The Patents Bill brings Amendments to UK Patent Law - A Helping Hand to SMEs?

Author:Ms Emma Lambert
Profession:Pictons Solicitors LLP

The DTI has long since been concerned about the UK's lack of support for its inventors and entrepreneurs. It is clear that we are falling behind the US, Japan and many other EU countries in the protection, innovation and development stakes - a neglect that could lead to a downturn in the UK's economic stability. The simple fact is, if UK businesses are not continually improving existing products and inventing new ones, then companies and organisations looking to trade with or invest in the UK will look abroad.

The recent Patents Bill is just one part of the Government's push to bring the UK to the forefront of innovation in the EU within the next 10 years.1 This has included such policies as greater incentives for knowledge transfer and research and special access to finance for female entrepreneurs. The Patents Bill was presented in the House of Lords on 15 January 2004 and is intended to update the UK Patents Act 1977. The amendments may be of greatest advantage to small businesses and inventors - specifically two key elements:

The Bill brings current UK legislation in line with the European Patent Convention which was revised in November 2000 - reducing bureaucracy and easing trade across the EU; and

It encourages the out-of-court settlement of patent disputes.

In particular, when the Bill becomes law:

The Patent Office will be able to provide an independent opinion on a patent's validity and/or infringement. These opinions will not be binding, but they will provide a good guideline for would-be litigants and those questioning the validity of a patent. In theory, this could mean there is less need in future for an SME to resort to expensive court action to enforce its patent or to defend a patent infringement complaint against it. In practice, it is doubtful how useful this procedure will be as large patent-owning companies are still likely to prefer traditional court actions. The procedure may only prove to be of real use in cases where the two parties have some connection - for example, a patent-owning licensor and its former/future licensee.

It is hoped that the bureaucracy surrounding patent applications will be reduced...

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