15 March 2014

British Business Bank

























The most interesting session at this year's Venturefest Yorkshire was From Concept to Commercialization a panel discussion chaired by Nigel Walker of the Technology Strategy Board. One of the members of the panel was Ken Cooper of the British Business Bank ("BBB"). As I had not heard of the BBB before I buttonholed Mr Cooper on his way out and asked him to tell me a little more about his institution which is described as "a state-backed economic development bank" that supports "economic growth by bringing together public and private sector funds to create more effective and efficient finance markets for smaller businesses in the UK."

Surprisingly the BBB is not a throwback to the days of Harold Wilson or even Gordon Brown but a creation of the present government.  Paragraph 2.116 of HM Treasury's Autumn Statement 2012 contained the following statement:
"Business Bank – As announced by the Chancellor and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in September 2012, the Government will create a Business Bank. It will deploy £1 billion of additional capital to stimulate the private sector market for long-term capital and address structural gaps in the supply of finance to SMEs. As part of this, the Government will co-invest at least £300 million over the next two years, alongside private investors, in channels that will help diversify the sources of finance available to SMEs. The Business Bank will bring together under a single institution the strategy, management and communication of existing government finance schemes for SMEs. In addition, the Government will also seek to bring government-backed business advice services closer together, harmonise their engagement with customers and coordinate them closely with finance interventions, to improve accessibility for SMEs. A number of the Business Bank’s functions will be operational from spring 2013, with the institution becoming fully operational in autumn 2014. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will set out further details later in December 2012."
Mr. Cooper told me that the BBB is at present merely a programme within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills ("BIS").  It is not yet authorized or regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Bank of England. However, Her Majesty's government has applied to the European Commission for confirmation that the BBB will fall outside the prohibition of art 107 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Should HMG's application be successful the programme will be transferred to a public company by the name of the British Business Bank Plc which will provide various types of financial support for small and medium enterprises ("SME").

BIS expects to unlock up to £10 billion of extra funding for SME over the next 5 years and it has set out how it intends to achieve that objective on the "What we do" page of the BBB website. Rather more detail is given in a presentation dated Fed 2014 entitled "British Business Bank Unlocking Finance for British Business."  The presentation notes that SME in the UK invest far less than their competitors in other EU countries and a number of reasons have been identified as to why that is so. These include
  • High market concentration - It is said that there is a highly concentrated market for smaller business lending in the UK, which leads to lack of diversity of financing choices for smaller businesses
  • Viable smaller businesses are not being served well enough
  • Capital constraints on lenders, and
  • Lack of longer term development capital.
The BBB proposes solutions for all those problems. Thus the problem that smaller businesses are not being served well enough will be met by debt programmes, start-up loansenterprise finance guarantee, equity programmes, enterprise capital funds ("ECF"s)ECF Venture Capital CatalystBusiness Angel CoFundUK Innovation Investment Fund and the Aspire Fund.

In his talk in York on Thursday Mr Cooper spoke a little about the Angel CoFund which was created with a £50 m grant from the Regional Growth Fund in 2011. It is a £100m investment fund for promising UK businesses and it is intended to help develop business angel investment in this country. The Angel CoFund works very closely with other business angel networks which are represented by the UK Business Angels Association ("UKBAA") and indeed Mr Cooper is a member of the board of UKBAA.

One of the topics discussed that was discussed for some time on Thursday was intellectual property. Nicole Ballantyne of the GrowthAccelerator and PERA Consulting who was also on the panel said that many businesses were unaware of the IP that they already owned much of which could be converted into revenue. She mentioned an IP audit scheme and spoke of the need to protect IP. When the discussion was opened to the floor I rose to point out the distinction between intellectual assets and intellectual property and that businesses can actually ruin themselves by spending too much time, effort and money on patents and other registered rights that they do not need.

Anyone wishing to take advantage of those programmes, whether as inventor, entrepreneur or investor, will need first class advice not just onIP but also on tax. Uniquely our chambers can provide both.  My colleagues and I in our IP, Technology and Media Law Group can advise on IP strategy, patenting and the like and our colleagues in Atlas Tax Chambers which includes Anne Fairpo can advise on such matters as the patent box and other incentives. Should anyone wish to discuss this article or out services generally, he or she should call us on 020 7404 5252 during office hours, fill out my contact form, tweet me, write on my wall or get in touch through G+, Linkedin or Xing.

