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IP law and IP management ignorance in UK

A 60 page preliminary report has recently been released in the UK revealing the answers by UK companies to 29 questions in a survey about IP. Some survey results evidence a woeful level of knowledge in UK companies about intellectual property protection, management, licensing, valuation and enforcement.

Responses to the survey were received from 1,709 firms of all sizes and in all sectors of UK industry. The report was prepared by the UK Intellectual Property Office and The Institute of Intellectual Property. It is titled "UK Intellectual Property Awareness Survey 2006" [PDF]. It's a very useful report fully illustrated with photos of flowers, hence our graphic here by Dr Robert Thornton, the 18th and 19th century English artist and illustrator of flora.

Comments follow on some results that appear noteworthy. The level of detail in survey results deserve far more detailed commentary elsewhere.

Patent knowledge

Not surprisingly the survey confirms that companies large and small have little knowledge of the basics of such IP fields as patent law. For example, typically respondents were not aware that publication of an invention invalidates a patent application. When asked "Does publication of an invention before filing a patent application for it prevent a valid UK patnet being obtained?" the responses from large firms (with 250 employees or more) was:

  • 31.1% said "Yes"
  • 32.9% said "No"
  • 34.0% said "Don't Know"

IP valuation practices

The valuation of IP remains a dark field. When asked "Has your company ever tried to assess how much your IP is worth?" only 1.1% of companies said "Yes". Of the companies who said Yes, 11.5% say they have had their IP "professionally valued".

Status of IP management practices

The poor understanding of IP in companies large and small is not surprising given that:

  • only 4.1% of companies said "Yes" as to whether they have an IP policy; 4.8% "Don't Know";
  • only 2.3% of companies said "Yes" as to whether they provide staff with IP training; 0.7% "Don't Know"; and
  • only 0.9% of companies said "Yes" they provide staff incentives to obtain intellectual property rights.

All this is in marked contrast to the perceived extent of the need for advice on IP issues. For example 22.5% of companies said they "Always" needed that advice, 13.1% said "Usually", 15.5% said "Sometimes", 23.0% said "Rarely", and 25.9% said "Never".

Clearly, behaviour change management is needed in UK companies to overcome conflicting habits relating to intellectual property. This Lightbulb view is back up by an insightful paper from Italy, and also mentioning the UK, by Giancarlo Migliori, The European IP market needs a revolution [PDF].

Rise and rise of confidential information

Respondents rated confidential information rather highly as an "essential" way of protecting intellectual property. This is seen in the graphic (right) which sets out the responses of UK managers as to howsurvey_mechanisms "essential" different mechanisms are perceived to be for protecting "innovations".

The report cautions that "It is important to note that this and other research relates to managers’ perceptions albeit based on their experience and not a totally objective importance."

These views on confidential information reflect our own experience in client work. Confidential is rightly perceived as an essential mechanism for protecting innovations. However, the best results are achieved when confidentiality agreements, practices and documents are combined with those from other fields in intellectual property law. Even then little of lasting value can be achieved if one does not add to the mix advice from general commercial law and good management practices.


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