Friday, December 15, 2006

Inciting French SME's to Use Patents

Sub us for a patent, anyone ? - In a bid to improve France's position in the patent filings number race, the French government has recently announced a measure intended to promote use of the French patent system, by allowing certain small business enterprises meeting defined criteria (I don't have all of the info yet as to what these criteria might be) to file their first patent application for free. Quite how this is going to work in the long term is beyond me. The government has already attempted to make patenting more attractive to individuals, SMEs and research groups by enacting official fee reductions with the French PTO (patent and trademark office), but even this kind of "nearly free" as in "beer" attitude hasn't taken with the general public or businesses in general.

As it stands, the first patent application filed by a French registered eligible enterprise will be subsidised by Oseo, a regional development agency quango, which now brings together the BDPME, ANVAR and various sundry other organisations into an umbrella group. Oseo is set to foot 75% of the bill for the first patent filing, with the remaining 25% being paid for by the Ministry for SMEs.

How this is actually going to work in practice is beyond me. I have not yet been informed by my representative professional body, the CNCPI (similar to the Patent Attorney Bar in the US, or the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents in th UK), save to say that the CNCPI will form part of the commission to examine the candidates for subsidy. Ho hum...I wonder if the Minister has given due thought to whether or not actions of this ilk are not anti-competitive in light of the European Commission's stance on subsidising, directly or indirectly, national industry. Well, it wouldn't be the first time the French government has been fined for doing that, so I suppose it is really par for the course.

So here we are then - yet another subsidy for small and medium sized French businesses. I'm all for making businesses more aware of the value they can create for themselves, but I can't see how subsidising is really going to change mentalities, if anything, it will make them even more dependent on subsidies to actually even think about protection. This is the case already to a certain extent, having personally had clients who only filed patent applications because they would be receiving a subsidy from the state, the regional council, or some other national or local aid agency. Talk about entrepreneurial spirit !!!!

IMHO, innovative small French businesses need to be made responsible for their decisions, not mollycoddled. What they do need, however, is to be able to keep most of what they earn in order to be able to plough it back into research and development. This, unfortunately, is still not the case. I often drop hints to would-be French entrepreneurs that their fiscal interests might be better served by setting themselves up in another country and operating from there. Indeed, some of them do choose that route after consultation with their financial advisers. Most however, have recognised that short term gain is better than any form of "learning it the hard way" experience and gladly take any grants that are going, simply because they exist.

I can hear some of my fellows chanting already, "you must be off your rocker, you're shooting yourself in the foot"", but I can't help thinking that our clients interests would be better served if we listened more closely to their needs and proposed a protection strategy adapted thereto and their actual means instead of just organising another way of drumming up more business for our profession as a whole, and receiving government backing to boot.

Only time will tell in the end, but honestly folks, don't hold your breath !!! Toodlepip until next time.