back to article Patent trolls, innovation and Brexit: What the FT won't tell you

In 2017, the EU is going to open the Unified Patent Court. This court will make it much easier for patent trolls and corporations in the US – armed with dodgy patent applications and IP attorneys – to reach into the UK and strangle your startup at birth. Think about it. Last week the Financial Times reported that two-thirds of …

  1. FuzzyWuzzys

    ' Last week the Financial Times reported )that two-thirds of patent cases in the US are now brought by "patent trolls". '

    Now who'd a dun thunk it?!

    1. Mark 85

      Sorry, lawyers seem to be a protected species and their breeding is out of control. Maybe we need (here in the States) to have an "open season" on lawyers. At least some people will find a use for all the ammo they've stockpiling.

      1. bonkers

        I predicted this in 2014

        Nooooo !!

        1) Herd all the European Patent Law into one stadium

        2) Make it drink the cool-aid

        3) Bring the EU and US systems "into line"

        4) Increase the patent lifetime to 75 years

        Makes 30 Trillion look like chickenshit.

        - basically, in the new lawyer-driven world, IP rights are a good means to tax the rest of the planet, or at least all those with a trading relationship with the USA. They prefer their patents to be granted freely, more IP to threaten others with, they don't even need to be original FFS, whereas ours do.

        They spent countless money and lives on securing the last of the oil, what do you do when the oil runs out? - increase the patent lifetime and draw royalties from everyone and everything.

  2. graeme leggett Silver badge


    "According to the EPO's statistics for 2015, they grant the highest number of patents to the US (22 per cent), with the UK trailing in a distant seventh place with only 3 per cent of the total (this is disturbingly small for a so-called "knowledge economy".

    "So what," you may be thinking, "

    I'm thinking without knowing how whether these are all 'tech' patents or how many patents are applied for by relevant nations, or reasons for rejection, I cannot discern anything about these values.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Hmmm. What to do.

    Start getting the EU to look at all those BS US patents?

    Delay the EU wide patent court?

    Get a strike down in the EU Court to be accepted in the US, ending the BS flow at source (and opening the flood gates to counter litigation in the US from victims of the trolls) ?

    Oh no that's all too much like hard work, let's leave the EU instead.

    No, I think not.

    1. P. Lee

      Re: Hmmm. What to do.

      Surely the point is that the larger the democracy, the less responsive it is to the people and the more prone to corruption it is, with a single leverage point and vast influence.

      Dealing with lots of smaller nations makes it much harder to pull off a fait accompli, more likely that someone will throw a patent out and that may lead to the patent being over-turned, even where it has already been granted.

      That's before we go anywhere near the point that the EU is not a sovereign country and there is no particular reason to have one law. If we mess up our patent system, at least we don't have to try to convince the whole of Europe that we need to fix it - we can do it ourselves, and we can do so more easily on our own than if we have to drag the the rest of the EU with us.

      You may like the patent laws, but what happens when you've given sovereignty away and you have to deal with French-style labour laws? "Ever closer union," remember? Unfortunately, democracy scales badly. We don't have it for its own sake, we have it to allow self-determination, but law is mostly about quashing differences. The more differences you have with the fewer differences in laws, the more quashing is taking place.

      When people feel persistently thwarted they do things like electing Donald Trump, or Le Pen, or support Robespierre.

  4. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    You are also making the very dubious assumption that the UK post-Brexit would not just roll over and do what the US wanted on IP law giving us just as much, if not more, trouble.

    1. Vimes

      Not to mention that the UK itself with or without the EU hasn't been the best place to come up with new ideas over recent years.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      It's possible certain that the UK government will pass all sorts of rubbish laws in the future. As will the EU. The difference is that we can get rid of UK governments at regular intervals, and replace them with ones that will fix some of those laws. It is admittedly true that democracy is a blunt instrument, unless you go for the Swiss referenda-on-everything model, so only a few bad laws are going to get enough public focus to be changed.

      But that's still better than the EU model. Where once the hugely complex rigmarole of passing EU laws has happened, there's not only no political will to fix the problem, but there's active resistaance from teh system to go back and look at stuff again. And there's no democratic pressure that reaches that level. Youth unemployment in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain has been over 40% for more than 5 years now, and there's still no serious moves underway to solve the Eurozone crisis. And that's despite massive political turmoil in those countries. What chance anything like patent law problems getting any political attention?

      Not that there aren't many good reasons to stay in the EU, and shape policy. But if you can't at least see the huge democratic deficit then you're just not looking properly.

      1. Steve the Cynic

        "we can get rid of UK governments at regular intervals"

        Pedantry strikes again! The intervals are not fixed. They are capped at five years, but they can be shorter. They are usually only a bit shorter than five years, but in 1974 we had two general elections in one year.

        1. Vimes

          @Steve the Cynic


          The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 provides for general elections to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years.

          1. paulc

            Re: @Steve the Cynic

            unless the Government loses a supply bill or a fails to survive a vote of confidence... sadly, there's too many Blairites who will scupper that...

            1. DavCrav

              Re: @Steve the Cynic

              "unless the Government loses a supply bill or a fails to survive a vote of confidence... sadly, there's too many Blairites who will scupper that..."

