HomeInsightsStandard essential patents: UK Intellectual Property Office publishes guidance


A standard essential patent is a patent that protects technology that is essential to implementing a standard. A standard is an agreed or established technical description, usually produced by a standard development organisation. Mobile phones, wireless connectivity, navigation systems in cars and smart meters all use technical standards. Once a technical standard has been agreed, manufacturers are required to make their products standard-compliant. In some cases, standards require the use of specific technologies protected by patents. A patent that protects technology which is essential to implementing a standard is known as a standard essential patent (“SEP”). Users of the technology have no option but to use the standards and therefore need a licence under any relevant SEPs.

Starting in 2021, the UK Intellectual Property Office (“IPO”) launched two Calls for Views and a questionnaire to further its understanding of how the current SEP framework encourages innovation and promotes competition, and to highlight whether any government intervention in needed. Areas of concern highlighted in the responses to these initiatives included transparency around the SEP licensing system, uncertainties over whether a patent being licensed is essential to the relevant technical standard and how the threat of litigation impacts on licensing negotiations. Respondents suggested that barriers exist in particular for smaller businesses and tech start-ups.

The IPOs most recent publication, “Standard Essential Patents: 2024 forward look,” published on 27 February 2024, sets out certain non-regulatory interventions that the IPO will commit to ahead of a public technical consultation later in 2024/2025. These include a UK SEPs Resource Hub (to be launched by May 2024) as a repository of tools, guidance and other materials designed to help SMEs navigate the SEP ecosystem, which could include signposting dispute resolution procedures, patent pools and court processes in the event of disputes. The IPO will also increase its collaborations with other patent offices globally and its engagement with standard development organisations on both IP rights and the involvement of SMEs in standardisation.

The IPO is still considering other options that could improve the functioning of the market for SEPs, including changes to legislation. Any such options would be subject to a formal technical consultation.

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