The inventor of the wind-up radio is calling on the UK government to toughen its stance on patent law, by making intellectual property theft a criminal offence.
Trevor Baylis has written to business secretary Lord Mandelson urging him to consider a change in legislation.
He said in an interview with the Beeb today that inventors needed more protection against people who attempt to copy or steal their ideas. At present patents in Blighty are protected only under civil law where a patent-holder is required to sue for compensation.
"If I was to nick your car, which is worth £10,000, say, I could go to jail," Baylis told the BBC.
"But if I were to nick your patent, which is worth a million pounds, you'd have to sue me.
"And if I was a colossal company, or indeed another country, that had stolen your invention, how could you find a million pounds a day to take me to court?"
Baylis said that if the government made patent theft a criminal offence in the same way, he argues, that stealing copyright from artists is illegal, then the state rather than the individual would be shackled with the costs of taking action in a criminal court.
Currently inventors who want to protect their ideas are required to take out a patent with the UK Intellectual Property Office, which can be a costly exercise.
"I believe that theft of intellectual property rights should be treated as a white collar crime," Baylis said in a letter to Mandelson.
"I believe that UK plc should stand behind those courageous individuals whose ideas can change all our lives both commercially and socially."
Baylis has garnered support from the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. His local MP, LibDem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, has also backed the inventor’s call for a change to patent law.
“There isn't the protection that exists in other areas of intellectual property,” Cable told the BBC.
"If people steal ideas from creative artists, you can go to prison for that. But patent theft is just part of life."
However, others have hit out at Baylis for overlooking the complexities of patent law.
One member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys described Baylis’s comments about criminalising patent violations as “barking mad”, while another said the parallel with copyright protection was a misleading one.
"Patent infringement is not remotely like flogging knock-off CDs.
"Honest, decent people running reputable businesses infringe patents. They might not know the patent exists, or their patent attorney might have told them it was valid or infringed."
Meanwhile over the other side of the pond, Microsoft has called for a “Global patent harmonisation” which it insists isn’t “just wishful thinking about an ideal patent system”.
The software giant’s deputy general counsel, Horacio Gutierrez, claimed yesterday that over 3.5 million patent applications were pending worldwide, including 750,000 in the US.
“Pendency periods are extending to three, four or in some case five years before final patents are issued,” he said.
“The cost of this workload to patent applicants and patent offices is too high, and the delays in securing patents are too long for entrepreneurs and large enterprises alike.”
Gutierrez claimed that the slow nature of the process to get a patent approved could damage innovation and be bad for business.
“The logical next step is to accelerate the work underway to align patent approval procedures and application formats, including a common digital application, and to collaboratively set standards for patentable subject matter, adequacy of disclosure and enablement requirements, and the completeness of the examination record,” he opined.
“Bold action is needed. Stringent criteria must be established and clearly understood so patent search and examination results can be accepted by patent authorities around the world.” ®