Patents and innovation in Scotland — not new news?
What do a vacuum flask, a toaster, refrigeration, piano foot pedals, the Digestive biscuit, common use of the decimal point and the MRI scanner all have in common?
They’re all innovations with links to Scotland.
And, in that spirit, the latest UK Intellectual Property Office statistics show Scotland’s bucking the national trend in terms of patents granted.
North of the border between 2018 and 2019 there was a 38% increase in the number of patents granted, compared with a UK-wide decrease of 0.6% during the same period.
So, what are patents and why are they important?
Patents protect inventors’ interests by ensuring they can control the commercial use of their invention.
They are available for most industrially applicable processes and products and will only be granted if there is a novel, or innovative, step forward.
They may cover
- Mechanical devices, for example, lifting equipment
- Methods for doing things, such as ways of applying seals or coatings
- Chemical compounds — a COVID-19 vaccine, anyone?
Patents granted in the UK last for 20 years from their filing date, subject to payment of renewal fees and not being invalidated.
Once granted, the patent prevents third parties from operating within the scope of the patent claims, even if they have developed their own technology independently and were unaware of the patent or what it protects.
Simply put, a patent can lock out the competition.
And that’s why, of course, why the Dragons' Den dragons are so keen on them.
To patent or not?
That's not to say this approach is for everyone.
Do you want your competitors poring over every detail that’s published as part of the process?
The patent will ultimately expire too. And that’s why, for example, Coca-Cola prefers to keep its recipe a trade secret, and trade secrets do also have certain statutory protections.
However, two decades’ protection will be enough for most in a world which always demands improvements and innovation.
New technology today might be redundant in 20 years (perhaps even two), but at least at the beginning, the patent holder can make hay.
Plus, companies may receive research and development tax relief for their investment in innovation. It's a win-win.
"Innovation" has been one of the buzzwords in the oil and gas industry in recent years, as companies seek more efficient ways of getting the job done. And of course, life sciences, software development, space are just a few other industries in Scotland where innovation is encouraged and rewarded through the likes of government policy and grant funding.
So, in the country of James Watt, Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird, the good news is that innovation in Scotland is nothing new — if you'll excuse the pun.