Are UK inventors missing out on domestic patents?

Are UK inventors missing out on domestic patents?

UK inventors are often relying exclusively on time-consuming international routes to getting UK patents according to recent analysis of global patent data. They may be missing out on the value that an early domestic UK patent can give an investment-hungry business.

Britain’s ninth-place ranking behind heavyweights China, the US and European counterparts France and Germany in the World Intellectual Property Office’s annual league table of successful patents granted attracted negative headlines, with commentators pointing out that in 2018 three quarters (75%) of UK patent applications did not proceed to grant.

Source: Santander

  Patents granted by nationalityGlobal ranking 2017-2018 2017-2018 % change 2013-2018 2013-2018 % change
China 345,959 1 18,989 5.8% 202,424 141%
Japan 152,440 2 -4,404 -2.8% -73,131 -32%
US 144,413 3 -6,536 -4.3% 10,820 8%
Korea 89,227 4 -1,620 -1.7% -6,440 -6.7%
Russia 20,526 5 -511 -2.4% -852 -3.9%
Germany 10,789 6 225 2.1% 997 10.1%
France 10,574 7 358 3.5% 339 3.3%
Italy 6,340 8 1,804 39% -677 -9.6%
UK 3,001 9 -266 -8% 537 21.7%
Iran 2,993 10 -675 -18.4% -380 -11.2%

However, for our intellectual property experts here at Harper James, the statistics tell a different story. The 75% figure includes a large number of initial UK applications that are abandoned because their British inventors decide at the 12-month point to switch to an international filing and search route available through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Inventors using the PCT can effectively freeze their UK patenting plans for up to 31 months from their initial filing date. When they later restart UK processes, the gloomy UK statistics won’t show those reborn patents, because they will no longer be treated as domestic UK patents.

Our solicitors say that the statistics don’t show the real problem, which is that UK businesses often miss the chance to keep their initial UK filing alive alongside their international filings. Lindsay Gledhill, intellectual property partner, comments:A domestic UK patent application can reach the register within two years. In my experience, getting a UK patent granted early can help start-up businesses to secure that all-important backing from investors even whilst the other international filings are years away from grant.”

We recognise that for some businesses, keeping the domestic UK filing isn’t always the right decision, particularly if the initial UK patent application is not in mature form because further technical work needs to be done. But all too often the opportunity to get an early grant in the highly respected UK patent office is not really considered.

Wherever a UK inventor may be in their patenting journey, our intellectual property legal experts are happy to advise on whether a regional or international route is the best route for your business. Our online legal advice centre also contains useful information and guidance on intellectual property law.

About the Author

Lindsay Gledhill

Lindsay Gledhill

Head of Intellectual Property
Lindsay Gledhill is Head of Intellectual Property at Harper James. She has specialised in intellectual property exploitation and dispute resolution since 1997. She trained and qualified in Cambridge’s top intellectual property firm during the 'dot com boom', then spent four years at top 50 firm, Walker Morris.


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