How the law can help create tech unicorns


Posted by Simon Stokes, 10th June 2019
Today marks the start of London Tech Week – firmly putting tech on the business agenda.  The Prime Minister herself is speaking at a roundtable for leading tech companies.

She will highlight that the UK is one of the best places in the world to start and grow a tech business – British Tech is growing over one and a half times faster than the rest of the economy, adding more than one hundred and thirty billion pounds to our economy every year.  A raft of investments in the UK tech sector of more than £1.2 billion is being announced together with a number of government and industry initiatives to help ensure the UK remains the most attractive place to build a tech business.

There is no doubt that London in particular has established itself as a leading if not the leading FinTech hub in the world – figures released today by TechNation and Dealroom indicate that one unicorn (a startup valued at over $1billion)  has been created every month for the past year in London:  London has 45 unicorn firms to date out of 72 which are based in Britain, making the UK the third most successful for unicorns in the world behind the USA and China. 18 of these unicorns are FinTech companies.  London has even more unicorns than San Francisco.

The fact the UK Government is throwing its weight behind London Tech Week is to be welcomed.  Yet it is important that investment in tech is not limited to London.  Certainly participants in London Tech Week include the UK’s regions – the Leeds City Region is hosting a special event, for example.  And there are tech initiatives across the UK not just in London.  But look behind the figures and the UK Government’s support for the sector is modest compared to a number of other leading industrialised nations.  Another challenge for the UK is that whilst we are excellent in science and technology and in innovation at an early stage, often what we invent is then exploited commercially elsewhere in the world.  Also we need an environment which both continues to attract the most talented people globally as well as ensuring we train our own technologists of the future – here the Government’s announcement today of 2,500 places for first time for AI and data conversion courses is to be welcomed.

The UK has shown remarkable success in tech as our number of unicorns demonstrates.  The challenge will be to ensure this success continues not least given current political uncertainties.  The law itself can help ensure this success – there is currently a government supported consultation by the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (UKJT) about ensuring the law in England & Wales provides the legal certainty needed to support cutting edge technologies such as blockchain and smart contracts where the code is the contract.  The consultation closes on 21 June and will explore whether the law in England & Wales needs revision to continue to provide an attractive legal framework to bolster investor confidence in these technologies or whether it is already fit for purpose so only clarification of the law through an authoritative Legal Statement from the UKJT  is needed.  Basic questions are being asked about what we mean by “property” when we talk about blockchain and cryptoassets and about whether smart contracts can be legally binding and enforceable.   The UKJT will report in late summer of this year.

Ensuring we have the right legal framework will be essential if the UK is to continue to create unicorns.

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