              In fact, because of Parliamentary Sovereignty -- the idea that Parliament cannot bind future parliaments -- all they need is a simple majority to repeal the act.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "we can get rid of UK governments at regular intervals"

          Absolutely. And with extreme prejudice - time to bring out the pitch-forks and burning brands again!

          Guy Fawkes - the last man to enter parliment with honest intentions.

      2. Vimes

        @I ain't Spartacus

        Interesting you should mention Switzerland: you recall that referendum they had a while back on limiting immigration? The EU refused to so much as discuss it after those wanting more stringent limits won, and made it clear to the Swiss that any such curb would result in loss of access to the single market.

        That's essentially where we would end up: passing meaningless votes that have zero impact on the end result. Our parliament would be 'sovereign' of course but in reality it would mean next to nothing.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: @I ain't Spartacus


          That depends on the area of policy. Short of armed force or economic pressure, no government can enforce its voters' demands on another. The difference with being in the EU is that it interferes with our legal system as well. Something we're quite vulnerable to, having no written constitution and a different legal system to the rest of the continent. Also Norway has to comply with "only" about 1,700 pieces of EU primary and secondary legislation. For us it's over 11,000. They're only involved in trade and free movement matters - we also have CAP, fisheries, foreign policy, energy, environment, justice, economic, tax etc.

          Now the Swiss have democracy. They told their government to negotiate, it's tried, and looks to have failed. So the voters know what's on offer, and can choose the policy they want, knowing the cost.

          If our government fails in EU negotiations, we have to lump it. Except in this one specific case. You can only do the referendum once a generation. Even there, we got the bare minimum it was thought might work, rather than a sensible discussion on desperately needed reform. That contempt for the voters may have destroyed the EU. Just like telling the Swiss voters to fuck off may destroy that trade deal. And ignoring the Italian, Greek and Spanish voters may eventually destroy the Euro. Actually and the German voters. They were also lied to when they joined the Euro - and their government are still lying now. Claiming Greece can pay them back. It can't. They could have bailed Greece out in 2010 for €10 billion. The cost now is at least 10 times that, plus much German and EU credibility, and also shame. They claim to be the moral ones now, but history will not be kind to Merkel.

          I was a reluctant in voter until the day last year the ECB broke all treaty law and common sense to deliberately destroy the Greek banking system and democracy. Under heavy pressure from Germany. They also brought down the Greek government in 2012, destroying the Pasok party, and forced Spain and Italy to change policies under threat of destroying the credibility of their government bonds. Which also brought down the Italian government. Not a sad loss admittedly, it was Berlusconi's last. But democracy is important - and those actions crossed a line. Hubris may soon meet Nemesis. I'd have preferred reform though, it's safer.

    3. Triggerfish

      @ Paul Crawford

      Literally my thoughts when reading P.Lees comments.

  5. Pat Att

    Few problems with this....

    There are a few flaws in your piece:

    You say:

    "This activity is primarily enabled by the US's massively dysfunctional patent system, a system that will rubber-stamp patent applications often with minimal vetting - resulting in a system choked with applications ranging from the spurious to the wildly ludicrous"

    The US Patent office does not "rubber stamp" patent applications with minimal vetting. In my experience as a patent attorney, they examine them and throw them out based upon bad understanding of the technology, and you have to fight pretty hard to convince the examiner they are wrong. They are not great at their job, but they tend to go the opposite way to what you are suggesting.

    You go on to say:

    "Some time later we were alerted that an American company had been granted a patent in the US for a similar technology and that they were trying to register the patent in Europe. We contacted the European Patent Office and provided links to our prior art in the public domain, and the US patent application was duly dismissed by the EPO as illegitimate."

    This makes no sense. The EPO cannot influence a US patent application, and same goes vice versa. I presume you mean that the company applied at the EPO for a patent similar to their US one, and you alerted the EPO to the existence of your case. In such a circumstance it's pretty likely that the EPO would have found your case anyway, and used that against the application. It does help however to submit prior art to the EPO that you are aware of (which is free to do, and very straightforward - look up the filing of observations at the EPO if you wish to do it)

    You say:

    " In other words, Europe wasn't vetting US patents, and neither was the wider tech community – consequently dodgy patents from the US were pouring into Europe unchecked."

    The EPO don't vet US patents as I said earlier. They have no standing there. And the EPO will provide a very rigorous examination of any applications made to it by US companies, as they will to all other applicants.

    1. Justicesays

      Re: Few problems with this....


      629647 applications

      325979 grants

      (source, USPTO website)

      USPTO Employees: 10000 (source, USPTO website)

      10000 =2600000 person days

      2600000 / 629647 = average 4.1 person days per patent application.

      Assuming all employees are patent attorneys (unlikely).

      Is 4 days enough for a vigorous appraisal?

      1. Uffish

        Re: Is 4 days enough....

        To play the devil's advocate, it seems the examiners do an automated search for prior art and send the top ten results to the applicant’s attorney. Three or four iterations of this procedure will have most of the work done by the applicant's attorney at the applicant's expense.

        1. Justicesays

          Re: Is 4 days enough....

          "Three or four iterations of this procedure will have most of the work done by the applicant's attorney at the applicant's expense."

          This just results in the applicant making sure that the patent is described in very "technical" (and co-incidentally textually unique) ways, so automated searches don't bring up anything.

