The British government published yesterday its Innovation Nation white paper. The power of Government spending must be harnessed to create demand for new innovative products and services, says the press release.
There is a lot of interesting data and comments in it. I checked for mentions of patents, and found the statement "The UK exhibits low levels of R&D and patenting, although this may be partly due to industrial structures" (page 19). In my opinion, a low level of technical skills and a short-term approach to investment with a desire for a quick return are relevant factors.
There was also the statement "Measures of patent applications per head of population for the UK are lower than for major competitors" (page 32). This is true, and we are falling behind. I have compiled figures based on the number of patent applications by residents made through the international PCT route, which is used by nearly all big companies and many medium sized ones to request protection (the so-called "world patent", which it isn't).
Instead of measuring the actual numbers, I measured the rise or fall in national "market share" using the route. Major countries were measured on the basis of how they have performed since 1991. A score below 100 means that their share has fallen, while a rise means that they are improving. A fall would be expected as countries like Korea and China have been making many applications in recent years.
The results ? The only major country to improve was Japan, with a score in 2006 of 230. Their share has more than doubled. Next come Germany, with 94; France, 82; the USA, with 79; and then the UK with just 34. This means that the British share is just over a third of what it had been 15 years ago. This is masked by the fact that the actual numbers have risen, for the UK from 2257 to 5064, which is now a 3.4% share.
In 1991 the UK had more than twice as many applications as the French. In 2003 they overtook us. But we are still ahead of the Italians -- for the moment. Britain is sixth in actual numbers, as Korea has also overtaken the UK. Their number of filings in 2006 rose 26% over 2005, while China rose by an extraordinary 56% (but from a low base). And all this only reflects a desire to patent, not actual allowed patents.
Although much British activity in intellectual property is in fields that are not normally patentable in Europe (copyright and music, for example), it is sobering to see cold figures of this sort.