23 February 2014

The Role of the Translator

Pieter Bruegel "Tower of Babel"    Source Wikipedia



















If you want a patent for your invention you have to persuade the Intellectual Property Office  that the invention is new and involves an inventive step {see s.1 (1) (a) (b) Patents Act 1977).  S.2 (1) provides that invention shall be taken to be new if it does not form part of the state of the art.  S.3 also refers to the state of the art when explaining what us meant by an inventive step:
"An invention shall be taken to involve an inventive step if it is not obvious to a person skilled in the art, having regard to any matter which forms part of the state of the art by virtue only of section 2(2) above (and disregarding section 2(3) above)."
The term state of the art is one that is used frequently by advertisers and others well outside patent law but what exactly does the phrase mean?

State of the Art
For the purpose of this discussion I shall take the definition provided by s.2 (2) as 
"all matter (whether a product, a process, information about either, or anything else) which has at any time before the priority date of that invention been made available to the public (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere) by written or oral description, by use or in any other way."
It is actually slightly broader than that but we can put that to one side for today. It is everything that has been made available to the public by written or oral description by use or in any other way anywhere in the world. That includes patents and patent applications of course but also academic papers, brochures catalogues, data sheets, web pages - you name it.  And - and this is the crucial bit - the disclosure does not have to be in English. If in some sleepy Swiss canton or the back streets of Algiers someone has anticipated your invention or come so close to your invention that your invention  is obvious you won't get a patent or, if you do get a patent, your grant could be revoked.  As Tommy Cooper used to say: "Just like that."

How to protect yourself
So what do you do about it? Well search! Search as many relevant patents and patent applications as you can. Search also the technical and trade literature. And not just in English. If you happen to know of an academic working in the same field at a Swiss University in some idyllic mountain valley the good professor is likely to publish his results in German.  If your competitor trades in Algiers his first foreign language is likely to be French and that's the language in which he will publish his brochures and data sheets.

But we Brits are very bad linguists. Most of us do French and possibly German up to GCSE and then drop it for A" levels in something else. That is not enough to make sense of a patent specification or article. So what next? Well here's where Alison (or someone like her) comes in.

Alison Penfold
Alison is a freelance technical translator specializing in patents and other intellectual property work. Her languages are French and German and she also knows some Dutch. She is an Associate Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (AITI).  She read French, German and Linguistics at the University of East Anglia and rook a postgraduate diploma in translation and interpreting with distinction from the University of Kent. She worked for Lloyd Wise Tregear as a staff translator between 1987 and 2007 and then for Marks & Clerk between 2007 and 2009. Since then she has practised on her own account.

Revocation Proceedings 
You may also need a translator if you think you are sued or likely to be sued for patent infringement. If possible you will want to claim that the patent is invalid on the ground that the invention was anticipated or obvious having regard to the prior art.  At least some of the materials on which your lawyers or patent attorneys will rely are likely to be in a foreign language for which you will need a translation.

Further Information
If you want to discuss this article or patent law in general, call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message. You can also tweet me, write on my wall or contact me through G+, Linkedin or Xing.

24 December 2013

GrowthAccelerator: the Next Best Thing to Business Link














Until November 2011 there was an integrated business advisory service known as Business Link. It maintained a comprehensive website and a network of local business advisers who advised and assisted up to 10,000 businesses a week between them. Those services were generally of very high quality and were free at the point of use.  Funding for those services was provided by the regional development agencies. When those agencies closed in 2011 the local Business Link network closed with them. The Business Link website survived a little longer but is now absorbed into the gov.uk.

Whether or not the end of Business Link was good bad, there can be no doubt that the service is missed. In the United States the Small Business Administration provides a service that looks very much like that used to be provided by Business Link and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have maintain comprehensive business advice websites. In England there is a range of successor services such as the British Library's Business and IP Centre and its partners in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester. Newcastle and Sheffield (see "Enterprise and Libraries: a New National Network of Business & IP Support" 6 March 2013) and the mentorsme.co.uk (see "'Oh Me. Oh My. I hope the Little Mentor Comes By' - The Banks New Mentoring Network" 22 July 2011).