          Thus explaining why most patents sound like gibberish but translate into "something you already knew about but on a mobile device/social network/cloud"

      2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Few problems with this....

        By itself, 325979 patent grants in 2015 is sufficient evidence that the US patent system is a barrier to innovation.

    2. Steve the Cynic

      Re: Few problems with this....

      "the US patent application was duly dismissed by the EPO as illegitimate"

      I read this as meaning "The application in the EU by the US firm was duly dismissed by the EPO".

    3. BitterExScientist

      Re: Few problems with this....

      @patt attn

      I'd argue it's just needing to get more than one rubber stamp, which is even worse for innovation.

      1. Note that you say "based upon bad understanding of the technology" which means the result has little to do with a accurate assessment of the technology.

      2. The patent attorneys I've always worked with said that if you get accepted immediately, you weren't nearly aggressive enough with the claims. A few rounds almost always got a patent passed, independent of examiner grumpyness.

      So, in all, the process is a matter of getting several rubber stamps, and the expense only affect those who can't afford the billable hours (small businesses).

  6. BarryUK

    So why is Brexit the answer?

    Ok, the problem is legitimate, but why is Brexit the answer? Let's say we leave the EU and you have your startup here - patent trolls will still be able to prevent you selling in EU or US markets under the scenario you paint. Furthermore, they will be able to licence the technology to another company which could then sell your innovation around the world.

    Surely, as with so many problems the Brexit campaign likes to dump at the EU's door, the best option for Britain is to remain in the EU fighting for our interests, not to leave and hope we can succeed with the North Korea model.

    1. James Anderson

      Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

      Its just one of many many areas where the EU acts against the UKs interest.

      The main thrust of the article is that the FT article said that this lax and expensive patent regime was beneficial to the UK quoting only IP lawyers -- all of whom stand to gain from a flawed and dysfunctional patent system.

      If you really want to look at how the EU "benefits" the UK -- take a look at the fishing industry. British waters are over fished while British fishing ports are in economic ruin.

      1. apr400

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        > The main thrust of the article is that the FT article

        > said that this lax and expensive patent regime was

        > beneficial to the UK quoting only IP lawyers -- all

        > of whom stand to gain from a flawed and

        > dysfunctional patent system.

        I'm an inventor, with patents in a variety of territories, and it's the current system that is flawed, dysfunctional and expensive (particularly the last). It's bad enough that I have to revisit office actions over and over again on an international basis as the patents proceed through various countries patent offices, racking up agent and lawyer fees, and multiple maintenance fees, but why on earth should I have to pay for filings and maintenance on a per country basis within europe with the application processed through a single organization but the (significant) cost differentiated by the EU countries I want cover in.

        If patent trolling is a problem then deal with it directly, rather than by keeping the currently horrendously complicated system as is.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge


          I think one of the problems with patents in Europe is that they are not nearly expensive enough. Having to repeat the same actions in every country in Europe is one of the few benefits of the current system. Perhaps you would like to post a few of your patent numbers so the rest of us commentards can tell you how much we think you should have paid to get them granted.

      2. dajames

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        Its just one of many many areas where the EU acts against the UKs interest.


        Its just one of many many areas where the EU acts against Europe's interests.

        1. H in The Hague

          Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

          "Its just one of many many areas where the EU acts against Europe's interests."

          Very funny, I'm sure.

          But as far as I'm aware the European patent system has nothing to do with the EU, it's covered by a different treaty:

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        It didn't help that British fishermen crashed the fishing stocks long before the CFP (otherwise why would British boats be just off Icelandic beaches?) and then sold their quotas to Spanish fishermen.

        The problem with fishing is nothing to do with the EU and everything to do with fishermen refusing to stop fishing until they have emptied the seas.

        1. Suricou Raven

          Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

          "The problem with fishing is nothing to do with the EU and everything to do with fishermen refusing to stop fishing until they have emptied the seas."

          Yes, but their refusal is understandable. Fishing is more than a job, it's a way of life. Those stubborn fishermen learned the trade from their fathers, who learned it from their fathers, who learned it from their fathers. Whole towns have been supported by fishing and the associated support industries. It's not that they refuse to stop fishing: It's that they can't stop, not without giving up their local identity.

      4. davenewman

        Got fishing wrong

        The European Parliament changed the common fisheries policy to allow countries to set up protected marine reserves, in which the fish can recover from overfishing. The UK government have refused to set up more than a small portion of the reserves recommended by scientists (and often local fishermen).

        The fishing ports are suffering because of previous overfishing by really large boats their industrial overlords lobbied for.

        Yes it was crazy for politicians representing fishing ports to increase quotas above what is scientifically sustainable. A European Parliament committee, led by a Swedish Green MEP changed that, co-ordinated with external protests led by Hugh Fearnley-Witttingstall.

        So it is possible to change from within, as long as we reduce the powers of the national governments who seem to always push the lines from lobbyists. MEPs have constituencies with voters to take care of.

        1. Paul Shirley

          Re: Got fishing wrong

          If patent trolling is a problem then deal with it directly, rather than by keeping the currently horrendously complicated system as is.

          And that's the heart of Brexit: all problems are solved by running away and sticking your head in the sand. Quite how that avoids a global issue like patent abuse is a mystery but it's just got to be easier than fixing the real problem. Hasn't it?

          as long as we reduce the powers of the national governments

          I see this as the biggest problem with Europe, govs that talk big about reform but sit on their hands if there's the slightest chance it might steal any of their power.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        "British waters are over fished while British fishing ports are in economic ruin."

