Many believe Scotland’s best inventing days are now firmly behind it – that somehow innovation has become the preserve of other countries hungrier to make their mark on the world.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While the genius of the Logie Bairds and Graham Bells is consigned to previous centuries, Scots have never lost the urge to create new ideas, and we’re still punching above our weight in the digital era.
Recent data from the European Patent Office (EPO) shows patent applications originating from Scotland continue to grow. More precisely, Scottish businesses and inventors filed 299 applications last year, representing a rise of almost seven per cent on the previous year.
The EPO data also found that Scotland ranks ahead of Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK regions for patent applications.
This strong, sustained 2018 performance north of the Border follows on from a 10 per cent rise in applications from Scotland in 2017, so we’re seeing significant year-on-year growth.
It’s further interesting to note the wonderful ideas Scottish residents are coming up with. A recent trawl of home-grown applications threw up such eclectic inventions as a splash-resistant lid for disposable coffee cups and a method of treating and inhibiting Ebola infections.
There were also some genuinely clever ideas, including a K’NEX-style construction toy based around ball and socket joints, and a training aid for football and hockey players which helps to develop the player’s ability to shoot between a goalkeeper and the post.
As those who have any familiarity with Scottish patenting trends will attest, it was perhaps no surprise to see many of the applications related to highly technical electronic and scientific systems.
Indeed, it’s clear Scotland’s businesses and inventors continue to lead the way in patent application categories including those relating to oil and gas drilling, medical science, and materials analysis.
In the north-east, new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing are redefining the boundaries of potentiality in energy while significant global challenges around energy supply and climate change continue to have a positive knock-on effect for driving innovation that’s designed to overcome them.
Simultaneously, we’re seeing new technologies such as AI aiding drug discovery efforts and facilitating ideas that a few years ago were considered beyond the scope of the possible.
More precisely, innovation is opening up novel solutions to some of the most pressing health challenges and companies here in Scotland are leading the global charge. It is vital this home-grown innovation is given the best possible chance of success, and that the research underpinning it is incentivised with strong intellectual property protection.
Undoubtedly, the intellectual property system plays a significant role in helping a business to gain and retain its innovation-based advantage, and Scottish enterprises must fully harness those benefits. After all, they include the right to exclude others from exploiting the patented technology, or the opening up of licensing opportunities – in other words, crucial advantages in highly competitive markets.
It’s further encouraging to see that patent applications at the EPO continue to grow generally, with European companies fuelling the growth and accounting for almost 40 per cent of the overall growth in filings.
Simultaneously, European patent applications from UK companies rose by 7.8 per cent which reflects the rise we are seeing in home-grown innovations in a range of industries and technology sectors.
Medical technology remains the area in which most patent applications are filed at the EPO, followed by digital communication and computer technology. It’s noteworthy that each of these areas is particularly strong in Scotland too.
Interestingly, a fifth of all EPO applications were filed by SMEs, demonstrating a healthy pipeline of companies investing in IP to develop and strengthen their businesses.
At Marks & Clerk, we believe it’s also important to stress that, regardless of the eventual outcome of Brexit, the UK will remain in the European Patent Convention as this is an entirely separate body from the EU. Accordingly, UK and foreign applicants will continue to be able to apply for European Patents which can provide protection in the UK along with existing member states which include Switzerland, Norway and other EU and non-EU countries.
Intellectual property remains a cornerstone for the protection of creativity across Europe, and Scotland must continue to seize the opportunities it presents in a post-Brexit environment.
Pam Bryer is a patent attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP