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Part One – Party Manifesto Analysis on Intellectual Property and Research and Innovation: Conservatives

April 30, 2015

In the first piece of the Election Series, Mahir Raoof looks at the Conservative Party, what they’ve done and what they plan to do around intellectual property, research and innovation.

The Conservative party, led by David Cameron are the majority partner in the current coalition government. With traditionally centre-right views, the party is a strong proponent for free-markets, private enterprise and private ownership which has often led to criticisms of it being a party for the rich.

The Conservatives have the advantage, or perhaps, disadvantage of being the incumbent majority and so many of their pledges and policies can be held up against their record in government providing insights into how likely they are to continue and follow up proposals. The manifesto is replete with mentions of science, technology and research, and particularly continued investment as the party adopts tact of highlighting its track record in government against what it wishes to continue doing further echoing its wider rhetoric of a long term plan.

These promises of investment are then expanded as the manifesto specifically mentions the key areas the party wishes to drive innovation and research around. These include ensuring Britain is a world leader in the development of 5G telecoms as well as several mentions of life-sciences and backing the East’s great strengths; agri-tech and hi-tech businesses around Cambridge and energy businesses at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft – this certainly provides reassurance as it shows a clear commitment of future development areas.

The manifesto states, ‘With the Conservatives, Britain will be the best place in Europe to innovate, patent new ideas and set up and expand a business.’

This explicit yet very brief mention of the word patent is a positive as it shows that the Conservatives recognise that patents are a key component of a healthy economy through the benefits they provide. The recently released statistics by the European Patent Office showed that the UK had a 4.8% increase in patent filings from the year before – the fourth highest increase amongst the top ten filers by volume. However the Conservative led coalition has had a very inconsistent record on filings as in their first full year in government filings dropped by 9.4% before recovering the following year to 3.3%.

This can therefore only be described as a bold claim as their record doesn’t show consistent progression. They did however use the terminology, will be, and so this perhaps hints at an acknowledgement that there is room for improvement and something they will seek to build upon. What would be very interesting would be to know from those who have filed patents over the last five years and currently intend to do so, how has government policy directly influenced your decision in filing a patent?

The party state that it will promote British food abroad by setting up a Great British Food Unit to help trade mark and promote local foods around the world. Another acknowledgement of an intellectual property right, this policy is designed for the UK’s food industry for which exports in 2014 were worth £18.8bn. This is an opportunity for British food producers to seek protection for geographical origin status of their product, a welcome move.

A mention of copyright is included as part of a section titled, ‘We will support our creative industries’ which reads, ‘we will build on progress made under our voluntary anti-piracy projects to warn internet users when they are breaching copyright.’ Depending on one’s viewpoint, this can either be seen as helping those who create by enforcing copyright law or by seeking to go after those who abuse copyright law. These viewpoints are different sides of the same coin; politics has always been about interpretation.

A claim that the party have put forward is ‘More tech companies starting up here than anywhere else in Europe.’

A 2014 ranking of 109 of the top tech based European businesses by Red Herring, a tech innovation focused website, considered metrics such as growth rate, IP rights and team experience amongst others. The UK and France had the highest number of businesses in the ranking at 18. The next highest was 10 from both Israel and Finland.

A similar conclusion can be gathered from the Deloitte 2014 Technology Fast 500. The UK had the second highest number of entries from Europe, behind France with 86. The UK has occupied second place in Europe for the previous three years.

Though the Red Herring and Deloitte lists can be argued as not strictly looking at start-ups, they do provide evidence to suggest that the UK is leading the way in Europe in hi-tech business.

There are numerous reports and studies that the UK and London in particular attracts more investment and funding for its start-ups than anywhere else in Europe. According to an article in the Financial Times in October of last year, London is now Europe’s largest hub for start-ups and is home to more than 3,000 technology groups.

In a lengthy paragraph under the heading, ‘We will continue to invest in science, back our industrial strategies and make the Britain the technology centre of Europe’ the party touches on their strategies for sciences such as curing diseases, ring-fencing the science budget and ensuring universities are continued to be supported in commercialising the research they undertake through the network of enterprise zones.

The section also includes detail around research and particularly investment with a pledge of £6.9bn for new research infrastructure up to 2021 meaning new equipment, laboratories and research facilities. £2.9bn is earmarked for a Grand Challenges’ Fund which includes the new Alan Turing Institute for Data Sciences. It’s a clear commitment to research, development and innovation by the Conservatives as the party recognises future trends and initiatives for the UK to seize and become pioneers within. This forward-thinking is further backed up by the Eight Great Technologies initiative launched in 2012 which includes areas such as space and regenerative medicine in an effort to encourage the entrepreneurs and researchers of the future.

Further commitments to science and research include the setting up on a national research and innovation centre in advanced materials in Manchester, a national centre for ageing in Newcastle and a cognitive computing hub at Duesbury. All of these projects were however announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in 2014 towards the end of parliament so there can certainly be questions around the timing of the announcements.

In conclusion, the Conservatives have shown a commitment to research and development and innovation whilst in government and have outlined future proposals and pledges that are supported by some detail. The party’s stance is very much continuing with their long-term economic plan in which they clearly feel that technology, research and innovation have a big part to play in developing the UK as a knowledge based economy. All of this however is only possible because they do currently wield the chequebook.

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