Why don’t UK innovators file enough patents?

Of course, many SMEs do understand the value of patents, and routinely file patent applications to protect their innovation. However, UK innovators are lagging behind those in many other countries when it comes to patent ownership.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Japan is one of the leading patent filers of the world, but UK innovators are also lagging behind their European counterparts in, for example, France and Germany.

BUT, Why don’t UK Innovators file enough patents?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively. Cost may be one factor, but I firmly believe that the main factor is a lack of understanding of the value patents can bring to a company. A patent application must be filed before there is any public disclosure of an invention. That means that some of the cost of a patent has to be incurred before the invention has been tested in the market, and before any really accurate predictions of its financial success can be made. It’s a gamble, in some respects.

Some innovators may believe that being the first to market is enough to secure their commercial position. But it so often isn’t! If the innovation looks to be successful, others will jump on the bandwagon, often more quickly than anticipated. And their overheads are likely to be much lower than yours (because they don’t have to bear the R&D costs), so they can probably undercut you on price (and/or damage your quality brand with their inferior copies). Being able to stop them must surely be hugely valuable? So, not filing a patent application before taking something to market is a bigger gamble, in my opinion.
And then there is the deterrent effect of patents – often, innovators don’t even know that their patent has been working for them behind the scenes by deterring potential competitors…the scrupulous ones, anyway.


Innovation in the UK is prolific, but if it isn’t protected, that innovation may well end up being realised (and monetized) elsewhere in the world, leaving the UK innovator inadequately rewarded for their investment in R&D. This, in turn, not only leaves the UK economy worse off than it could have been, but also (it seems to me) will lead to a diminishing desire to invest in R&D in the UK, because without patent protection, it is highly probably that there will be no adequate return on investment. Less investment in R~&D in the UK leads to less innovation and even less UK patent owners. It’s a vicious circle.


It is comforting to know that the UK Intellectual Property Office have recognised the issue and are looking at ways of encouraging more patent filings from UK innovators. They have recently published their IPO Strategy to 2026, with the intention of encouraging UK innovators to recognise and access the full value that our Intellectual Property laws have to offer. I like the way they express their goal:
“The IP system drives innovation and investment which, as set out in the government’s Innovation Strategy, is vital to tackling the world’s largest challenges. We must support those who research, create, collaborate and invent, strengthening the UK’s position as a global science superpower and an innovation nation. We want the UK to be the best place in the world for inventors, creators and innovators to build on their ideas and find success; the IP system is fundamental in achieving these ambitions.”
Lofty ambitions indeed…


But, for now, it’s all just words…and I don’t think the UKIPO can necessarily change the national mindset on its own. There are plenty of people out there that don’t even know there is a UKIPO, let alone what it does (or can do) for them!

I think we, as intellectual property specialists, can do our bit by creating content and resources that help to inform UK innovators about the various types of IP, and what it could do for their business, without blinding them with jargon and complex legal terms and procedures.

And if all stakeholders in UK R&D and investment do their bit, it could change the face of UK innovation for generations to come.


If you need advice about patents, or any other IP matter, please do book a free initial consultation (which is free of cost or obligation and held in the strictest of confidence) by emailing vicki.strachan@strachanip.co.uk or visit our website at https://strachanip.co.uk/contact/

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