        People with short memories. Fishing was in decline from before when we joined the EU. Again, as I post above, the failure of our politicians and civil servants to work well in the Commission has been our biggest problem.

      6. H in The Hague

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        "Its just one of many many areas where the EU acts against the UKs interest."

        I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I'm aware the EU has nothing to do with the European patent system - as far as I'm aware that is governed by the European Patent Convention

        That would not be affected by Brexit.

        So why are even discussing that here? (And you know what, Brexit isn't going to magically dissolve all those other international conventions and treaties the UK is party to either.)

        "If you really want to look at how the EU "benefits" the UK -- take a look at the fishing industry. "

        Excellent example, thank you for mentioning that. As it happens fish aren't aware of the international borders across the North Sea, etc. So if you want to prevent overfishing (us oldies remember that) you have to set quotas internationally. Not something a country can do in isolation (and since you ask, I live about a mile away from a fishing port and read about the issues in the local paper and, occasionally, in a fishing industry publication). It's quite possible that without the EU we might not have any fishing industry left.

    2. Xamol

      Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

      BarryUK nailed it.

      Leaving the EU becuase you don't like the new patent laws is a childish, 'toy out of the pram' response that would massively backfire. It leaves UK companies having to patent in the UK but still having to deal with EU and US patent laws (and courts) unless they only want to do business in the UK.

      What's worse though is that the above is the best case scenario where any trade deals with the EU and US don't include the UK changing its patent laws to be more in line with those larger, more powerful and influential trading partners.

      The whole Brexit campaign (on both sides) is descending into farce. VoteLeave have a 'leave the EU hammer' and now all of the UK's problems have started to look like nails, while Remain is stuck with a negative campaign because they can't articulate the benefits that are already part of everyday life. I fear where this is going...

      1. subject

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        If anyone cares to get a neutral "reality-check" on their voting decision, the Bar Council has released four non-partisan papers on all things Brexit and non-Brexit.,-fact-based-report-on-european-union-membership/

        I think many, perhaps all, of the contributors on both sides of this discussion could benefit from checking out the parts that interest them.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

      "the best option for Britain is to remain in the EU fighting for our interests"

      That would involve a whole lot of politicians and civil servants having to learn some foreign languages, an area where the UK education system has been disinvesting for years. During the 1980s and 1990s we had some very high quality civil servants working in the EU and it showed.

      Our problems with the EU are entirely due to its neglect by our political class, and we should be holding them to account for this. Instead we have allowed people like Farage to make the climate because the British public can't be bothered to think, so the voters have themselves to blame as well.

      1. subject

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        @Voyna: indeed. And Britain used to punch well above its weight in the EU bureaucracy. However, during the last decade we've gone from "winning" over 97% of the council votes all the way down to a disastrous 86%. No wonder our politicians are upset, we're now beating even Germany in our dissatisfaction. On the bright side, I suppose it's good we can still beat the Germans at something...

        Note about half of that 14% shortfall are abstentions - if our politicians remembered to vote on proposals for European legislation we'd have some clarity on the final figure. A bit like the way we often don't bother exercising our right as a Member State to make submissions in European Court of Justice cases, and then whinge about the result after the fact... How convenient.

        And so in fairness much of the reason for the colossal public ignorance in Britain of all things EU (including both sides of the Brexit "sham debate") is the fault of our politicians, media, and chattering classes.

        (At least our business sector isn't so bad - for example, in respect of the recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation, British business is only the second most ignorant in Europe)

      2. Lars Silver badge

        Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

        @ Voyna i Mor

        "That would involve a whole lot of politicians and civil servants having to learn some foreign languages".

        Do you actually understand that the British are the ones who have the highest chance of being understood in they native language in the EU. No other country/language in the EU has that advantage, no even close. As for education, it should and could always be better but I am not all that worried about the British.

        Not related to your comment at all, but I have been wondering about the Brexit people who for some reason seem to claim the UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world.

        Still what I find is this list. Not that it should matter but when claims are dubious it starts to sound a bit Trumpish to say the least.


        Rank Country GDP (PURCHASING POWER PARITY) Date of Information

        1 China $19,390,000,000,000 2015 est.

        2 European Union $19,180,000,000,000 2015 est.

        3 United States $17,950,000,000,000 2015 est.

        4 India $7,965,000,000,000 2015 est.

        5 Japan $4,830,000,000,000 2015 est.

        6 Germany $3,841,000,000,000 2015 est.

        7 Russia $3,718,000,000,000 2015 est.

        8 Brazil $3,192,000,000,000 2015 est.

        9 Indonesia $2,842,000,000,000 2015 est.

        10 United Kingdom $2,679,000,000,000 2015 est.

        11 France $2,647,000,000,000 2015 est.

        12 Mexico $2,227,000,000,000 2015 est.

        13 Italy $2,171,000,000,000 2015 est.


        (the CIA collects official data)

    4. Twinkle

      Re: So why is Brexit the answer?

      Why not move to Singapore which believes in open honest government? You will then be close to where most world future economic growth will take place - a better prospect than the EU whose falling share of world GDP is predicted to fall from 15% today to around 10% or less by 2050.

