Patently Obvious.

Yesterday visited the HMRC open day at the Brighton Race courses. For an event which I had initially written off as possibly being a small in numbers show. However it turned out to be an incredibly popular exhibition with the floor space a constant buzz of new and current business owners taking the opportunity to talk to all the various aspects of tax and company law with the multitude of Her Majesties Revenue and Customs departments. Sharon had us booked to attend the event with the specific purpose of her attending the various seminars during the day and  myself left to network , chat and drink coffee all things which define my core competencies.

The show was not exclusively  an HMRC department showcase and there were many other groups represented such as the FSB, Sussex Enterprise, Business Link and the IPO. Needless to say the IPO, Intellectual Property Office , caught my imagination for the day. The person  manning the stand ,Neil ( sorry i forgot his surname ), was an informed and well spoken representative for their organisation and actually expressed an awareness of Ubuntu, since he had read about it in Mens Health magazine. He also understood the concepts and issues related to open source software.
I spoke to Neil for the best part of the hour and we covered various topics of interest to me, Patents, Copyright and Trademarks. One thing that caught him of step though were some of my thoughts and questions which I wanted to share with the rest of my readers.


Neil was clear to emphasise that Patent law in another country does not apply in the UK. For a company to have a patent applicable in the UK they were required to file that patent in the UK. Further he specified that patents cannot be applied to software that relates to a process or a result that does not affect a real world action ( i am abbreviating from memory here). It is not possible to Patent software transactions of data or software algorithms ( note later we talked about copyright ). The only thing you can patent is when software creates a real world action like braking a wheel or moderating a drip feed. As we spoke we discussed the current cost of patenting , appx £200 with a additional £50 for each particular class you file under. we spoke for some time about how Patents help protect innovation and encourage people to spread and manage their ideas. Fantastic.

I was impressed, very impressed in fact I couldn’t help but express the idea that if Patent law was so crucial to the development and creation of economic opportunity then it is surely a fundamental right for every citizen of the UK to have access and the ability to file a patent without financial restriction. Surely everyone deserves the right to Patent freely and without cost ? Since the patent office is a government organisation then it “must” be to the benefit of a nation to enable every one of its citizens to contribute to the ideas pool of creativity and innovation that make up the mind share of the country. Its a CRAZY idea sure; but I feel that if Patents are so clearly important to the financial security of individuals and corporations then there should be a civil right to file without fiscal encumbrances.


Having discussed wild ideas behind Patents we moved to the issue that really affects businesses day in day out. Whilst in the UK you cannot Patent the software technique for producing a Button on a screen you can copyright the code which went into creating it. Now i found this concept to be interesting since there are two things about Code and Creation that interest and scare me.


Its possible to copyright the code or the result of the code and compiler to provide protection against copyright theft. What wasn’t clear though was at what point the item became a unique as in who the compiler and the platform affected the performance. But I digress what was interesting was the fact that you could not copyright an Idea for an work but you could copyright the writing of that idea for that work but it still wouldnt protect the idea.


This one if far more sci-fi than fact so bear with me. Currently scientists are working to map the human genome to break down the descriptive elements and the base code for the creation of our cells. At some point it will be possible to simply pick up a file which contains your “code”. I really want to ensure that I own the copyright on that information. Specifically I feel that there are implications in how our own genetic code is currently being discussed and possible shared so glibly amongst organisations and departments. If it is illegal to share guitar tabs and to share music collections why is it legal to share a persons genetic information  shouldnt they be receiving royalties for the sharing of their information ?


This one is fun. Having registered your company and registered its domain name and printed your letter heads there is still no actually protection against someone using your company name as a derivative, for Example LugRadio has a fan based show HashLugRadio. Despite them  being two separate entities delivering content it could at a later date set a precedence to enable other LugRadio themed content to come about which the current contributors disagree with and in this case its possible that Trademarking Lugradio would be appropriate to protect ownership. Trademark protection , similar to Patent protection is paid, to enable you to further protect your identity as a business.
So there we have it a very long and interesting day and one which left me educated and informed , oh and I picked up some new business on the way. If you do hear about a HMRC open day near you I would encourage you to get along , take time to talk to and possibly  join the local business link and Federation of Small Business chapter. Currently we are in the minority when it comes to representing our goals and ideals into business and government and I hope these occasional posts encourage more OSS Contractors and Self employed to get involved in all the local business events and take part in discussions.
Thanks for reading

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3 Comments on “Patently Obvious.

  1. Ahh. Hard topics. Big topics. There is a lot of talk about them by a lot of people who don’t really know much more about the patents than what you can read from the side of a breakfast cereal box. This group of people sadly includes most of the loudest voices in the floss communities. It’s nice to see you writing something sane about them.

  2. Nik,

    Two thoughts about the funding of the Patent Office.

    Firstly, just because something is fundamental to the economy, doesn’t mean that it has to be free at the point of delivery.

    There is a cost to running the Patent Office, which is what the fees cover. Either these are paid for by the applicants, or by the taxpayers at large (free at the point of delivery). Given that the purpose of filing a Patent is (normally) to “lock in” future economic value, it doesn’t feel entirely unrealistic to expect that the beneficiary should pay. (Or, to compare, it feels far more “just” to me that someone filing a patent should pay £200 than someone losing a parent should pay 40% of their inheritance in death duty.)

    Secondly, initial filing of a patent is free. This establishes a “primacy date”, and grants a period of one year in which the inventor has to complete the application (by filling in the “Claims” section) and pay the fee. In that sense, it is possible to file a patent for free, and then spend some while determining whether it ACTUALLY has a commercial value before spending any more money than a postage stamp. Certainly, the last half-dozen patents I filed were all done on that basis.

    Both of the above, however, assume that the person filing the patent is prepared to pay a cost because they (personally or as an organisation) will benefit from the invention. It would be interesting to see whether a fund could be established for filing of Patents where the inventor committed to irrevocably granting the rights to “The World”.

    To complete the story, it is close to a year since I filed the patents (in the course of my Duties as a Director of a UK Company.) I’m no longer a Director of said company, and they have decided not to commercialise the inventions. Hence I’m talking to them about irrevocable grants back the community.

    (As an aside, I’m pretty sure that the figure of £50 per additional class is a Trademark fee, not a patent one. An invention isn’t domain-specific unless the inventor or their agent describe it as such.)


    Mark Harrison

  3. On the subject of genetic code and copyrights:

    Things like guitar tabs and lyrics are copyrighted because they represent the work of their author, and the principle is that the author should receive some compensation for their work.

    How much work did you, personally, invest in the composition of your own DNA? 🙂

    The relevant principle with genetic code should be, not copyright, but the same principle as other information about a person: address, medical history, and so on. Some of it (medical info) is much better protected than other info (address, etc.), and genetic code should IMHO have similar levels of protection as medical info. But the principles of copyright just don’t apply here.