back to article Patents do not protect small firms, says trade body

Patents do not give protection to inventive small businesses because they are impossible to enforce, an organisation claiming to represent small technology companies has said. In an open letter (two-page/486KB PDF) to Government ministers, the group said that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are not able to take …


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  1. Pahhh

    Thats only the start...

    Fighting against someone infringing your patents is a tiny part of the problem for small firms.

    The initial problem is it cost real money to create the patents in the first place. Its not difficult to rack up legal bills of £5k-£10k per patent. If you can't afford to do that then you can fall foul of someone a few years later creating a patent for something you've already developed. Then you've got the nightmare situation of demonstrating prior art.

    Which brings me to my next point. Large companies throwing often bogus patents at anyone that comes close to the solution. As a small company its hard to defend although the larger companies tend to prefer to pick on other large players.

    And finally, patents can be a major hindrance to raising venture capital. VC want to say patents but not only that , they want to see that your offering isnt infringing on other patents. Patent checks can also be an extremely expensive activity if you intend someone to provide an "Opinion" that ther are no infringements.

    Then there are those dormant patents that are waiting to trap companies. The idea has not been implemented, the patent is vague and all the patents have done is hamstrung anyone that is actually trying to produce something for real.

    I understand the need for patents on things like drugs where the cost of research and then drug approval necessitates your effort is protected. But there isnt a place for software patents, they hinder innovation rather than promote it.

  2. Sillyfellow

    intentional ?

    i think that this situation is perfectly intentional.

    large corporations stomp all over the little people, like taking candy from a baby.

    if a 'little' individual (who's not well funded) invents something potentially profitable then the corporates are able to use their substantial resources to do as they please, because the lowly individual (or small company) can never afford such a battle, and would effectively get wiped out. besides, you'd be amazed at the lies and fake 'proof' that the wealthy are able to produce.. because money talks.

    let's not forget that it's _Individuals_ that innovate and invent. and so large corporates would want to throw their weight around to ensure ownership of said potential profits, to the best of their ability. fair or otherwise. in fact fairness has nothing to do with companies, which only exist to make profit.

    1. MrT

      Case in point...

      Dyson vs. Hoover, 2000 - James Dyson mortgaged everything he had to protect his IP and spent 18 months fighting to win $5million or so from Hoover.

      Decent IP legal advice goes a long way for SMEs who need to know early on whether the battle is worth fighting. Consulting an IP specialist early on can help to create the appropriate patent so that any future court case can be on as sure a footing as possible.

  3. The IPKat

    SMEIA attack on patents

    The SMEIA has succeeded in grabbing some headlines, but the patent system is far from useless for SMEs, both in the UK and elsewhere. We all know that the expense of enforcing patents can be horrendous and that small businesses are far less able to bear the burden than are big ones. But the SMEIA does not appear to have noticed or welcomed the revamping of the Patents County Court in October, with a new regime for handling patent disputes and a bright, responsive judge, which is designed to tackle the problems. Incidentally, the vast majority of patents are never infringed or litigated throughout their term of protection -- but many are sold, licensed, pooled and used as security for finance.

    Since the SMEIA purports to speak for SMEs, it would be great to know how many members it has, and whether it is more representative of SMEs than, for example, the CBI -- which also claims to speak for them.

    1. Steve McIntyre

      Spoken like someone with a vested interest...

      Of course you're going to support them.

      It's clear to the majority of the people actually working in technology industries that the patent system is broken. That's intentional, and down to the lawyers. Who benefits from it? Oh, the lawyers...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Department of the bleeding obvious

    I just wish I held the patent for "a method and apparatus for the deposit of ursine waste material in the vicinity of deciduous/coniferous, carbon based structures"

    Now that would be a good one to uphold in a court of law!

  5. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Too costly

    They cost too much in the UK as well. What use are they if you've got to spend a few thousand pounds to register one?

    Probably why UK inventors sell ideas to the US so much.

  6. Raumkraut

    What did you say little man?

    Hello, Mr. BigCorp. We have this great new product we've patented. Would you like to license it?

    Well hello Mr. SME. We'll certainly take a look at it.

    - time passes -

    Hello again Mr. BigCorp. It looks like your newly announced product will infringe on our patent.

    Hello Mr. SME. It looks to us like your main and only product infringes on over 100 of our generic and overly broad patents. Would you like to license them for an extortionate amount, or shall we meet in court where you can discuss the matter with our lawyers (who last year got a bonus larger than the total value of your company)?

  7. John Lilburne

    What the fuck good will that do?

    The current Government (just like the last) is full of spivs with deep connections into to mega corporations.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hear Hear.

    It is about time that this whole mess was sorted out and brought up to date.

  9. Stef 1


    The SMEIA could do worse than consider the recent £50k costs cap introduced in the PCC (Patents County Court). Basically, do their homework before spouting.

    This cap was recently introduced, specifically for facilitating SME's access to IP (Patent/TM/Design) litigation. Its net effect is that the max costs to be incurred (respectively by the claimant and the defendant) in that particular forum is £50k, end of (because a PCC costs award cannot exceed it).

    After that, it's the claiming SME's choice to go PCC (with cap, £50k) or High Court (without cap, £m).

    And after all that, patent litigation is like any other litigation: no point going through with it, unless the claimant stands to land a net benefit out of it.

  10. Britt Johnston

    True, but...

    What should the British Government do about foreign companies copying? I can't imagine them wanting to prosecute on behalf of British industry. That would be an even quicker route to national bankrupcy than supporting bankers.

    I had a friend who patented a squash referee's chair, which had legs long enough to place it around the court entrance. Predictably, he spent more maintaining the patents than he made from sales. Patents are not intended to make money for small companies.

