Choosing the right innovation destination is key to recovery

Research and development

At a time when many companies are considering onshoring operations to minimise risk, it is heartening to find data confirming that Europe is attractive to global innovators – both as an R&D destination and as a large, relatively-stable marketplace in its own right.

So, should innovative businesses be considering onshoring or expanding their R&D activities in the UK in the months ahead?

Research undertaken jointly by European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers, and Econsight, confirms the high volume of patents filed in Europe between 2013-2019 and sheds light on the countries where protection is most often sought for fast-developing technologies, such as sensors, battery tech, digital health and AI and machine learning. As business activity starts to re-gain momentum, innovative owner-managed businesses and corporates could consider strengthening their presence in this proven market.

There is much to gain from onshoring innovation activity in the UK, due to its excellent university-based research teams and strong knowledge base. Access to a depth and breadth of engineering expertise makes the UK an ideal base for research programmes involved in early-stage design and prototyping. There are other reasons to locate R&D in the UK too. Particular strengths in areas such as computer science and software development mean many research scientists are used to sharing information on distributed systems; a way of working that could become more common in a post-pandemic world.

One notable effect of Covid-19 has been the pace of R&D activity in areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical diagnostics, personal protective equipment (PPE), decontamination systems and mobility tracking  technologies.

From an intellectual property (IP) perspective, businesses have been looking for ways to bring their innovations to market as quickly as possible by seeking provisional protection at an early stage. As lockdown restrictions lift, ‘fast followers’ will drive the next phase of innovation activity, capitalising on market opportunities arising from the ‘new normal’.

Investment in innovation will remain critical for many businesses as they emerge from the pandemic. In some cases this could involve working collaboratively with tech innovators to find solutions to new problems.

For example, cosmetics and clothing retailers will be looking for ways to eliminate the need to try on garments, or apply products. Access to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies, many of which are market-ready, could deliver a significant competitive advantage and improve customer experience.

For many businesses, innovative contactless payment systems and other technologies designed to facilitate social distancing and protect customers and employees, could see increased demand.

Technologies designed to build on existing communications platforms and facilitate remote working could help corporates and other organisations to overcome the problems associated with social distancing in large offices. Innovation activity focused on adapting these technologies to solve post-pandemic problems is likely to remain a priority for some time to come.

While the pandemic has left its mark on many businesses, there will be commercial opportunities for those that stay focused on innovating the way to recovery.

Karl Barnfather is chairman of European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers. He specialises in advising innovative businesses involved in the development of consumer electronics, computer-based technologies and