Possibly the service that comes closest to Business Link is the GrowthAccelerator which I learned about at a presentation after the The Sci-Tech Daresbury Business Breakfast Networking Event on the 22 Nov 2013. GrowthAccelerator describes itself as
"a unique service led by some of the country's most successful growth specialists where you’ll find new connections, new routes to investment and the new ideas and strategy you’ll need for your business to achieve its full potential."
It is a partnership  between Grant Thornton, PERA, Oxford Innovation and The Winning Pitch which claims to have helped over 10,000 businesses since its launch in 2012. It operates by identifying priorities for growth, developing a growth plan and providing coaches to help with the execution of the plan. It provides those services for a fixed fee.

I chatted with several of the presenters after the talk at Daresbury and mentioned the similarity to Business Link. I was not surprised to learn that several of them had been Business Link advisers.  Like Business Link the GrowthAccelerator signposts businesses to other services and opens doors. It holds clinics, seminars and other events on all sorts of topics such as accessing finance and marketing. Business owners who want to learn more can request a free consultation through the company's website.

If you want to discuss this article or any other related topic give me a call during business hours on 020 7404 5252 or fill out my contact form. You can also reach me on Facebook, G+, Linkedin, twitter and Xing, Merry Christmas.

30 November 2013

So You've Invented a Mousetrap ....

House Mouse                                                                            Source Wikipedia


















 ...... And you're waiting for the world's mousetrap manufacturers to beat a path to your door. Hate to mention it to you old chap but you may be in for a very long wait. You may have the best, cheapest, coolest mousetrap ever but that is not necessarily what the murine disposal industry is looking for.

What they are probably looking for are increased profits and your invention may not actually deliver that to them. In fact, it may reduce their profits - at least in the short term - as your product may require new tooling and a lot of marketing.  If customers are satisfied with an existing product it is not be in a manufacturer's interests to change it unless he is forced to do so to retain market share.

if you have invented a product that is likely to render everything else on the market obsolete then you may have to make (or have it made) and market it yourself as James Dyson did with his bagless cleaner. Despite its obvious advantages, no British manufacturer would take a licence for Dyson's invention because it would have undermined the market in replacement bags which was very profitable to the industry.

If for whatever reason self-manufacture and marketing is not an option, licensing your invention is not an easy option.  You have to sell not only your invention to your intended licensee but also the advantages of taking a licence from you as a business proposition.  And you can expect a "yes" only if the advantages of doing business with you clearly exceed all other available uses of the licensee's resources.  You are likely to do that only if you produce what is in effect a business plan for the licensing proposition backed up with the same sort of market research and financial forecasts that you would produce for your own start-up business.

If you do get a "yes" you have to negotiate and draft your licence agreement very carefully. Remember that the loyalties of your licensee's management lie not to you but to their shareholders who may often be themselves.  It is in their shareholders' interests to drive the hardest possible bargain with you and, if possible, cut you out altogether. You therefore need good professional advice from lawyers, patent attorneys and others in negotiating and drafting the licence agreement.  Make sure, for instance, that your intellectual property covers not just the technology but also (so far as possible) the business opportunity. Also negotiate clauses ensuring minimum royalties, regular information about costs, production, sales and marketing, cost-effective and speedy dispute resolution.  It is a sad fact of life that good professional advice does not come cheap.

Having set up and chaired inventors' clubs in Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield, having run IP clinics throughout the North and having practised intellectual property law for many years I am very aware of the problems of licensing and how to avoid or mitigate them from the perspectives of both licensors and licensees.  If you want to discuss this article or any other issue relating to your invention or licensing give me a call during business hours on 020 7404 5252 or fill out my contact form.   You can also reach me on Facebook, G+, Linkedin, twitter and Xing,  Enjoy your weekend.

