Shortly after the end of the Second World War Winston Churchill said that Britain had nothing left except the abilities of its people. This may have been an exaggeration, according to intellectual property minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe, but it encompasses an important truth.
“Britain has fewer major natural resources than many other countries,” she said at an intellectual property mentor dinner in London. “This is the fundamental reason why the protection of inventions such as intellectual property (IP) is so important.”
She noted that the government had put a lot of effort into improving the legal framework behind IP, with Taylor Wessing’s “Global IP Index” of 2013 highlighting that the UK had the top rated IP regime in the world. This is despite a review commissioned by prime minister David Cameron in 2011 pointing out that Britain had failed to make the changes needed to modernise copyright law.
The review recommended improving the efficiency of the patent system, bringing greater clarity to design rights and modernising copyright licensing. This required the strengthening of the legislative framework, and in turn leading to the Intellectual Property Act 2014.
Copyright material could be reused “for the purposes of parody, caricature or pastiche” without the permission of the original artist, but only if the final product of using the material is of sufficient comedic value. A new service was implemented which businesses could use to receive a non-binding opinion from the Intellectual Property Office, as to whether a design registered by a business is unoriginal, before this is challenged in court. These were just a few of the changes implemented by the government.
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“One of the reasons the debate around IP is so heated is that there is a lot at stake economically,” said Neville-Rolfe. “Design, for example, is important for the UK’s creative industries. It is worth more than £71bn to our economy annually, growing at around ten per cent, and accounting for 1.68 million jobs. The 2014 Act strengthened the law around design rights and introduced a new criminal sanction for intentional copying. It also made a number of simple changes to patent law that will improve working practice, streamlining the whole system.”
After speaking to James Dyson, however, Neville-Rolfe is set to make another change to the IP system. She claimed that her trip to the headquarters of Dyson reaffirmed that the company was at the forefront of technology and innovation in the UK. There, she announced that UK designers would not have to include a design number on products any longer.
“Virtual marking will propel intellectual property into the digital age,” Dyson said. “Next, we need to uphold a culture where inventors resolutely protect their ideas and where the ideas of others are firmly respected.”
The government has proposed measures which would enable designers to mark their products with a web link, instead of having to stamp the product or attach a label with a registered design number. The web link would then notify other businesses with similar registered design rights and keep information up to date as IP rights change.
“We are confident that virtual marking for registered designs will be very warmly welcomed by UK companies for whom design is key to their success,” said Neville-Rolfe. “Dyson is rightly famous for its innovative designs. The company recognises that it would be a simpler way of providing notice for those rights owners who wish to make use of this option.”
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