Thursday, 25 October 2012

Festival of Business 2012

Jim O'Neill
Source Wikipdia
If you look at the Daily Telegraph's map of Britain's 1,000 brightest companies you will find the biggest concentration outside London in the North West.  There are 60 in Greater Manchester compared with 34 in Bristol, 28 in West Yorkshire, 24 in Birmingham, 21 in Newcastle and 13 in Glasgow. Only the capital has more.

This concentration of successful businesses may have been one of the reasons why the Daily Telegraph selected Manchester Central to host the Festival of Business.  There were a number of star speakers at the festival including Michael Fallon MP, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise (one of my contemporaries at St. Andrews), Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco and Martha Lane Fox, "the digital champion" but for me the principal attraction was Jim O'Neill, Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, author of "Dreaming with BRICs: The Path to 2050".   

Dr. O'Neill is a Mancunian as were  Jevons, Devons, JewkesCampion and of course the Manchester School in one way or another.  Though inspired by BRICs I couldn't help recalling a similar thesis by Herman Kahn about Japan in my youth ("The Emerging Japanese Superstate: challenge and response". Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-274670-0).  Through the i-Pad which the Telegraph kindly put at my disposal I asked Dr. O'Neill why we should suppose China's boom should be any more sustainable than Japan's.   O'Neill's reply was that China was at an earlier stage of social and economic development than Japan in the 1970s.  True, but China will also have an ageing population as a result of the one child policy just as Japan does now..

After O'Neill's talk delegates divided into smaller groups to attend breakout sessions.   I attended a presentation by Gilli Goodman of Google's Manchester office in Oxford Street.  That talk was excellent and was reason enough to attend the conference.  Gilli showed us a number of tools that can be used in market research such as "Consumer Barometer", "Think Insights", YouTube Trends, Google Trends and Google Alerts. In the Q & A that followed I mentioned Google Campus and suggested a Manchester offshoot. "Good idea" agreed Gilli, "but I'm not the one to talk to about it."  I tried to find out who was but Gilli was besieged by punters miffed at losing their place in the Google listings.

I really wanted to hear Herwig Vennekens talk about the Mittelstand, the SME that power the German economy, but I had a plane to catch.  There was just time for a quick lunch and there I met my friends Lisa and Helen Tse of the excellent, award winning restaurant Sweet Mandarin. This was my first opportunity to congratulate Helen and Lisa on their success at Dragons' Den: 

Helen and Lisa were by no means the only familiar faces at Manchester Central. Manoj Ranaweera of, Harold Sharples (another St Andrean) and chartered accountant Colin Glass who had come all the way from Leeds were there - to name but a few.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Civil Justice Centre or the Rolls Building

The Civil Justice Centre in Manchester
Photo Wikipedia

Although the Chancery Division is very good at resolving big ticket disputes between multinationals it is not so good at resolving breach of confidence, copyright, design right, passing off and trade mark disputes between small businesses.  The costs of such litigation, even in the Manchester. Liverpool and Preston District Registries, often exceeds the value of the intellectual property right and sometimes the value of the proprietor's business.   In  "The Enforcement of Patent Rights" the Intellectual Property Advisory Committee reported that the average cost of an infringement claim was over £1 million in the High Court and between £150,000 and £250,000 in the Patents County Court compared to a maximum of €50,000 in France, Germany or the Netherlands (see the table on page 50).

The absence of a low cost forum for the resolution  of intellectual property disputes was seen as a disincentive to innovation and both Gowers and Hargreaves recommended the establishment of such a jurisdiction.   Lord Justice Jackson  made a similar recommendation in his Review of Civil Litigation Costs.  HM Government accepted Hargreaves and Jackson's recommendations and established a small claims track within the Patents County Court at the beginning of this month.   I and others have written extensively about this new court and you will find links to those materials at the end of my article "Patents County Court - the New Small Claims Track Rules" IP/IT Update 20 Sept 2012.

This new small claims track, which is in the Rolls Building in London, can probably handle many if not most of the intellectual property claims that have previously been brought in the chancery district registries and chancery county courts.   Any case other than one relating to patents, registered and registered Community designs, semiconductor topographies and plant breeders' rights can be brought in the small claims track provided that the damages sought do not exceed £5,000.  Since the remedy that most intellectual property owners want is an injunction against future infringement rather than damages or an account of profits for past infringement that is not a  problem.   Most intellectual property disputes are settled early either on undertakings  given in correspondence or after the claimant is granted or refused an interim injunction.   It is very rare for a successful claimant to insist on an account or an inquiry and very few settlements require the defendant to pay the claimant substantial damages.

The costs that can be recovered in the small claims track are very low:

The Rolls Building in London
Photo Ministry of Justice
  • £260 if counsel or solicitors are instructed in relation to an injunction;
  • the costs of issuing the claim form which vary from £30 and £120 depending on the amount of damages claimed; and
  • loss of earnings and travelling expenses for attending a hearing.
Consequently, the risks of litigating in this court are correspondingly low.   No longer can a claimant with a valid claim be stymied by an application for security for costs.

