Consultation on proposed IPO fee changes

Comments from ACCA to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), August 2009. ACCA is a professional accountancy body which represents over 120,000 qualified accountants in the UK and around the world. In the UK, the majority of our members work in the SME sector, either in SMEs themselves or as accountants in public practice providing services to SMEs.

Our close involvement with the SME sector gives rise to our special interest in the issue of IP rights. As your colleague Robin Webb is aware, we have recently conducted research into the extent to which SMEs take advantage of the opportunities presented by IP law and the extent to which accountants are able to help them in protecting their assets and their rights. The final report of this project should be available shortly. The main conclusion of the research is that SMEs are not generally aware of IP issues and hence often fail to take the steps which are available to them to protect their assets and to value them properly. ACCA is planning to conduct activities later in the year to help accountants engage better with their SME clients so as to raise their awareness of IP issues. 

As a general point, we do not consider that the level of fees set by the IPO is a deterrent factor in the decisions of businesses as to whether or not to take advantage of the services provided by the IPO. If businesses do not use the services available it is more likely, in our experience, to be because they are not aware of the business benefits that would accrue from doing so. We accept that the current fees have not risen by any material extent for many years and that an increase now, as proposed by the independent Gowers Review, would be widely viewed as justifiable. 

Our responses to specific questions raised in the paper are set out below. 

Q1: Would the proposed changes in patent search and examination fees affect the way that businesses or individuals use the patents systems to protect their inventions? 

The proposed rate of increase is substantial. But we do not believe that the increased costs outweigh the value to businesses of using the IPO services. 

Q2: Do you think that the proposed discount of £30 in each of the search and exam fees for e-filed patent search or examination requests would encourage the e-filing of such requests? 

Yes. We believe that the experience of Companies House in levying differential fees for manual and electronic filing has led to a significant decrease in the amount of manual filings. 

Q4: What effect do you think the proposed changes in renewal fees would have on the way that businesses and individuals maintain their patent rights – and does your answer depend on where in the proposed range the renewal fees are set? 

The proposed renewal fees are generally modest and we would not envisage there being any reduction in business practices as a result. We agree with the proposed policy approach of increasing the rate of increase after a number of years, on the basis that by that time a product can be expected to have realised its marketing potential and a business can at that stage decide whether or not to renew the IP rights. The proposed rate of increase after year 17 is, however, steep and may cause some businesses to decide not to renew on cost-effectiveness grounds. 

Q8: As a combined package of fee changes, what effect overall would the proposed changes in fees have on businesses and individuals who wish to protect their IP rights and, in particular, their patent rights? 

We think they amount to a sensible package and will not in themselves deter businesses and individuals from protecting their rights. 

Q11: Would it be helpful to businesses and individuals to have more regular minor fee adjustments rather than more infrequent, possibly larger, increases in fees? 

Yes. If the proposed fee changes are to engender any negative reaction it will be because the new increases will be the first such increases in many years. Users of IPO services would understand if warranted fee increases were implemented on a more regular basis, as happens with other public sector agencies. 

Last updated: 11 Apr 2012