British reject patent revamp

June 14, 2002

Leading UK scientists have rejected the introduction of a grace period during which inventors could disclose aspects of their research before filing for a patent.

In the Royal Society's response to the Patent Office's consultation, John Enderby, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "Most in academe feel passionately that free exchange of ideas should be encouraged, and many believe that recent trends towards patenting inhibit valuable discussions.

"In principle, a lot of people like the idea of grace periods, but they often don't completely understand the consequences."

Professor Enderby said that the attractive features of grace periods would be better achieved through changes in current patent law. He suggested these could allow discussion within universities without losing the right to patent.

The consultation was launched by the Patent Office earlier this year. UK patent law is aligned with European legislation and the findings of the consultation will feed into the European Commission debate on whether to introduce grace periods.

The Royal Society said the only reason to introduce a grace period would be if it persuaded the US to move from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system.

The first-to-file system gives the UK and Europe an advantage over US inventors. The US system, which does include a grace period, means that if a US invention is disclosed before the patent is filed in Europe, it cannot be patented.

European researchers can file for a patent in the US after filing in Europe. The first-to-file system also avoids legal disputes over who the inventor is.

Professor Enderby said that ensuring that academics understood how to use the current system would be more useful than introducing a grace period.

He said: "People's eyes tend to glaze over when we talk about patents."

He stressed that the society was still discussing its intellectual property policy and that it was still open to persuasion.

* A logbook designed to protect intellectual property has been launched by science and innovation minister Lord Sainsbury.

The innovation logbook was developed by the Patent Office and the Department for Trade and Industry and will be used to keep chronological records in the development of research.

It has been designed with tamper-proof binding, numbered pages and spaces for witness signatures to provide legal evidence of ownership ideas. It has guidelines on how to obtain patents, copyright and trademarks.

Lord Sainsbury said: "The innovation logbook will help to develop new products, processes and services and achieve commercial success."


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