    The IT patent field is a particular mess, which additionally favours rich large companies. Here, SMEs aim should be to protect themselves from gratuitous legal attacks, by publishing their inventions (e.g. open source), or by working in secret (e.g. use compiled code). These methods cost nothing.

    1. lucmars

      That's not the main point

      You can hide your code or else, that won't prevent you to be attacked when the main problem is that you can't afford to go in court.

  11. paulc

    Dust off and nuke it from orbit

    it's the only way to be sure or getting rid of the currently seriously borked patent system...

    Try reading a patent... they're impenetrable and most certainly do not enable one skilled in the art to reproduce the claimed invention. To whit, they're useless. Bring back the requirements for a working model of the invention... that would get rid of most of the useless idea patents we have.

    You know the type: "Selling candy to babies, but with a computer..." or "selling candy to babies using an internet site"... oh how so non-obvious... anything that looks or smells like just an idea should not be allowed unless accompanied with a working model or source code that can successfully compile and when run actually does what is claimed on the box...

    1. Tom 13

      There's an idea I can get behind!

      Bring back the model requirement. That'll do in those damned business process patents too.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The fix is simple.

    A patent is a government granted monopoiy.

    So, stop granting monopolies.

    There you are, the problem of patent attack/defence has gone away.

    Where is the large wooden spoon icon when you need it?

  13. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Totally without clue. How about abolishing patents?

    "SMEIA chair John Mitchell told the Daily Telegraph that smaller companies could not afford to defend themselves in court and that a "patent defence fund" should be made available to them so that they could afford to take part in major patent suits with large corporations."

    The usual.

    "Dear Mr. Government. The current situation, as set up by well-paid lobbyists and wined-and-dined parliamentarians, turns out to shaft the little guy. Could you please hold a gun to the taxpayer's head so that the little guy will keep the impression that you want to "help him" a little bit longer? The money can be transferred to the following account...

    Sincerely etc."

  14. JaitcH

    Canadian 'David' slew the Microsoft 'Giant'

    When the Toronto-based i4i Inc. sued the thieving Microsoft and scored $290-million and a cease shipping order on software.

    Just proves little guys can win.

    1. dpg21

      Bit of a lottery though...

      Why bother having a job then? just buy a lottery ticket! I saw Mrs Jones from Doncaster won a few million the other week, I'll be set for life when mine wins too.

  15. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    Bears are catholic

    Well, d'uh.

    Of course patents don't protect the little guys or encourage innovation. But that's not what they were designed for, despite what it says on the tin.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patents vs Copyright

    Why does a patent cost £££ but I can assert copyright on other classes of creative work for nothing?

    1. wookey

      Copyright and patents are entirely different

      Because they are entirely different legal mechanisms, confusingly lumped together (along with design rights and trademarks) under the term 'intellectual property'. One is protection against wholesale copying of actual work, the other is a monopoly on a (supposedly unique) idea. Copyright is simple to manage because it automatically exists in a piece of work. Patents are very expensive to manage because each idea must be tested against all previous ideas to see if it is new and unique. This is of course impossible, which is one reason why the system works so badly, but it's also very expensive even to try, hence the large charges.

      The most iniquitous thing about patents is that even if you do independently come up with the same idea (something that happens all the time) this is no defence. I don't know about you, but the very idea that it should be wrong to solve a problem just because someone else already solved it seems wrong to me, and there should be really good evidence of a benefit to overturn that obvious concept of fairness.

      It is possible that patents once had a use in mechanical engineering, and maybe even that they still have a use in drug development. But study after study has shown that their deleterious effects outweigh their benefits in most spheres, and in fact it has probably always been true everywhere (consider the example of Watt's patent stifling steam-engine development, and modern issues of access to drugs in the third world). Dyson is a rare counterexample showing the system working more or less as it should (although the experience has made Dyson a huge critic of the system too), but mostly we see the hopeless mess that prevails in the digital world of codecs and mobile phone patents - that lot is nothing but a huge net drag on real progress.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: Copyright and patents are entirely different

        > It is possible that patents once had a use in mechanical ...

        Is the issue more fundamental, in that the bar of "uniqueness" is too low. For example: should Watt have been awarded the patent? was his work an "engineering improvement" rather than "new and unique solution"? Most modern patents appear to be attempts to create a "new and unqiue solution" from tiny changes. Should patents be reserved for the more major advances, like "moving a piston in a cylinder with steam"?


  17. Pal Sahota

    How can someone get a patent on something done over 20 years ago?

    My name is Pal Sahota and the company name is Pal Systems Ltd. My case is regarding Google being granted a 'patent' on instant search. This is the same technology I invented it in 1989 and I called it search-as-you-type. Google are calling it under a few names including Search-as-you-Type (SayT). This can be looked up by searching Google search-as-you-type including their demo video.

    The name of search-as-you-type was coined by me and used as our branded product and this can be clearly seen in the newspaper articles in my blog at under searchasyoutype.

    There are also two videos made in 1991 which can also be seen from this blog.

    Watching these videos it can be clearly seen that the data is accessed in the same way as shown in the above Google demo!

    My product Autodispens used search-as-you-type everywhere and not just for accessing data. I believe that every type of “real time parsing algorithm” application is covered in this extensive program and this was done in DOS and on the very first PC’s. Am I going to have to pay royalties to use my own product done in 1989!

    Until 2008 software in the UK was not patentable but was automatically covered under the copyright law. Is the US undermining UK copyright laws! There are dozens of concepts that I have developed based on this. I am also on twitter under searchasyoutype.

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