Box of delights
Of course, we shouldn't be drawn into thinking that things are irreparably gloomy for the UK sector. The broadly optimistic
consensus among pharma leaders that has sprung from the introduction of the Patent Box is long overdue. Any upsurge in confidence
resulting from a sense of increased industry/government co-operation is surely welcome; increased activity may follow as a
Even the authors of the FT's warning letter "recognize the strength and leadership potential in drug discovery in the UK."
They also concede that "excellent research is continuing...and it is not all bad news in the sector," citing AZ's intention
to maintain its corporate headquarters in the UK as "a welcome continuation of corporate confidence."
Indeed, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has been quick to dispel the sense that news of AZ's
downsizing presents a risk to the UK sector; the drugmaker "has a long history of investment as a big employer and contributor
to the economy, as well as the progress of innovation in life sciences," said ABPI. "That will continue."
Instead, ABPI maintains that the industry needed to modernize—to move beyond "purchaser and seller transactional relationships
to a more integrated partnership model"—and welcomes initiatives such as the Patent Box as a sign that the government is continuing
to encourage investment and growth in the sector to facilitate this modernization. But, adds ABPI, it is imperative that the
government now "follows through" on the Patent Box's promise.
This seems to be happening. For those companies eager to take early advantage of the scheme, proposals are under way for a
"superfast" patent service that aims to process applications in three to four months, as opposed to the usual timeframe of
at least two years. (Currently, even when an early publication request is made in writing, UKIPO takes around six months to
process an application.)
But whether companies prefer to take the short or longer route to patent processing (and, for some firms, the longer route
will remain advantageous), only time will tell if the Patent Box scheme will live up to its pharma promise. The consensus
may be that it will indeed be more of a box of delights than a Pandora's Box, but as its phase-in will take time, the full
benefits of the scheme will not be available until the 2017/2018 tax year.
In the short term, there is only really one thing we can be certain about as far as the Patent Box is concerned—it will mean
good business for the patent lawyers.
Julian Upton is Pharm Exec's European Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org