13 October 2013

Another Look at Crowd Funding

Roger Tipple at Sheffield Inventors' Group 7 Oct 2013
















The speaker at Sheffield Inventors Group on 7 Oct 2013 was Roger Tipple of Tipple Associates. Roger is Sheffield Central Library's innovator in residence and the title of his talk was "Getting your Product to Market". One of the topics he discussed was funding and one of his suggestions for raising seed capital was crowd funding.

Crowd funding is appealing for funds from the public over the Internet.  As it has become harder to raise investment or borrow from conventional investors and lenders and indeed harder for investors to invest and lenders to lend a new type of financial institution has evolved that puts entrepreneurs and investors and lenders in touch with each other.  One of those institutions is Bloom VC which I discussed in "Crowd Funding: No Waffle" on 12 May 2011.  Since I wrote that article Bloom claims in its "About" page to have raised a total of £269,000 for such businesses as "Bonnie Bling" (a bespoke jewellery company) and "The Ecosse Candle Company" (which makes candles).

Nesta (the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) has published "An Introduction to Crowdfunding" and "Working the Crowd, a short guide to crowdfunding and how it can work for you". It has also set up a website called CrowdingIn at http://www.crowdingin.com which has a searchable database of crowdfunding institutions or platforms in the UK.

There are a number of obvious legal difficulties with crowdfunding such as s.755 of the Companies Act 2006 which prohibits private companies offering securities to the public and s.19 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 which requires most financial services to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority ("FCA"). In its note on Crowdfunding of 4 June 2013 the FCA expressed the view that:
"most crowdfunding should be targeted at sophisticated investors who know how to value a startup business, understand the risks involved and that investors could lose all of their money."
It warned that
"investors in a crowdfund have little or no protection if the business or project fails, and that they will probably lose all their investment if it does."
The FCA also expressed concern that
"some firms involved in crowdfunding may be handling client money without our permission or authorisation, and therefore may not have adequate protection in place for investors."
However, some crowdfunding platforms have sought and been granted such authorization from the FCA, The Business Secretary appears to be encouraging crowdfunding (see Michael McDowell "CBI and Vince Cable encourage businesses to look to crowdfunding" 22 May 2013 The MoneyLab Blog). Finally there is now a UK Crowd Funding Association.

As always, send me a message through my contact form or call me on 020 7404 5252 during normal office hours if you want to discuss this article. You can also tweet me, write on my wall or send me a message through G+, Linkedin or Xing.

12 October 2013

Politicians wrangle at Inventors' Expense











The 18th Annual Independent Inventors Conference should have taken place this weekend at the US Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO"). Sadly, it won't because it has been cancelled. It is a victim of the wrangling between US politicians over the implementation of  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

It would have been a very interesting conference.  Highlights would have included talks by:
  • Teresa Stanek Rea, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Acting Director of the USPTO;
  • Peggy Focarino, Commissioner for Patents, USPTO;
  • Lori Greiner, inventor, entrepreneur and TV personality on the US equivalent of "Dragons' Den"; and
  • Woody Norris, another well known popular inventor.
There would also have been presentations, workshops, and one to one advisory sessions with senior USPTO officials and others who would have provided information and answered questions about patents and trade marks. The USPTO intends to reschedule this conference as and when circumstances allow I sincerely hope that it can.

As I noted in "US Patent and Trade Mark Office helps Independent Inventors" 11 Sept 2005 which was one of my first posts to this blog the USPTO does a lot for independent inventors and small and medium enterprises in the USA. Its website has a whole section devoted to inventors with useful information on patenting, trade mark registration and local information services.  The IPO could certainly learn a lot from the USPTO.

The conference is, of course, the flagship event and it would be good to hold a similar event here. Such a conference need not be run by the IPO. It could be organized by universities, law firms, patent agencies, the PatLib libraries pr even by inventors.  If anyone here would like to be involved in such a conference please get in touch. You can send me a message through my contact form or call me on 020 7404 5252 during normal office hours. Also you can also tweet, write on my wall or send me a message through G+, Linkedin or Xing.

17 September 2013

Inventors' Diary


Two events likely to be of interest to inventors and their investors are:

For more information on both events, seem my article "Forthcoming Events: Angel News VCT and EIS Investor Forum and Anne Fairpo to speak to AIPPI UK on the Patent Box" 16 Sept 2013 Patent Box blog.