Margareta Pagano: Dyson and Portas are not the answer to our problems

Famous talking heads can't fix the economy, we need serious policies

Shortly after last year's election, the German ambassador to London hosted a discussion between the former head of the CBI, Richard Lambert, and the TUC boss, Brendan Barber, on how the new coalition government should kick-start the UK economy.

One of the more pertinent observations, which impressed most of us in the audience that night, came from a German industrialist – a director at one of the world's most successful car companies – who asked the two bosses if they didn't think the UK had a serious problem if, whenever there is any debate about the future of British manufacturing, the only name that ever crops up is Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the pricey vacuum cleaners that bear his name?

The industrialist didn't raise the question to knock – or mock – Dyson, but rather to point to the shallowness of British attitudes towards engineering and manufacturing. He's spot on: how sad that the only person anyone here can name as an engineer of note – and who got a knighthood – is the inventor of a simple "root cyclone" engine.

The German's analysis came to mind last week as Dyson, after announcing knock-out profits of £206m, popped up to moan about the lack of engineers in the UK. His comments seemed self-serving; particularly as he's moved his manufacturing plant to Malaysia and just as the UK and the rest of the world appear to be careering towards a double-dip recession and secondary banking crisis. Yet Dyson is the man entrusted by the Conservatives to come up with ideas to improve the nation's manufacturing, which he did in a report published last year as Ingenious Britain.

It goes without saying that we need more engineers – scientists and mathematicians, too – but such a shift in culture requires joined-up thinking. Sadly, there were few original thoughts in Dyson's report.

Another example of such gimmickry is the absurd appointment of Mary Portas to turn around the fortunes of the high street. Looking at the pages of publicity in the papers last week for her new shop, it's hard to know how Portas has time for her report, which is due to be included in the Chancellor's autumn growth plan. If the Government thinks the public buys into these talking heads as replacements for serious policy initiatives, it is mistaken.

It's also time for George Osborne to stop posturing. His "I was right" remark, made so childishly following the latest flare-up of the eurozone debt crisis, was inappropriate. While he may be right in some respects, he was wrong to say so – our trading base is entwined with Europe.

There's no shame in Osborne announcing that Plan A needs stars as well as stripes. Over the past few months the landscape has changed, so policy must adapt. We've had a nuclear disaster in Japan, soaring commodity prices, seismic political unrest in the Middle East, a downturn in the US and a sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone, which is turning into a solvency crisis for Europe's biggest banks. In the UK, we have rising inflation, the biggest squeeze on real incomes for decades, a slowdown in manufacturing, the sharpest falls in share prices to levels not seen since Labour's first year of office, another rise in unemployment with one in five of all 16 to 24-year-olds out of work, poor retail sales, and riots. For once, consumers have listened to the doomsayers and are quite rightly cutting back.

If this isn't the time for Osborne to reflect on a U-turn, then one can only assume his pride is greater than his desire to promote growth and the country's well-being. There are already mutterings of rebellion on the front and back-benches – behind the scenes Tories such as Philip Hammond and David Davis are said to be pushing for VAT and other tax cuts. Reducing the deficit is still the right priority, but the risks of over-tightening monetary policy are too great. Osborne needs grown-up measures to kick-start the economy if we are to avoid a second recession and they don't have to cost much.

He should start by calling in Lord Harris of Peckham, the Carpetright tycoon who came up with the brilliant idea after the riots that companies like his should give jobs to unemployed youngsters and get the benefits the Government would have paid to them. Harris says he would employ 400 overnight and reckons most companies would follow. Now that's what you might call action.

Is the US tech patent war going to blow up into another sub-prime fiasco?

Google's decision to pay $12bn for Motorola looks little short of bonkers. The online giant has admitted that the real driver to the deal is getting access to Motorola's technology war chest which has about 24,500 patents under lock and key. That's about $350,000 for each of Motorola's patents – technology which Google didn't invent and which it is unlikely ever to use, as the main reason for buying is to stop rivals like Apple from snapping them up.

This patent war is getting so ridiculous that some analysts reckon it's turning into a sub-prime-type crisis, with patents being traded like mortgages. Apple, Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, and Microsoft have already paid a total of $4.5bn for the Nortel Networks patents.

Another battle is brewing at Kodak which is considering selling its 1,100 patents covering capturing, storing, organising and sharing digital images. One of these patents covers image previewing technology which Kodak says is being infringed by Apple and RIM. If Kodak goes ahead, expect an expensive and vicious fight as Apple is determined to win.

Quite apart from anything else, this obsession with patents is destroying businesses rather than protecting them and the ability of top scientists and engineers to develop new technologies. Patents filed in the US with the Patent and Trademark Office have nearly doubled to 509,000 last year. The jump is not because Americans are more inventive but because lawyers are getting greedier. It's they who are pushing companies to lodge anything they can lay their hands.

Then those same lawyers – the patent trolls as they are known – persuade all the big firms to sue. As I said, bonkers. So what's to be done? Anthony Rushton, co-founder of Telemetry, one of the UK's leading online video technology specialists, suggests all patents should be given up to a year to prove they are commercial. After that, the patent should be allowed to expire: quite simple really.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee