UK announces wide reform of intellectual property laws

03 Aug 2011 | News
The UK government accepted all ten recommendations made in an independent review of IP published earlier this year, and said it will push hard on the single EU patent

All the recommendations made in the Hargreaves’ review of intellectual property, published in May this year, have been accepted and will be put into effect, the UK government announced on Wednesday (3 August).

At the same time the UK government published an international strategy setting out its five year vision to get the international IP framework in the best possible shape to support innovation and growth, noting that patent backlogs cost the global economy up to £7.4 billion a year. Top of the list, the UK government said it will “push hard for agreement on a unitary EU patent and patent court.”

It will also support EU copyright reforms including cross-border licensing, allowing use of Orphan works with no known copyright owner, and making the EU copyright framework more adaptable to new technologies.

At the centre of the proposed reforms in the UK are plans for the creation of a Digital Copyright Exchange to act as a one-stop shop for users looking to identify copyright owners and take out licenses. The government said it will announce arrangements for how this will be taken forward later in the year.

There are also plans to introduce copyright exceptions covering limited private copying, to bring the law into line with what are described as, “consumers’ reasonable expectations”. The government says thousands of people copy legitimately purchased content, such as a CD to a computer or portable device such as an iPod, assuming it is legal. Changing legislation to allow limited private copying will bring copyright law into line with the real world.

Another exception to copyright law is to be introduced allow text and data mining by research scientists. Citing an example of the current constraints, the government says a Thai-based research unit wants to make 1,000 journals available that offer potential insights into treating malaria. Researchers would like to text mine them. However, because many of the authors are unknown it is impossible to establish who owns the copyright to them. The papers remain unavailable to researchers and this is out of proportion to any benefit the authors of the articles would be likely to want if they could be found.

It is also planned to establish licensing and clearance procedures for so-called Orphan works that have no known copyright owners. The government says this would open up a range of works that are currently locked away in libraries and museums and unavailable for consumer or research purposes.

At a higher level, the government pledged that evidence should drive future policy. To do this, the economics team at the UK Intellectual Property Office’s has been strengthened and has begun a programme of research to highlight growth opportunities.

The UK Chancellor George Osborne said the broad acceptance of the Hargreaves’ review, “Will make it easier to use IP to create value and growth.”

The UK government set out three objectives which it will pursue to improve the international system for IP:

1. A well-functioning international framework

Reform of the international IP system – including work on improving uptake of the Patent Co-operation Treaty to tackle patent backlogs that cost the global economy up to £7.4 billion a year, and reform at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, where finances and governance have historically proven difficult.

Influence in Europe, the source of much of the IP framework governing UK business – pushing for a unitary EU patent and patent court; working to secure EU copyright reforms, such as cross-border licensing; and work to ensure IP elements of Free Trade Agreements are in line with UK priorities.

2. Good national regimes

Pushing for more effective and consistent enforcement of IP laws within national regimes – by strengthening relationships with key economies like China, India, Brazil, and the US, and establishing a network of IP Attachés.

Providing practical support to business operating overseas

3. Economic and technological development

Striking the right balance between industrial and development priorities, to help stimulate economic growth and tackle critical global challenges – tailoring IP policy to the level of development of countries and supporting diffusion of medical and climate change technology.

Alongside the response to the Hargreaves’ review the government published a new strategy for combatting intellectual property crime, which outlines how the Intellectual Property Office will continue to enforce IP crime issues domestically. Counterfeit goods often use other company’s trade marks or infringe their copyright, which can lead to financial losses.

The UK government response to the Hargreaves’ review:

The Hargreaves’ review, Digital Opportunity: A review of intellectual property and growth’:

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