Knowledge & News

Top 100 innovators

20 April 2020

SyndicateRoom recently published its “Top 100” report, which showcases Britain’s fastest-growing businesses in 2019 (see here). According to the report, the 2019 Top 100 list is made up of 51 growth-stage businesses, 40 venture-stage, 5 seed-stage, and 4 who are now classified as established. The report notes that companies appear to be moving away from London as, compared to 2017, the number of companies in the list founded in London has decreased from 71% to 60%. Instead, companies appear to be gravitating towards big university cities outside of the capital, including Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester. Here at Marks & Clerk, we have taken a closer look at the published patent filing statistics of the companies featured in the list.

The technology breakdown of the Top 100 companies is as follows: 52% - software; 28% - other (e.g. services, such as a flower delivery company); 10% - tech (e.g. vehicles, sensors, satellites etc.); 5% - energy; 3% - pharmaceuticals; and 2% - medtech. The large percentage of companies working predominantly in the field of software reflects the surge of interest in computing and artificial intelligence (AI) in recent times.

Intellectual property is a vital part of the value of any business, key to defining the business in a crowded marketplace in the case of trademarks, and to protecting innovation from imitation in the case of patents. With intellectual property, or ‘intangible assets’, thought to be worth some $50 trillion globally, it is unsurprising that robust intellectual property is key to businesses at all stages – from a start-up trying to attract investment to a multinational exploring new international markets.

33% of the companies in the Top 100 list have at least one published patent family (i.e. a set of granted patents/patent applications covering the same or similar technical content, which are related to each other by a priority claim). Within this sub-group, 52% have had at least one international (PCT) application published in the last three years (2017-2020), whilst 30% have had at least three PCT applications published in the last three years. It is noteworthy that four companies have had over 10 PCT applications published in this period. Furthermore, the actual patent filing figures for these companies are likely to be somewhat higher given that our analysis is based on published patent applications and patent applications are not published until 18 months after their filing date (or, if applicable, their priority date).

It therefore follows that the remaining 67% of the companies featured in the list are not actively filing patent applications. This appears to be because these companies are focused on industries (e.g. investment management, advertising, marketing) whereby an invention is likely to be considered a business method rather than a patentable invention which is solving a technical problem in a non-obvious manner. However, even if patent protection is not appropriate, other forms of IP protection are still likely to be of value and worth considering, e.g. design protection and trademarks.

Where appropriate for the specific technology in question, patent protection should be considered early on in the life of a new business. This is because it is important to file on an invention before someone else does, particularly if you are working in a competitive space. If a competitor were to file a patent application to your invention in a certain jurisdiction (e.g. the UK), they would have the right to stop you from working your own invention in that jurisdiction, which could easily signal the end of some businesses despite them having experienced an initial period of fast growth. After having conducted a patenting review, it might be that an informed decision is taken to not patent at this time. A note should, however, be made to reassess the situation at a later date.

In conclusion, a significant proportion of the companies featured in the 2019 Top 100 list are actively filing patent applications directed to their technical innovations, and therefore consider patent protection to be an important factor for the success of a fast-growing business (e.g. by maximizing the commercial benefit of innovations and preventing advances being copied by competitors). With offices across the world, including in the cities of Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester, all highlighted in the Top 100 report as being increasingly important locations for innovative UK companies, Marks & Clerk is well placed to assist with any IP queries you may have.


Emma Foster

Emma Foster Associate Cambridge (UK)

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