UK Inventor Burns: Torches Patent He Can’t Afford to Use

The High Cost of Enforcement Compels Him to Destroy His Rights Before Parliament

Without the funds to enforce a patent it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

We’ve all heard that before. But never was this more dramatically illustrated as when UK inventor, Michael Wilcox, recently set fire to his patent for an innovative color printing technology in front of Parliament in London.

In a symbolic act of defiance Wilcox torched the rights to what he had created, spending 150,000 GBP of his own money and  100,000 of the government’s. He knew that even if he caught infringers red-handed, he could not afford to face them in court. They get a free ride; he gets a goose egg.

Sad Story

This is a sad story that should have gotten much more play than it did.

I’ve said for years that “a patent holder can’t dial 911 and say ‘Arrest that man. He’s infringing my patent.'” Those who violate copyrights, at least, can face criminal charges. The onus of proving patent infringement is on the holder, and frequently the cost is simply too high.

I thought I would write something about the Wilcox public “execution” but Patrick Anderson at the excellent Gametime IP beat me to it. Patrick did such a fine job or reporting and tying SME abuse to what is happening in the US after the dubious America Invents Act, I am just going to link to his post and let you read it first hand.

I will add that Wilcox’s symbolic act of defiance hopefully dramatizes the patent system’s actual as opposed to imagined failings and abusers. Be sure to read The Telegraph story at the end or Patrick’s post.

While at first glance the patent burning may appear to be little more than a bit of street theater, it conveys a timely story. SMEs and inventors give up on patents on a massive scale, much to the delight of infringers, many of whom are large high-tech companies that can well afford to keep the costs of protracted litigation high.

Said a technology broker to The Telegraph: “Patenting without a realistic threat of prosecution is a toothless tiger.”

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  1. As far as I am aware, unlike in the US, the UK legal system does not allow contingency fee-based law suits. This might have helped Michael WIlcox and others in his situation.


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