in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine to build local capability to commercialise intellectual property."
Actual progress will probably have to come from inventors and entrepreneurs aided by their professional advisors, but it the commitments appear to signal a change of mood on the part of the government and that's a start

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