Monday, May 19, 2014

Graphene - lessons for British innovation

Today's Financial Times has an article with the headline "Asia ahead in race to develop graphene". This is a technology that the British Chancellor of the Exchequer described as a "great British discovery". However, the UK has only filed 101 of the 11,372 patents and patent applications filed worldwide in the field of graphene - a mere 0.9% of the total. Asia has filed 7,318. China has invested heavily. In 2012-2013 it filed more than 80% of the global total patent applications. The reaction of Manchester University was unfortunately predictable. The FT quoted "It is not simply a numbers game." That is correct. It is not simply a numbers game. However, among the overwhelming 11,271 non-UK patents there will most certainly be some strong patents. Some of them could be strong enough to prevent Manchester University having the possibility of commercialising the technology on a grand scale. Furthermore, it is not just a numbers game of locating strong patents because the pool is bigger. Despite the inevitable protestations of "quality versus quantity", experience curve effects mean that as more patent applications are filed, the quality of each new patent increases. Saying that "It is not simply a numbers game" cannot be an excuse to do nothing and simply allow Britain to fall behind in yet another area where it was a pioneer.

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