  7. JohnMurray

    You should have put

    #voteleave at the bottom of your post.

    Well, I'll put:


    1. Vimes

      Re: You should have put

      I'm surprised somebody who appears to have had so many problems with UK bureaucracy would actually want to give them more influence not less.

  8. chr0m4t1c

    I never knew we had so many astrologers

    "This imaginary future that I want you to agree with is better than this other imaginary future that I don't want you to agree with."

    Could we get a breakdown of the author's previous predictions and accuracy so we can properly gauge the author's ability for any future articles like this, please El Reg?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I never knew we had so many astrologers

      Ah, but the imaginary friends and imaginary trade partners I'll have in my imaginary future are much better than the imaginary friends you'll have in yours. And anyway my imaginary friends are bigger than yours.

  9. JohnMurray

    And if we depart, our sold products will surely have problems abroad anyway if they infringe upon a patent...

  10. Unep Eurobats


    Now where have I heard that word before recently?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Scaremongering

      After Gideon's star performance today, May's going to go onto Breakfast with a puppy tomorrow. If the polls don't improve, the puppy will get it on live TV.

  11. F0ul

    This is a story I was aware of, but the reactions in the comments certainly isn't.

    Its as if the readers have never had to actually deal with the EU and just believe that political systems work as advertised - bit like a fridge, only bigger and more expensive!

    1. Xamol


      In or out you still have to deal with the EU. Would dealing with them from the outside be better? Hard to know for sure but countries that already have a trade deal with the EU are bound by EU laws and have signed up to the EU freedom of movement agreement (Switzerland, Norway) and other treaties in negotiation are heading in the same direction (Canada, Turkey).

      It may not be easy to deal with the EU but you can't avoid it if you want to do business with it.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Switzerland is currently out of the free movement agreement. Unlike the EEA countries, they've got a bilateral agreement... or perhaps it's better to call it a bilateral disagreement now. If the UK vote out and the government decide to join the EFTA (not the EEA), Switzerland would have an ally.

        1. Xamol

          I'm not EU law expert but my (possibly flawed) understanding is that Switzerland has applied immigration quotas to the free movement agreement but those quotas aren't part of the EFTA agreement both parties signed up to. Disagreement is right because I think the EU would say that the Swiss are still part of the free momevement agreement.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Hard to know for sure but countries that already have a trade deal with the EU are bound by EU laws and have signed up to the EU freedom of movement agreement

        Disclaimer: I don't believe we'd be likely to get a free trade deal with the EU without allowing freedom of movement. Though it might just be possible after a decade or two of negotiation?

        But, Canada have a trade deal without. Most of the EU's trade deals don't involve freedom of movement. It's a political decision to insist on it around here, which I'd say is unlikely to change. Though there's talk of a free trade deal with North Africa, and I bet there won't be freedom of movement on offer there But then Norway and Switzerland are both in Schengen and the Single Market (well only partially for Switzerland). Which is different to a free trade deal.

        Although Norway and Switzerland are agreed to free movement (or disagreed in the Swiss case), they don't have to harmonise access to benefits in the same way. So were we to leave we could refuse to pay in-work, unemployment and child benefits to people we don't choose to, and I assume the same might be true for the NHS, we could make people pay an insurance for that too, until granted "permanent residence status" of some kind. There are many options, which we might use to reduce low-skilled migration. Although one of the best ways to cut the migration numbers to the UK would be if the fucking Eurogroup would sort their shit out, and actually fix the Eurozone! But there's not much sign of that happening any time soon. The latest IMF prediction in the bail-out debt sustainability analysis, is that Greek unemployment will fall from it's current 1930s Depression level of 25% to about 12% by 2040! Now that's how to run an economy! And quite a lot of that fall is expected to be achieved by emigration. Well with youth unemployment at 50%, wouldn't you?

        Also, Switzerland and Norway are only signed up to something like 20% of EU rules by being in the Single Market. That still leaves them the ability to sign their own trade deals, and out of the Common Fisheries and Agriculture Policies. As well as safely out of the Euro, and the Foreign Policy and tax harmonisation stuff.

        Any country that exports into the Single Market is subject to large chunks of the same regulations, in order to make their products compliant. In the same way that you have to comply with lots of US laws in order to trade in the US.

        The upside of being in the EU is that you can influence the rules. Subject to getting outvoted. The downside is that you're subject to a lot more of those rules than any flavour of leaving (either EEA or even fully out).

        In my opinion the only sane option on Brexit is the Norway option. Nothing else can be negotiated in a sensible time. But done as a temporary deal with more negotiations to slowly follow. That means we pay in a bit less cash and get a bit less inward migration, in the short term and that gives everyone time to calm down and come up with a sensible agreement.

        Either that or the other governments accept a 2 speed Europe, which is what we actually have anyway with some countries unwilling to join the Euro. If they'd done that, then Cameron would have won the referendum easily, but they only gave the minimum concessions that looked likely to work - and that may now backfire spectacularly. To be honest I still think it's more likely than not that the Euro will implode when the next recession comes (not that Souther Europe have ever really got out of recession) - and quite possibly take the EU with it. But the Italian economy is now smaller than when it joined the Euro, with deflation, youth unemployment of 40%, extremely low growth and a huge government debt which it can only service with some growth or inflation. Plus a half-collapsed banking system that the new Eurozone banking rules make it impossible to restructure. That's the quiet crisis currently going on. Spain, Cyprus and Ireland are doing OK-ish, Portugal is too small to matter if/when it goes wrong again, and Greece is a shameful stain on the reputations of the governments that have fucked it up for short-term political gain.

