In an interview with IP Review Online, the creator of the wind-up radio said that a concerted, joined-up system involving government, British Standards and the Design Council would relieve the frustrations inventors face en route to the sales counter.
Speaking on the day he wrote to UK Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to propose the criminalisation of patent theft, Baylis argued that this legislative change would help to safeguard inventors' interests and strengthen the wider support network.
According to Baylis, protecting inventors' ideas can only benefit the UK economy. 'The more I look at inventions from the past,' he said, 'the more I think that if we help our inventors make new products – protected by UK Plc – we would all be better off. We've got to make heroes of our inventors [and] we have to go through Parliament to change things. A court case with a corporation might cost you a million pounds a day, and you could end up thinking, "I wish I hadn't thought of that idea."'
For Baylis, cases of large companies using the courts in order to assume IP from smaller concerns are far too common – and the costs involved can leave lone inventors intimidated to silence or financially drained. In his letter to Lord Mandelson, he argued that criminalising patent theft would divert lawsuits from the expensive civil system and give lone inventors access to financial support from the State.
Some patent practitioners have taken exception to this view. Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) fellow Peter Jackson told the BBC that the expertise required in patent cases makes them unsuitable for criminal treatment. But Baylis feels that the onus is on attorneys in the first place to produce unambiguous paperwork. 'I think that if a patent is laid out by a patent attorney in a way that cannot be circumnavigated, it should be rock solid,' he said. Ensuring patent quality 'is what the attorneys are paid for'.
Other patent attorneys have argued that criminalising patent theft would have a 'chilling' effect on innovation, as creators would think twice before filing. 'I can understand what they're saying,' said Baylis, 'but there's no point filing for a patent at all if it can't be successfully utilised or defended.'
Baylis thinks that the Design Council should offer greater help to inventors who are negotiating with corporations, and that British Standards can play a stronger role in patent quality and keeping homegrown IP in the UK. 'I am immensely proud that my radio took off and generated so much publicity for the developing world,' he said, 'but Britain would be much better off if I hadn't had to get it made in South Africa.'
Among the host of ideas that Baylis has for boosting inventors' profiles is a new kind of university course: the Bachelor of Invention, or BI. In order to complete the BI, each student 'must have filed a patent for something that is socially and commercially viable.' The patent document will stand as the student's final certificate. To promote further studies, Masters- and PhD-level Invention courses could also be developed.
While Lord Mandelson's 3 September response to Baylis said that patent cases were best left to civil courts, 'where financial compensation can be claimed', Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable has taken a keen interest in the inventor's cause. And Baylis cites another reason why further political support may be in reach: 'Tony Benn invented a baggage case that converts into a seat, so inventions can flourish anywhere – even in public life.'