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Regardless of who’s in power – can the UK actually win?

The election continues to be fought on many fronts and as we reach the final hurdle, a key theme is coming through loud and clear – we need economic growth.

Parties have signalled areas of focus to help turbocharge our economy with bold manifesto pledges, passionate speeches and lots of photo opps. The trouble is the areas and industries that have been signalled are a global race and we are currently nowhere near the podium.

What does the UK want to be famous for?

We have looked at three areas of innovation that most parties want the UK to be famous for, being Automotive, Telecommunication and Artificial Intelligence. In all three we are against some big competition.

There are lots of different ways to measure success in these areas and we have chosen to analyse the geographic origin of granted patents and actively pending patent applications. In theory, where the idea is generated tends to be a priority area to register the IP, albeit there may well be some caveats to this approach. We will be releasing our full report later this month that will take a deep dive into these sectors. Our report asks – are these sectors high growth, who is driving growth, what is in development and how valuable is the UK’s contribution.

How does the UK measure up against global competition?

Below is the ranking of the top 10 based on our patent data for greatest output volume per sector.

It is frankly a woeful showing that the best we can do is 8th.

Is the UK backing the right industries with tax-payer funding?

The UK has been one of the world’s great contributors to innovation, yet we are way off the pace when it comes to making a global impact. The task at hand for the UK is to really push up the tables, is it a mountain to climb or simply an unattainable feat? I am so passionate about the incredible innovation that happens on our shores, but it will take more than a slog to really see it through on some of the bold promises that we are hearing.

Let’s take AI, China has a 41.3% share and the USA 29.1% share and whilst it may be worth noting the requirements to patent software in the UK is a higher bar, they are absolutely doing something right in the innovations we hear about. Of all the AI related patents, 21.8% are related to neural networks. So, do we need to box clever? Well yes – right now, only 7% of patents are related to machine learning techniques, yet patent activity suggests a current focus on neural networks. Though both areas are related, it appears that the pressing issue is to develop how deep learning frameworks are constructed, which is what neural networks ultimately achieve.

Additionally, it’s important that we get the balance right with incentivising ground-up innovation and adoption of those technologies, particularly with AI. For far too long, the UK’s funding routes have been too focused on the former and neglected the latter. The key to unlocking greater productivity is to incentivise businesses to be more digital, often R&D is required to implement platforms into existing systems, it is not easy, it requires extensive time, effort and testing to get right. Whoever wins the race to No.10 must surely bring an Industrial strategy grounded in fact and the impact it can have. If we want to be in the race that is enabled through taxpayer investment, I want to know we can win.

Has the UK got the approach to IP right?

This leads on to the question, have we as a country got our approach to IP right? China for example has IP educated through the education system, the USA have limited restrictions on software patents and the results speak for themselves. Innovation in the UK now feels like a buzzword instead of action and now is the time as a new government is elected to really back UK innovation to unlock the growth we so clearly need.

As a global endeavour to make the breakthroughs, of which the UK has been world leading – take the Covid vaccines, take the world wide web - when you see this data the question it raises is, can we collaborate more and what role can we play? What value can we bring that drives the greatest economic prosperity?

For now, I will make sure we get a printed version of our report through the doors at no 10…

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