Examination of witness (Questions 460 - 479)
WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER 1998
460. Do you then think that the Government should
be involved in trying to fill that gap or do you think you should
be involved in trying to fill that gap or sitting on the patents
for two or three years; does that fill the gap?
(Mr Sandford) No, I do not think that does fill the
gap although it may on occasion. In terms of stimulating activity
within small to medium sized companies, in the mid-1980s I think
there was a scheme called Finance for Innovation which as far
as I can seeat that stage, I was involved in several small-start-up
companieswas quite effective. I do not actually think that
the end result was the creation of big industries in the United
Kingdom or long term increases in employment, but it is certainly
the area where it is least likely to happen; that is new technology
addressing new markets where SMEs are trying to pick it up. That
is least likely to happen without some outside assistance.
461. What role does BTG see for independent
research and technology organisations in the process of innovation
and exploitation? Do you work through them and how effective is
this working together?
(Mr Sandford) I would say that we very rarely come
across them and the reason for that I think is that they are independent,
yes, but they are generally funded in the majority now by members
of the industry that they serve and a lot of what they do tends
to go back to their members. I am thinking of things like RAPRA.
462. Would you benefit from working with them?
Do you think things would advance quicker, more efficiently, you
would make some more revolutionary strides forward with inventions
and physical sciences if you did work with them?
(Mr Sandford) Of the ones I have come across I do
not think there is much overlap between what we are trying to
do and what they are trying to do, so that there did not seem
to be much scope for working together.
463. How would you know?
(Mr Sandford) Well, as I say, for the two that I have
talked to there did not seem to be, but I cannot speak for all
464. So there is not much contact is what you
(Mr Sandford) Yes.
465. There is none. Yes?
(Mr Sandford) There is intermittent contact, but not
a lot, no.
466. My questions are on the University Challenge
Fund, the £50 million put together by Government and private
sources. Do you think it will work in terms of helping to exploit
(Mr Sandford) Basically funds which are targeted at
exploitation are as easy to get as possible, so not huge grant
applications, not lots and lots of stages; I think that is the
best way of stimulating commercial activity within the universities.
467. Do you think that in any way this is competition
to your own work, a competitive threat?
(Mr Sandford) Not really, no.
468. Are you the largest patent agent in Britain?
(Mr Sandford) We are the largest organisation doing
what we do, but there are other companies which employ more patent
attorneys I think. They would be, for instance, large oil companies.
469. You would not call yourself a patent agent,
(Mr Sandford) No, we are a technology transfer company.
470. That is right, yes, but you have patent
agents probably on your payroll?
(Mr Sandford) Yes, we have a patent department of
471. When you were privatisedis there
a different role for you as a privatised company to what it was
five, 10 years ago?
(Mr Sandford) I think the change was actually earlier
than that but the inevitable result of privatisation and then
flotation is ever more focus on the areas where we believe we
can make most money.
472. Does this University Challenge Fund help
to fill a void that you left behind, as it were?
(Mr Sandford) Quite possibly, yes.
The Committee suspended from 5.15 p.m. to
5.25 p.m. for a Division in the House.
Chairman: Thank you for your patience,
Mr Sandford. We hope there will not be another Vote during the
course of this session, so perhaps in the next 20 minutes we can
go on to a conclusion. Mr Beard
473. You mentioned your brush with Mrs Thatcher
on the question of the development gap. Do you feel that if the
Government were to put some funds into helping industry in development,
it would speed up or secure more innovation?
(Mr Sandford) Honestly, I do not know. I think you
would have to try it to find out. One observation on that is that
you would have to be careful about how it was done in order for
it to end up with the people you wanted it to end up with because
larger companies tend to have the ability to put someone to the
task of obtaining development funding and in maximising their
income from grants. It is the small and medium sized companies
that have difficulty learning about, difficulty committing the
resource to getting the money, particularly if there is a high
failure ratesay only 10 percent of those who apply get
the moneyand a lot of small and medium sized companies
can say: "We do not have time to do that".
474. If you were not using funds to try to get
round this problem of not taking on the development role afterwards,
can you see any other ways in which companies might be encouraged
to take that on?
(Mr Sandford) I do not know whether what you meantax
475. Non-financial obstacles that a Government
could help overcome in order to encourage companies to take the
risks of development and take things that further stage into application?
(Mr Sandford) No, immediately I cannot see anything.
476. This has partly been covered, but do you
have any ideas about what Government could do to actually help
small and medium-sized enterprises to get into the new markets?
(Mr Sandford) Summarise, I think. Funds aimed specifically
at small and medium sized companies and with the absolute minimum
of bureaucracy to get the funds, yes, that is one way of doing
it. But I have at the same time to say that the challenge with
that is for it not to be abused.
477. So how would you do that? You would have
to have some kind of assessment, but with minimum bureaucracy.
Do you have any models that you think work?
(Mr Sandford) Actually, I think SMART 1 and 2 work
reasonably well. I do not know what the refusal rate on that is
or what the success rate is or totally what the bureaucracy is
in that, but I think it is relatively limited. I think it does
work quite well.
478. You would perhaps put more money in those
kind of schemes?
(Mr Sandford) Yes.
479. May I ask you about the demonstration phase
of new inventions? The Royal Academy of Engineering pointed out
to us that in several competitor nations the Government gives
some support in this phase. How important is that phase? Several
of our previous witnesses have said that a lack of facilities
in this country is holding back from, and providing barriers to,
bringing products to market?
(Mr Sandford) I think that could be a barrier. It
is not something I have thought about before, but yes, it could
be. Particularly in industries where you do prototype things there
is a tendency, I think, for the next person down the chain to
say: "Mm, yes, well I will believe it when I see it working
and when you have data which shows that it will yield the benefit
that you say it will." We occasionally run into that, so
yes, I think that might help.