Today is World IP Day, where the importance of intellectual property (IP) is highlighted – particularly in the tech industry. But with UK technology being seen as vital to a successful Brexit, experts are concerned that IP protection knowledge is unacceptably poor among British businesses.

“It is a well-known fact that 80% of a company’s value is in intangible assets such as IP, but unfortunately many British companies aren’t making it part of their business strategy,” explained Duncan Clark, director of Academy at PatSnap, at a House of Commons summit held this week by the Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN).

“Instead, they’re only learning about IP when it’s far too late or when it becomes a legal issue.”

IP protection usually only ends up in the public eye when there are issues, such as the seemingly ever-present string of high-profile court cases that have plagued the tech industry over the past decade. One notable example is the Nokia-Apple lawsuit, which saw the Finnish telecommunications giant awarded $2bn over the unauthorised use of Nokia IP in several iPhone models.

It has also become a geopolitical concern, with China’s approach to foreign IP playing a key role in the US-China trade war.

But for most British citizens, it is a topic that is not well understood, and given the financial damages that can come from improper use of IP, that could have devastating consequences for tech businesses.

The need to take IP protection more seriously

With the technology industry frequently hailed as a strong area for post-Brexit Britain, IP protection is vital to the country’s future economy.

“Britain is a world leader because of IP,” said Chris Skidmore, Minister of State for universities, science, research and innovation.

“It underpins everything we do in the economy itself and is fundamental to this country’s success.”

However, within technology, IP protection has only minimal presence in the development of new products.

“In our world, we face rapid development, we have to fix problems quickly and have an innovative mindset,” explained Stephen Lambert, head of automotive electrification at McLaren Applied Technologies.

“But IP isn’t in the average mindset of an engineer because filing patents means you lose your competitive advantage. We need to use IP more to retain our innovation culture and protect what we have.”

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The problem is of particular concern among startups, who often treat it as an afterthought, according to Clark.

“Countless startups make the fatal mistake of seeing IP as a ‘bolt on’, with many only coming across it when they’re faced with a legal battle,” he said.

“Unfortunately many startups fail because they do not to harness the benefits of IP – so education really is everything.”

Building improved IP understanding

For businesses, there is a need to improve in-house knowledge on the subject of IP, and with companies such as PatSnap offering free tools on the subject, this doesn’t require significant resources to achieve.

However, if the industry is to achieve a step-change in IP understanding, experts argue that there needs to be a policy-backed change in the UK’s approach to the issue.

“Believe it or not, in countries like China, children of a primary school age learn about business and the importance of intellectual property. In contrast, many university courses don’t even include it as module – so the fact is, British businesses are getting left behind,” said Clark.

“The key to all this is education. If we can create policy to help British businesses utilise IP in their strategy from the outset, we will have a strong economic advantage over our competitors.”

“We need to provide a smooth and effective IP system regardless of Brexit and we need to be prepared for all eventualities, whatever the outcome,” added Skidmore.

“IP is not a ‘Cinderella’ subject in government and we need to work together as one single IP community.”

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