Boom Or Bust? Innovation In The United Kingdom

UK Innovation

The British have brought us everything from the first navigable submarine to the Raspberry Pi single-board computer. Without the Brits, we might have waited longer for vaccines, steam engines, and ATMs. Graphene is a recent invention out of Great Britain, and the material is being developed for use in electronics, energy storage, filtration, and biological engineering applications.

While it may seem that we have a lot of innovation coming out of Great Britain, that is now a subject up for debate. Recent numbers that report the volume of patent applications in the region indicate either that Britain is far behind other EU nations or that it’s the undisputed leader in innovation.

Conflicting Patent Survey Results

In a recent article in The Telegraph, a study by Thomas Reuters was quoted that demonstrated the UK’s apparent lack of innovation. This study indicated that the UK filed 6,619 patents in 2014 compared to Germany’s 56,492 and France’s 11,595. While Germany is Europe’s leader in automotive development, it was found that the UK remains a strong contender in the research and development area.

Some contend that these numbers are flawed as they don’t coincide with results coming out of the United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The latest patent stats reveal that, in 2015, of the 22,801 patent applications filed with the IPO, 14,780 originated from within the UK. This is over 66% of the total. A few of the top patent-filing organisations in the United Kingdom include BAE Systems, Jaguar Landrover, ARM Limited, and Rolls Royce.

Lack Of Patents Doesn’t Mean Lack Of Innovation

The discrepancy in numbers between the Thomas Reuters study and the IPO can be quite easily explained. It’s long been believed by several sources that a majority of innovators within the UK are not making use of the EU patent system. In fact, a 2013 study concluded that only about 4% of the country’s innovators were registering patents with the European Patent Office (EPO). This certainly explains a great deal although certain industries, such as high-tech and pharmaceuticals, may be slightly more likely to file patents than others.

British Government’s Strategy To Encourage Innovation & IP

While a patent is a legal title to an industrial property and is meant to protect inventions, it’s clear that some businesses and industries within the UK are using these more than others. The UK government is hoping to chase this through a five-year strategy to boost British innovation through Intellectual Property (IP) growth. The UK’s IPO has launched a program with a goal to educate both businesses and students in IP and gain increased commitment from innovators to participate in the EU-wide patent system.

While it may appear that the United Kingdom is lagging behind the rest of Europe in innovation, this is likely only a portion of the truth. IPO numbers show that innovation is alive and well in the UK, and many companies simply aren’t participating in the EU’s patent system. The hope is that the IPO’s long-term initiative to encourage further participation will change these numbers in the coming years.

Andrew Armstrong

Andrew Armstrong is a digital marketing consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Economy from the University of California at Berkeley in 2003, and founded KickStart Search Engine Marketing in 2009.