The UK is rightly proud of its innovation heritage, but it is important that the systems dedicated to protecting intellectual property are world-leading too.
Yet new analysis by Catax (a Ryan company) of World Intellectual Property Organisation data shows that companies and individuals wanting to protect their innovations with a UK patent face waits of over 18 months before any action is taken on their applications.
Patent law is complex and the process can be very involved, but this performance is poor when compared to countries that deal with a greater number of applications.
The patent application process differs around the world, but generally involves determining whether the claimed innovation is novel, not obvious, and industrially applicable.
Applicants in the UK typically wait 570 days before any action is taken by the patent office. This places the UK 50th out of 64 countries for its lengthy delay.
China receives the highest number of patents in the world, but it takes its patent office 375 days to take action. The United States, which has the second-highest number of applications, takes marginally less time than the UK at 507 days.
Brazil is the only country receiving more patent applications than the UK to take a longer amount of time to respond.
Lithuania takes the shortest amount of time to respond to applications, with waits of just 12 days. Similarly, Spain takes 19 days, though both countries receive significantly less applications, with 90 and 1,434 apiece.
Although the UK still ranks poorly for time taken to respond to patent applications, most recent figures show an improvement from 2020. It took the patent office 750 days on average to respond during that year – the longest time applicants have had to wait since UK data started being collected in 2016.
If the UK really wants to walk the talk on delivering innovation-led growth, it needs to speed up this process.
Meanwhile, HMRC data shows uptake of the Patent Box, a form of tax relief available to companies that make profits from exploiting patented inventions, remains low.
Despite more than 89,000 Research and Development (R&D) tax relief claims being made in 2020/21, projections suggest that just 1,535 companies made the Patent Box claims over the same period.
Yet many companies embarking on R&D will also be making innovations that are capable of being patented.
It is important that companies embarking on innovation understand the patent process and the associated tax reliefs and get specialist advice from the outset.
The cost of obtaining a UK patent could easily be outweighed by the tax reduction from a Patent Box claim. This creates an effective rate of corporation tax of only 10%, but not enough companies are making patents and the Patent Box an essential part of their innovation strategy.