Scotland business

Patent law changes may 'damage' Scots inventors

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Media captionLawyers are worried the changes could mean inventors having to travel long distances to protect their products

There is concern that inventors and designers based in Scotland could lose out because of Europe-wide changes to patent laws.

Proposals going through Westminster are designed to make it easier to apply for Europe-wide patent protection for new ideas.

But Scottish courts will lose the power to hear these cases.

Some lawyers are worried people will have to travel long distances to protect their intellectual property.

The Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates have said the change will force companies based in Scotland to go to court in London or Europe to protect their patents, with greater cost and complication involved.

They have urged the UK government to name the Court of Session in Edinburgh as a "divisional court", able to hear new patent cases.

Inventors like Alison Grieve from Edinburgh know the importance of patent protection.

She has a background in hospitality management, but set up her company, Safetray, after spotting a gap in the market.

"At an important function I witnessed a spectacular accident with a tray laden with champagne glasses falling over. That's where it all stemmed from," she says.

"I came up with Safetray. It's stackable. It looks very similar to similar trays. But it has a secret clip on its underside which means it stays absolutely horizontal, regardless of how the weight is distributed."

She protected that design, and is now selling them all over the world.

So is it safe from those who'd like to steal her idea? She laughs.

"They would be breaking the law if they copied it. But it's not to say that people don't try to copy patents all the time," she says.

Image caption Alison Grieve's Safetray invention is protected by patents

"You need to make sure you're covered in the areas which are important to you commercially. We export across 17 countries through distribution, so it's very important that we have a wide coverage of patents for starters. And its really important to have a strong legal network and good attorneys that are working with you."

The European Union is one of the big markets any inventor wants to crack. But those 25 EU countries have 25 different court systems, so the cost of protecting new designs can be huge.

Now the EU's catching up. Last year, the 25 countries, including the UK, agreed a single patent system, for the whole continent. So a patent registered in one country can be enforced in the new Unified Patent Court, right across Europe.

Patent lawyers say it will harmonize and streamline the existing system, saving businesses huge costs.

'Rich history'

But there's a potential problem - Scotland's courts have been left out of the plans.

Under current proposals, the Court of Session in Edinburgh will not be able to hear new patent cases. Instead, these claims will be heard in a court in London or on mainland Europe.

Gill Grassie, who sits on the Law Society of Scotland's Intellectual Property (IP) Law committee, has big concerns.

"Scotland has a rich history in innovation. Patents and intellectual property are the life blood of the Scottish economy - in oil & gas, renewables, opto-electronics, IT, and life sciences, to name just a few, " she says.

"And all those sectors rely heavily on inventors being able to patent their intellectual property, to protect their investment in research and development. They do this by way of filing patents - and then if need be, enforcing them when necessary, as well.

Image caption Gill Grassie says businesses could be damaged by having to go abroad to protect their products

"All of those businesses are potentially going to be damaged by having to go abroad, because there isn't a court to go to here. That's going to cost them a lot more money."

On Wednesday, MPs will debate the proposals in the Intellectual Property Bill for a final time, before it returns to the House of Lords.

Pete Wishart, SNP MP for Perth, says this is an opportunity to amend the act, to appoint Scotland's Court of Session as a divisional court.

"The Court of Session has considered patent cases for something like three centuries," he says.

"It's built up expertise and credibility on this issue. With the coming of the new Unified Patent Court, that will effectively stop - and cases will be considered in another jurisdiction. I'm just concerned for all these inventors and creators and business which are rich in IP content, will have to go to another jurisdiction, to seek justice when it comes to patents."

The UK government has defended the proposals:

A spokesman for the Intellectual Property Office said: "The government is committed to ensuring that all areas of the United Kingdom have access to the Unified Patent Court (UPC) when it is implemented.

"The UPC will help innovative businesses in Scotland by cutting the time and cost they spend on European wide patent applications.

"It will be an international court which will be entirely separate from the existing UK patent courts.

"Businesses in Scotland will still have access to current local patent courts as long as their patent was granted by the UK intellectual property office - even after the UPC is implemented."

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