        1. Paul Shirley

          If the thing I read yesterday is true, Norway pays 90% per person of what the UK does, making 'little' = 10%. Except we get handed back nearly half that money and I rather doubt Norway get EU subsidies or rebates.

          So the Norway deal appears to give them EU regulations, they're Schengen anyway so free movement is neutral, they probably pay more than we do & have no influence from that payment. Sounds like a pretty poor deal, a high price to pay for letting local incompetent or dishonest politicians & civil servants make a few decisions some other crooked and incompetent ones makes now.

          Farrage&co of course hope brexit has them supping closer to the trough and getting a good deal for the country is the last thing on their minds.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Paul Shirley,

            I've done a quick check around and it's hard to find decent figures, but as I suspected it looks like nobody is quite telling the truth here. Norway probably pays in about half as much as we do, but doesn't get anything back. Whereas we're full participants in the EU, so obviously receive CAP payments, regional funding and other stuff. Thus their net contribution is about 90% of ours.

            I've seen Remain people argue that they pay 90% of what we pay and don't get our rebate - which is a huge distortion of the facts as that figure is being compared to our net contribution (payments less receipts).


   - a remain site

            Their analysis probably slightly understates Norway's net contribution and overstates ours, but it's bugger-all difference in the grand scheme of things.

            Norway's EU Mission site

            The calcs are done on GDP per head on a pro-rata basis for each are of funding you choose to join in on. Net of whatever cash you get back.

            There's an argument that we could negotiated to pay in less and still get Single Market access. But a lot of this money is cash we want to be spending. Regional funding to help boost the economies of Greece and Eastern Europe is something we'd have done anyway, after the Cold War. It was us that were one of the strongest voices calling for the EU to allow the ex Warsaw Pact countries in. And for the accession process with Turkey too, and there's a good argument that Turkey has only taken a turn to the authoritarian because it was clear that France and Germany (and others) weren't going to let them in. So they've been busily reversing all the rule-of-law reforms that they'd been implementing under EU pressure for the last 2 decades. I'd say the EU's great success is that the Eastern European countires have managed to integrate into the system and build working democracies. Compared to the appalling state of politics in the ex-Soviet countries that didn't get to join.

            Anyway we'd be well out of the Common Agricultural Policy if we left, which makes up about a third of the EU budget, and our contribution. And is partly the reason for our rebate, in that our farmers in general get fewer subsidies from it.

            But we'd want to continue infrastucture funding in Eastern Europe, I imagine we'd stay in the EU science and space programmes so contribute and receive from both. So I'd expect our net contribution to drop a bit, but not a huge amount. We'd lose the rebate, but then also lose the reason for it, and since Blair gave away a chunk of that in exchange for promised reform of the CAP that never happened, plus our lower GDP per head than Norway, I'd expect our net contrubution to drop a bit below theirs.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "It may not be easy to deal with the EU but you can't avoid it if you want to do business with it."

        I heard a brexiter arguing that "only" 6% of UK businesses actually trade with the EU so on behalf of the 94% who don't, we should leave. He was careful not to mention the amount of trade those "only 6%" actually do with the with the EU and that the vast majority of the other 94% are "one man and a dog" businesses.

  12. wookey

    One small thing. The European Patent Office, which issues European patents, is nothing to do with the EU (beyond being in the same part of the world). It's not controlled by the EU, or set up by the EU, nor is its membership the same set of countries as the EU.

    Joining or leaving the EU does not materially affect our status as members of the EPO. The new Unified Patent Court is something to do with the EU in that it has been set up for participating nations to have one place to litigate, rather than having to do it in each individual country. That's sensible enough on the face of it.

    It _might_ make the troll problem worse (as a patent-specific court did in the US), or it might not. Avoiding the problem by making ourselves ineligible to use the court seems unlikely to help much. This is only useful if you don't want to sell anything outside the UK. As soon as you do you are subject to foreign patent courts. On the whole the UK patent office has been a helpful force within the EPO to keep it reasonably honest.

    Software patents remain complete bollocks, and 80% of other patents are no better IMHO, but much progress has been made in the last few years to push back on the garbage and mostly things are not too bad in the EU, although we do have some egregious examples of how the system doesn't work (MS patent charges for FAT for example).

    It remains to be seen how the UPC works out, but like all beureaocracies, you are better off setting the rules than just waiting to be affected by them. Indeed it was my experience campaigning against the evils of EU software patents 12 years ago, which led me to discover that the EU parliament is a lot more useful than the UK one when trying to reach reasonable conclusions over such divisive matters. I was actually quite impressed as how the place operated (and how much it was nothing like the cartoon portrayed in the UK media).

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      that's nailed it

      Thanks for the info, wookey. The thrust of the article is completely voided by it.


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hey wookey 12 years ago - was that the software patent directive that got destroyed in just two days a few weeks before the official vote?? If so I was with you, good job. Agree completely about the European Parliament.

      Oddly though, I got on very well with the UKIP folk as fun people, though I don't much agree with their politics.