The procedure of the new court is simpler than in the High Court or other county courts.  Disclosure is limited.   The strict rules of evidence do not apply.  Cross-examination is limited.   Anyone may represent a party even if he or she has no legal qualifications.   Five high calibre district and deputy district judges have been appointed to this new court.   They include former partners of Linklaters and Clyde & Co, the head of litigation at Nokia and the legal advisor to the Society of Authors.   Clearly the government expects the court to be busy.

This new court could be of enormous benefit to businesses in North West England.   To explain how it works and how to use it I shall be giving a presentation on the new small claims track to the Liverpool Inventors Club at the offices of QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter at 88 Church Street, Liverpool, L1 3AY on 29 Oct 2012 at 17:00. Entrance is free but as space is limited admission is by ticket only.   You can book on-line or email or call Michael Sandys on 0151 282 1700 to reserve your place.   Although this presentation is designed for inventors and entrepreneurs there will be plenty to interest solicitors, patent and trade mark attorneys and members of the Bar.

If anyone wants to discuss this article he or she should call me on 0161 850 0080 or use my contact form. He or she can also contact me through Facebook, Linkedin, twitter or Xing.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Organizations that Inventors in Manchester should know about

Manchester Inventors meets in City Library at 151 Deansgate on the first Tuesday of  every month. It is quite a lively club.   It attracts some good speakers as can  be seen from the calendar and several members have brought their inventions to market,

Tuesday was the club's AGM and I went along to see how everyone was getting on.   There were a lot of new faces.   Several members of the audience said they were there for the first time which is, of course, a good thing.   Sadly, however, many old faces were missing - particularly Chris Brown who had been the patent librarian at Manchester and had set up the club and clinic.

When I arrived an inquisition seemed to be in progress.   Ever member of the audience was asked by the master of ceremonies for his or her name, why he or she had come to the meeting, whether he or she had an invention, what stage it had reached and if it was not in production what, if anything, was going wrong.  The answers were typed into a spreadsheet which was projected onto a screen for everyone to see.   The answers were what one might expect: "I don't know whether my invention will work"; "I don't have any funding;" and "I've got plenty of good ideas but am not so good at business" were common replies. Here are some organizations around Manchester that might help them.

"I don't know whether my invention will work."
You can try to make a prototype. Manchester is lucky enough to host the first fablab in the United Kingdom. A fablab is a combination of a laboratory, workshop  and class room fitted out with the latest computer controlled equipment such as three dimensional printers and laser cutters.   FabLabs provide design consultancy for a modest fee but, more importantly, they will train you in the computer and design skills that you need to make your own prototype.  The Manchester FabLab is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. You will find it in the CHIPS Building in New Islington just to the east of Manchester city centre, I am very enthusiastic about FabLabs and have written about them quite extensively.   You will find links to all my articles at "Liverpool Inventors Club Relaunched" of 28 Feb 2012.

"I don't have any funding"
The first question you should ask yourself is "Why do I need funding at this stage?"  It is perfectly possible to launch and develop a business with very little.   One of the most widely read business books is "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries.  The book has given rise to lean start-up groups around the world and there is a thriving one known as Leanmanc.   The group meets at least once a month on-line and at various venues in Manchester.  There will be a big meeting at the Studio in Lever Street on 23 Oct 2012 at 19:00 when the group will be addressed by Eric Ries himself.   This is a ticket only event but there is a waiting list.   I would love to have attended the meeting and did have a ticket but as I will be in an aeroplane on the way back from Geneva at that time I have had to let someone else take my place.

If you do need funding you should read the "Introduction to Funding" page and follow the links on the NIPC Inventors Club website.  If you need working capital the community development funding institutions are a good alternative to banks.  You will find a list of those serving the North West here.  A particularly good one is Business Finance Solutions of 90 Great Bridgewater Street.   Its business development manager, David Martin, spoke to the Manchester Inventors Group on 2 Nov 2010 (see my post announcing that event in my Inventors Club blog of 31 Oct 2010),

"I've got plenty of good ideas but am not so good at business"
If you want to improve your business schools. PRIME (The Prince of Wales's Initiative for Mature Enterprise) is holding a series of lectures on preparing to run your own business on 16 Oct, 13 Nov and 11 Dec 2012 at the Job Centre Plus at 24 Mount Street.  According to Prime's website this is an intensive course lasting starting at 10:00 and continuing until 16:30 on each day and delegates are expected to attend all three training days.   The course will teach you how to conduct market research, write a business and marketing plan and pitch for finance.   In short, everything that you need to get to market.

If anyone wants to discuss this article further he or she should call me on 0161 850 0080 or use my contact form. He or she can also contact me through Facebook, Linkedin, twitter or Xing.