Tuesday, 29 August 2017

British Business Bank launches the First Tranche of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund

The Midlands
Licence Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported
Source Wilipedia

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund ("MEIF") is a joint initiative between the government owned British Business Bank and a number of local enterprise partnerships ("LEPs") in the West and East Midlands. The participating LEPs from the West Midlands are the Black Country, Coventry & Warwickshire, Greater Birmingham & Solihull, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, The Marches, and Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnerships. The Bank hopes to make £250 million available to small and medium enterprises ("SME") in the Midlands Engine area through debt finance, small business loans, proof of concept and equity finance funds in amounts ranging from £25,000 to £2 million.

Today the Bank announced the launch of its £150 million debt finance funding scheme which is the first tranche of the £250 million (see the British Business Bank's press release British Business Bank launches first £120 tranche of Midlands Engine Investment Fund 29 Aug 2017).  Also today, the Bank published Spotlight: The Midlands Engine Investment Fund which surveys the Midlands Engine area economic and funding landscape.

Anyone seeking any kind of funding under the MEIF or any other scheme will be expected to have planned, protected and leveraged its investment in branding, design, technology and creative output and that's where I come in.  If you don't already have an IP strategy give me a call on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.  

I can help you identify your intellectual assets and suggest the best ways of protecting them having regard to your business objectives and available resources. If you already have a patent or trade mark attorney, solicitor or other professional advisers I can work with them. If not, I can put you in touch with some of my contacts and help you choose and instruct the ones you like best. I can incidentally also put you in touch with many other professionals such as product design consultants and IP insurers and introduce you to your nearest Business and IP Centre or Patent Information Unit where you can get more advice and assistance either free of charge or at a very modest cost.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

DIT's Midland Engine Branded Trade Shows

Jane Lambert

Earlier today I blogged about Northern Powerhouse branded trade missions in IP Northwest and IP Yorkshire. I wondered whether there was anything similar for the Midlands Engine. It turns out that there is a Midlands Engine campaign page and that six trips have been arranged.  I have written about those missions in detail in Midlands Engine Trade Missions which you will find in my East Midlands blog.

In that article, I have reminded readers to take care in the handling of their trade secrets, that is to say not to disclose secret technical or commercial information except in confidence and to take care to make sure that any NDA or confidentiality agreements are governed by English law. I have also warned of some of the difficulties that can arise at international trade shows and where readers can get further information.

Should anybody wish to discuss any of these matters, call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message on my contact form.

Further Reading

The Midlands Engine

Monday, 7 August 2017

Brexit and Batteries: Business Secretary's Visit to Birmingham

View of Birmingham

Jane Lambert

The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, visited the University of Birmingham on 24 July 2017 with Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority and his ministers, Claire Perry MP, Margo James MP and Lord Prior.

In a wide ranging speech (a transcript of which is here) he discussed
His remarks on Brexit were probably intended to be anodyne and they almost certainly were at the time he made them.  Among the things he said was: 
"People who voted for Brexit did not vote to be less prosperous." 
Since then we have had the results of a YouGov poll in which 61% of the sample who had voted to leave the EU thought that "significant damage to the British economy" was a price worth paying for bringing Britain out of EU. Some 39% of them believed that "causing you or members of your family to lose their job to be a price worth paying" (see Matthew Smith "The 'extremists' on both sides of the Brexit debate" 1 Aug 2017). An extraordinary statistic that one of Mr Clark's predecessor picked up in his article in the Mail Online on Sunday 6 Aug 2017).

Dr Clark also denied that "the vote for Brexit was part of a global move towards protectionism – for trading less, for retreating from the world." He emphasized the Prime Minister's approach "to be a global champion of free trade, is to want to increase the complex exchange of products and services between countries, not to aim for a sort of national self-sufficiency." I share that aspiration though it seems inconsistent with an insistence on controlling immigration thereby restricting the labour supply which is a crucial factor of production. Much will depend on the terms of any withdrawal agreement that we may reach with the remaining member states but crashing out of the Union without any kind of trade deal or even making one with our biggest and nearest trading partner on terms less favourable than those we enjoy now will make that objective harder to achieve, not easier.

Much less controversial was Dr Clark's announcement of the Faraday Challenge with an investment of £246 million into research, innovation and scale-up of battery technology. The project is explained in Simon Edmonds and Annie Wise's article The Faraday Challenge – part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.  The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council ("EPSRC") has already invited proposals from UK university consortia to establish an internationally recognised virtual institute to lead in research, education and knowledge transfer.  The objective of the institute is to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of novel battery technologies which will underpin its ability to lead in the area of energy storage. The institute is intended to provide a national hub to promote research and its application to automotive and other technologies. The EPSRC's request for proposals is here together with an FAQ on the invitation. Only universities that attended a preliminary meeting on 12 July 2017 (a list of which is here) can lead a consortium but other universities can join the consortium at any time.

