FICPI-UK, the British branch of the International Federation of Intellectual Property Attorneys, today revealed that it has made a formal proposal to the UK government to introduce a new form of digital “letters patent” for inventions having a shortened term of protection to help small businesses and start-ups.

In a throw-back to an earlier version of the British patent system in the 17th century, FICPI-UK’s plans would allow inventors to protect their new products and processes by filing only a descriptive title and an informal sketch where appropriate, which could be done in pencil on the back of an envelope or napkin. The official filing fee would be one pound and the Patent Office would not carry out any novelty searches or other examination. If approved, the new patent title would give inventors the power to stop competitors from stealing their ideas for up to two and three-quarters years from the date of submission, with the option to extend to four and a third years upon payment of a renewal fee of another pound. Interestingly, in line with yesterday’s announcement that the UK would be joining the CPTPP, FICPI-UK’s proposals include a “grace period” under which the new back-of-the-envelope patents would be safeguarded against any prior disclosures of the invention in public houses, cafes, restaurants and other licensed premises during a period of five years before filing.

Speaking outside his home in Bath in the West of England this morning, FICPI’s immediate past president, Julian Crump, said he welcomed the proposals which would give British small businesses a much-needed boost following Brexit. “Patents have become far too complicated over the last 30 years or so,” said Crump. “The old-fashioned way of simply lodging a title and a drawing or two worked perfectly well for inventors before Queen Anne tinkered with the system in the early 18th Century, and even afterwards up to the 1852 Act: just look at Dickens’ Poor Man’s Tale of a Patent. FICPI-UK’s plans will make it much simpler and cheaper to get a patent, which is very much in line with FICPI’s aims. Many inventors just don’t need the full 20 years protection. Why go to all the hassle and expense of getting a patent attorney to prepare a complete specification with claims, if all you need is a year or two’s exclusivity to get a leg up in the market? Although I would strongly recommend inventors not to try and cut corners and do it themselves; a properly qualified patent attorney should still be used to prepare formal napkin sketches and to come up with the best possible one-line title," he added. 

FICPI-UK’s plans give rise to many questions, not least about how to ensure authenticity and originality given the technical developments of not only the first Industrial Revolution, but also those of the second, third and fourth since it was last possible to obtain an abbreviated form of patent in the UK. Interesting, the proposals include early ideas for a novel kind of “digital sealing wax” that inventors could use to signify their authorship of the patent title and any accompanying sketches. FICPI-UK are said to be considering whether plans for the Patent Office also to implement such a digital wax are viable.

A spokesperson for FICPI-UK said they hoped the new patent system would be implemented first thing on April 1st next year or the year after at the latest.