  13. Downside

    Good luck with marketing your great idea outside of brexit blighty

    No matter what you do, the American lawyers will come and sit (expensively) on your lawn if there is even a hint of your product going on sale in the US and some patent troll looks at you funny.

    Putting blightly in a snowglobe on the worlds mantlepiece is not the answer.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Good luck with marketing your great idea outside of brexit blighty

      Considering Phillip Morris is trying to bankrupt small countries in law courts to peddle their wares (admittedly under TTIP, but I think it's good example of companies regard for everyone who is not on the profit line), then yes absolutely will British inventors get shafted, when a American company starts pushing itself around. If we leave the EU we just become an easier target.

      1. H in The Hague

        Re: Good luck with marketing your great idea outside of brexit blighty

        " If we leave the EU we just become an easier target."


        As it is the EU (about the same size as the US) is having a tough time negotiating the TTIP with the US. The UK (about 1/10 the population of the US) is unlikely to find it any easier to negotiate a treaty like that on its own. Somehow I'm finding the claims by Farage and co that we'll quickly and easily negotiate a favourable deal with the US rather difficult to digest.

  14. MR J

    The UK voted this in, so even if we leave the EU then the UK would be likely to vote this in again.

    If we leave the EU then will the gov put blocks on talking about things like Thalidomide?..

    The gov now is all about big business, the only time it really makes news is when it's big business -v- big business.. Sure some others get highlighted, small cases by small producers going against small resellers.

    The whole system needs to be reworked from start to finish. Code theft is wrong (in part or whole), some code, and ideas, should be "public domain". There should be more ways for the population to put input on if a idea is novel or not. These days it seems that most of these patents are only considered valid if they are pushed and developed by a huge multinational, this has to stop. If Intel makes lenses with embedded electronics small enough for me to have a phone/table type of device as contact lenses but I produce three of them, does that make me the owner, or is it Intel, or would it be apple because they make them too, but sell thousands of them. If a patent is ever "Sold" then the max payout should be limited to the amount that the patent was "Sold" for... That would stop a huge chunk of this trolling... Invested $25,000 into something and want to sue 50,000 customers... Okay, $0.50 each (plus court cost) should be enough! The idea behind the system was to "protect" the idea and "protect" the profit from the idea. Courts seem to not care about this.

    I do like your argument at the end that says we will be so poor after we exit that no one will want to take us to court. It suggest that the UK is going to go down the drain.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't see how your idea can work

      If a company goes bankrupt and someone buys up its patents, what is the value of each individual patent (i.e. what you recommend as the maximum damages) If they are bought for $1 million and there are 100 patents, do you just want to claim they are all equal and therefore $10,000 per patent? What if other assets are bought at the same time, how much of the purchase price is allocated to them versus the patents? It also destroys the value recognized by a smart buyer who may realize there are very valuable patents that others miss. It would be like claiming that if you bought a dusty painting at a yard sale for $100 because you realized it was a previously unknown Picasso, you couldn't insure it for the $1 million it was worth but only for the $100 you paid for it!

      A patent may be relatively worthless at the time it is created, because the technology cannot be implemented and commercialized cost effectively. If it cost $50,000 to make a multitouch screen, multitouch patents would not be worth very much. The lower the price the more valuable the patents because they can actually be used in mass market products like smartphones.

      Patent trolls who produce no products and only buy patents and sue people making products are a problem, but simplistic solutions like yours aren't the answer. If it was so simple, someone would have thought of it long ago and it either would have been implemented, or every time the issue came up people would say "there's a simple solution to this problem, why can't we just make it happen"

  15. Nick Kew

    Trade with the US

    The EU has history of standing up to US bullying. Even if it has, at times, hinged on a single courageous member (remember ThankPoland?). UK is more likely to roll over and take it from Uncle Sam.

    A post-brexit UK, in need of trade agreements with anyone who'll play, will be desperate for whatever it can get. So that'll be US patents automatically enforceable here. Along with all those other little things - like no question of labelling US food imports that might contain growth hormones illegal here, lest such labelling be prejudicial to their ability to sell (and of course the corollary, nothing to be labelled as free of such things, or GM, or whatever).

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah but any trade deal with either EU or US will likely involved "harmonisation" of patent laws.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ignoring the main point...

    Whether you're for staying, or leaving, it seems like the US is just a giant cancer, that will continue to cause misery.

    I don't have faith in a post leave UK government, not rolling over to all US demands.

    Think I'll stick with the EU tbh.

  18. Mungo Spanner

    I am a Patent Attorney...

    ...and I cannot count the number of errors in this article.

    Firstly, the UPC will apply to Unitary Patents, which patentees will have to opt into, and 'normal' European patent bundles (and EP paten grants and forms a number of national patents) - but the patentee can opt out of the UPC free of charge for at least the next 7 years.

    So for most patents, the UPC will not apply.

    Secondly, all the panic in the article is based on something called 'Bifurcation' - a German court practice where patent infringement is decided before patent validity. It's bonkers and it's hurt German firms and patent attorneys throughout Europe have been discussing this for the last couple of years, and the Judges for the UPC have all confirmed it will not be used.

    Thirdly, there is the question of the business model for patent trolls. The US does not have a 'loser pays' system for court fees, making patent trolling a comparatively low risk exercise. The UPC is fully aware of trolls and the cost structure is set up to make the process less attractive for trolls.

