Innovation needs protection to thrive

As modern British innovators go, it is fair to say that Trevor Baylis CBE perhaps exemplified a certain archetype. With his invention of the wind-up radio, he perfectly represented the independent, self-motivating – perhaps idiosyncratic – inventor and rose to deserved fame as a result.

However, his recent death has also thrown into focus one of the most pressing issues facing those who innovate: the need to protect their inventions. The sad fact is that, to the end of his life, Mr Baylis struggled with imitators, even going so far as to suggest that patent infringement be made an imprisonable offence. Certainly, he never saw the rewards that many felt his inspiration merited.

The problem, of course, is that protection of intellectual property (IP) remains to a large extent a rich man’s game. The sheer amount of money required to protect an invention is effectively prohibitive as far as the lone inventor with no corporate backing is concerned. The result is that IP cases can have an unfortunate tendency to go not to those with the best claim, but to those with the deepest pockets.

As well as celebrating his inventions, then, it is perhaps also fitting to regard as part of Mr Baylis’ legacy a salutary reminder of the difficulties that face innovators in trying to protect and capitalise on their ideas.

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