As is usually the case with projects of this kind, there are likely to be all sorts of legal issues such as the terms of the contract between the consortium members, the ownership of any inventions that may be produced, the terms of any licences, the disclosure of know-how and show-how and the resolution of any future disputes that may arise between consortium members and third parties.  Anyone wishing to discuss those issues should call me on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Welcome to NIPC West Midlands

Jane Lambert

This is a blog for creators and innovators and entrepreneurs and investors in the West Midlands. Creators - artists, authors, composers, designers and performers, writers - and innovators - inventors and those who apply existing technology in a new way -make the products, processes and services upon which society depends. Entrepreneurs make them available to us and investors put up the money to make it all possible.

All of them depends ultimately on intellectual property - the bundle of rights that protect investment in innovation and creativity. Such rights are not easily obtained and are frequently challenged because they confer monopolies and exclusivity. Because they are not easy to get, enforce or maintain, many of the businesses that need those rights most fail to take advantage of them.

That is unfortunate because preserving the competitive advantage that innovation or creativity confers has a lot to do with the success of an economy.  In Europe, we have only to look at Germany whose inventors and businesses applied for 25,086 European patents in 2916 compared to 5,142 for ours in the UK. Even Switzerland with one-eighth of our population managed 7,293 applications. Overseas, China, Japan, South Korea and the USA applied for more European patents than we did and many times more than still in their own home patent offices.

The big difference between Germany and other continental countries and us is that the Mittelstand - roughly what we would call SME (small and medium enterprises) - are much more likely to patent their inventions, trade mark their brands and register their designs. The main reason for that is that it was considerably cheaper and easier to enforce intellectual property rights in those countries than here. As I said in "Litigation Costs in England and Continental Countries" in Dispute Resolution it is still true for big ticket litigation in the Patents Court but the authorities have been trying to do something about the differentials in costs.

First came Intellectual Property Office opinions in 2004. These are authoritative opinions by patent examiners on whether a patent is valid or whether it has been infringed which cost £200. I was present at a consultation at the IPO in 2003 which was attended by the Comptroller and Sir Robin Jacob who was then a judge of the Patents Court and the presiding Chancery judge in Birmingham when the idea for this service was first mooted. I also arranged a workshop in Leeds in 2005 with IP insurers when we explored how they could make it easier for IP owners to get after-the-event insurance.

Next came the IPO's mediation service for which again I arranged a conference with the IPO and World Intellectual Property Organization. I am a member of the WIPO's panel of neutrals and also one of the external mediators on the IPO's list of mediation providers. I have a lot of experience of alternative dispute resolution both as a neutral and as counsel.

Finally, time limits and cost caps were introduced for the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court ("IPEC") together with a small claims track which brought most IP litigation costs in this country more or less in line with those on the continent. Also, by pressing ahead with ratification of the UPC Agreement the government is doing all it can to reduce the costs of big ticket patent litigation by advancing the Unified Patent Court and unitary patent despite Brexit.

There has been some increase in demand for IPO opinions and the use of IPEC but not a commensurate increased in the number of patents that are sought by British inventors. When I have tried to find out why businesses have not made more use of the IP system I am told that "IP is for big businesses and not for the likes of us." That is just not the way their German, American, Korean, Japanese or Chinese counterparts would think.

The problem is one of perception and that is where this blog comes in.  There are a lot of services in the West Midlands that are either free or reasonably priced.  There are, for example, free IP clinics at the Library of Birmingham between 17:00 and 18:30 every Monday evening.  All you need to do is call 021 303 6800 or email businessandlearning@birmingham.gov.uk to book a slot. The Library can also help you with many other services including workshops, seminars and introductions. If you want to stop someone from selling knock offs of your products or using a brand that is similar to yours you can now bring a claim virtually risk-free for a few hundred pounds in the IPEC small claims track, There is also low-cost IP insurance and services like Legal Cost Finance that let you spread the cost of first class advice and representation.

Although I now live in Yorkshire I have a lot of connections with the West Midlands. I was born in a clinic in Manchester but my parents brought me home to Much Wenlock where they were then living. My first school was in Lichfield and when I came to the Bar I spent a lot of time in the Walsall, Wolverhampton and Birmingham County Courts. I was in one of the first Chancery cases in Birmingham after it got Chancery jurisdiction. I have many clients in the region both big and small.

If you want to discuss this article or any other matter relating to IP or related areas of law, call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message on my contact form.