BS 8538 – misconceived and no help to inventors?

According to the IPO news release:BS 8538 Specification for the provision of services relating to the commercialization of intellectual property rights should help to provide a consistent level of service and aid inventors to navigate the fragmented market for intellectual property services in the United Kingdom.

I beg to differ. I don’t think it will make any positive difference at all, and could even make things worse for inventors. But more of that in due course.

In April 2009 I was invited to join the BSI committee helping to draft a Standard, and was happy to do so. The documentation I received indicated that the idea for the Standard originated with Trevor Baylis, and that its aim was to establish ‘a robust, yet adaptable, process for the ethical provision of services to inventors, which if applied by providers of such services, will help to make the evaluation and commercial advancement of inventions more consistent, and a disincentive to those that practice, or intend to practice criminal activity.’

Trevor Baylis was not on the committee, but Trevor Baylis Brands was represented.

(A side issue perhaps: throughout the draft Standard that I read, the assumption was that all inventors had something worth stealing. As anyone who has dealt with inventors knows, many don’t. Whether this is accommodated by the final version of BS 8538 I have no idea, but it ought to be. The scope for disagreement about commercial potential can be large.)

The preamble to the then current draft included this: ‘… there is an increasing level of IP crime, whereby the inventor is enticed to disclose the invention before securing the IP rights, which can result in the invention being commercially exploited by others, often very soon afterwards. A second example of IP crime is where the inventor is attracted to a commercial advisory organization, followed by a devious succession of false hopes and stage payments, resulting in extremely poor value-for money.’

I didn’t have much of an argument with the second example, though I’d hesitate to call it IP crime; it’s more a matter of conning arguably gullible people into parting with cash. That’s as old as the hills. Certainly in the case of the most recently active and unlamented invention scammer (put out of business by the joint efforts of IPO and Trading Standards), IP didn’t come into the picture at all.

But the first example was baffling. In 25 years of involvement in invention support I’d never heard of it happening. Inadvertent disclosure yes, though rarely leading to theft. And occasional IP skulduggery as a result of partners falling out or agreements going bad. But not disclosure by enticement, and certainly not ‘result[ing] in the invention being commercially exploited by others, often very soon afterwards’. I rang round. No one else who knew their stuff had heard of it either.

That’s hardly surprising. No serious criminal is going to want to steal the IP of an unmade, unproven product. They want money, and nothing else. What are they going to do with stolen IP? Sell it? Even the most determined inventors have a hard time doing that. Make the product and sell that? That’s hard, uncertain and expensive work. Any criminal who bothered would need his or her head examining. The sensible ones wait till a product is successful, then they copy it or arrange unauthorised production of the original. They couldn’t care less about IP.

Or if they were genuinely prepared to make some effort on the IP front, they could try the much simpler and well proven tactic of trawling through published patent applications to find inventions to copy or modify.

So I used the intranet set up for BSI committee members to talk to each other, and asked for statistics, evidence or examples of that kind of theft. No one replied. Not a word.


My next concern was the cost of demonstrating conformance to the Standard. Would it be a serious expense for small businesses like

To my amazement, I was told that there would be no cost. In essence, organisations would self-declare that they met the Standard without having to prove it. The Standard would operate on trust. Which is all well and good, until you realise that there is then nothing to stop unscrupulous or incompetent organisations claiming that they meet the Standard too.

How much effort would it then take to build a case against them and force them to stop using the Standard as part of their promotion? Realistically, more than most enforcement agencies might have time and resources for, particularly if the offender were based offshore. And most invention scammers are in any case very skilled at using words that suggest something without actually saying it. It might be very difficult to prove that they were unequivocally in breach of the Standard.

This is what I meant earlier by the Standard potentially making things worse rather than better for inventors – it might act as false reassurance.

Again I used the BSI intranet to voice my concerns. Again I got not a word of response. By now I’d had enough. Frustrated at not knowing whether I was alone and deluded, or missing something so big I couldn’t see it, I declared myself a heretic and resigned from the committee. I’d lasted roughly two months. Nobody sent me flowers.

Clearly my views didn’t count, as we now have a British Standard that I think will be at best window dressing and at worst a candle to inventor moths.

I’m confident that’s T&C and transparency offers inventors as good a deal as they’ll get anywhere, so if BS 8538 proves wildly popular I’ll be happy to wave it around as vigorously as anyone else. But its advantage will then be to my business, not to inventors. Which is probably not quite what Trevor Baylis intended.


One Comment

  • Duncan Burt
    8 Mar 2011 | Permalink |

    There seems to be a growing trend in the Western world by companies and Governments to “Screw” inventors (Better Mousetrap NOT included).

    If you don’t sell out to our “Business Angel” & “Old Boy Networks” then you can swim with the Sharks and we are not going to make it easier for you.

    Business start ups included, Put your House on the Line and the Banks will “talk to you”, no collateral and you can forget it, no Grants, no Development funds nothing…..

    I have invented approx 18 Valid ideas, some I have created prototypes to prove feasibility but I am at present unable to fund the development and marketing.

    This “BS 8538” seems just like another “Half Cocked” half thought out scheme to make matters worse. “BS” indeed, What we need is for NESTA to be forced to provide the support it was intended for rather than its current offerings.

    Duncan Burt