It looks as though the UK is again without a functioning national representative body for inventors. Inventor Forum (briefly the United Innovation Association UK), which we were happy to be associated with, is no more after less than a year of existence. As far as we know, the main reason for its demise is that founder Simon Brown reached a point where for financial and personal reasons he couldn’t go on.
So who else can act as a national voice for UK inventors? The cupboard is pretty bare. We can’t do it because we’re a commercial organisation, and there lies the rub. Whoever does it must do so at least initially for little or no money and yet remain independent. Not an easy circle to square.
There is, or was, the Institute of Patentees & Inventors. It’s been around for many years but we’re not aware that it’s currently making any waves nationally and its website seems not to have been updated in a while.
There is, or was, ideas21. Set up over ten years ago by Linda Oakley, her personal dynamism combined with lively networking sessions for inventors and professionals promised much. But ill health forced Linda to take a back seat, so although ideas21 still operates in London and Bristol, it isn’t the national force it could have been.
There is the British Inventors Society, run by inventor Kane Kramer. But its only significant role seems to be to run the annual British Invention Show (which takes some doing, we freely admit) and its website too seems out of date.
A coalition of inventor clubs? That would be a good solution except that there are now few viable inventor clubs left, and at least one of the biggest is struggling to find volunteers to take over from retiring officers.
A model for what is needed is John Mitchell’s SME Innovation Alliance. For energy, determination, authority and expertise, entrepreneur and innovator John Mitchell is hard to beat. What SMEIA is trying to achieve will benefit many inventors, but it’s primarily an organisation for high technology SMEs.
Looking back at a quarter century and more of little sustained help for inventors from government, industry or education, the reality is that there may never be a national representative body for inventors with real clout – because inventors as a species don’t have clout. They’re below the bottom rung of every ladder, off every radar screen, invisible to all shipping. Only when an inventor has an unexpected success does everyone jump up and down and say how inventive a nation we are. So inventors – you’re on your own, ladies and gentlemen. And that’s the way it may always be.
There is one body that in theory would be perfect as the voice of inventors or the funder of a representative body: NESTA. It was after all set up by law – the National Lottery Act 1998 – to help inventors. But NESTA, of course, soon decided that inventors weren’t worth helping, whatever the NLA said. (More on this in our Alternative Brief History of NESTA – coming soon!)
Now an independent charity but still in possession, with questionable justification, of an enormous pot of public money, NESTA is and will remain the cuckoo in the nest of UK innovation for some time to come. In the wider context of UK enterprise and economic recovery, that’s not something we should be at all proud of.