    Fourthly, the existing European patents almost always cover the UK, France and Germany (you can choose the countries you want), since these cover the most European GDP for the least cost in terms of patent renewal fees. So UP/UPC won't change the number of patents we are 'subject' to.

    So - is the UPC a problem for European firms? Not if it's the European firm that has the UP patent and is using it to stop imports of dodgy Chinese knock-offs into the resale market through whatever port in Europe they are trying to use, and not if British innovators want to reach out to their economic backyard in a cheap and efficient manner.

    Meanwhile, does the UPC help Trolls? It ups the stakes in that if they win, they win big, but if they lose, they lose everything - at the moment, they can have multiple bites of the cherry by picking on certain countries (e.g. Italy) with slow legal systems and forcing EP businesses to settle out of court.

    In any event, it does not warrant the Brexit hysteria and BS coming from the article.

    The real damage would be done if international firms moved headquarters to Europe because that's where they could get relevant IP rights, and the skilled workers from across 26 countries needed to generate the IP in the first place.

    Don't kid yourself that if we vote out, the airports of Germany won't be packed with German businesspeople the next day, flying to every corner of the globe to tell our customers that we are no longer reliable or relevant in the European market - and many of them will believe it.

    My little 2p'orth for accuracy in reporting, and remaining in Europe.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      I am not a Patent Attorney...

      ...but it is evident to me, as it ought to be to any sentient being, that this article is politically motivated bollox. Apart from anything else, it implies (citing a broken hyerlink) that obtaining a patent is difficult and expensive, while at the same time somehow trivially easy for trolls.

      I've read the linked FT article, and I find the description "pro-EU" somewhat baffling, unless that means "reporting facts". The Daily Mail comparison from, of all organs, the Spectator was a good laugh.

      The best evidence of prior art is to patent your own invention before going public. Why didn't the author do this with the magical things he claims to have "pioneered" but now seems so sore about?


    2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: I am a Patent Attorney...

      "Meanwhile, does the UPC help Trolls? It ups the stakes in that if they win, they win big, but if they lose, they lose everything"

      In theory. But patent trolls tend to operate through shell companies, I believe? Which means that if they lose there is nothing there to collect. Perhaps this is also dealt with in UPC, unlike in the Texas cowboy system?

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Didn't the Brexit supporting economist Minford say the UK would lose all Mfg jobs?

    A price he seemed to think worth paying

    I'd love to find the report.

    I'm not an economist but I'm guessing something like 20% of the UK workforce becoming "economically inactive" will go a good way to starting a recession.

    1 data point. IIRC after the global financial crash of 2008 it took the FTSE 5 years to recover the share prices it was showing pre crash and I think the real economy has lagged that.

  20. paulc

    fscking yank patents...

    anything that mentions 'plurality' or attempts to patent an algorithm or flowchart (i.e. mathematics) should be void... same as anything that does xxx but on yyy should be void...

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    For b***ocks patents go for birth control pills

    Natural products cannot be patented (hence the fondness for finding better than natural estrogen like compounds)

    The packaging and dispensing design is a whole other matter.

    I nearly went blind with the number of the damm things and how you have to fine comb the claims to identify exactly what makes this one different from the (nearly) identical dispenser in the previous patent.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Ok, so how do I...

    make a disability utility? Or aid?

    Just say I imagine a product that is totally possible to make now, but no one is selling/making it? Can I risk getting sued into the ground?

    Do I open source it?

    How do I produce it without the risk? Or do I just risk it?

  23. Stevie


    Kudos for the Hat Doffer art.

  24. Sue A

    It won't be compulsory to file unitary patent applications will it? Can file nationally if better strategy, depending on what the applicant can afford, which markets require protection and so on.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This was written by someone who knows nothing about patent law. Sorry, but it's just a parroting of the zeitgeist, like they've hired someone from arstechnica or techcrunch to write the article.

    Never mind the real statistics, that 90% of patent judges say they've never seen a patent troll and don't believe they exist. Never mind that patents take years and generally tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain. Never mind that "sketchy patents" if such exists, get invalidated by courts when found.

    No, much easier to say that non-inventors are pretending to be inventors, writing fuzzy abstracts that somehow pass the muster of tens of lawyers and engineers tasked with finding fault in them before approval, and then these magically savvy charlatans can convince multiple judges and an entire jury body that they invented the wheel in 2010. No, it just doesn't pass your, my, or anyone's sniff test. What is happening is that bankrupted inventors are forced to sue to get royalties because big companies know they don't have to pay anyone ever and the legal system won't do anything about it. That's what's hampering invention--the knowledge that if you mortgage your house to finance a lab in your garage, the fruits of that sacrifice will be stolen by someone in silicon valley if not China, and there will be nothing you can do about it besides starve under a gag order.

  26. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    "reach into the UK and strangle your startup at birth"

    Well, they are obviously going to wait until the startup has money, before going after it. That's the whole point of patent trolling. And they will go for a settlement, threatening lengthy and massively expensive legal proceedings that the medium sized company can't deal with. And the patent (or more usually, several patents) doesn't even have to be valid to do its job. That's the scariest part.

    The example of Apple in the article isn't really trolling as such, even if the patent was unenforceable in the end.

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