Making sure we maximise the benefits that flow from our innate inventiveness will be key to securing the UK’s future economic status as market forces flux around us. Part of my mission is to drive the development of a business environment that both encourages the birth and development of new ideas and ensures that our innovators, creators and entrepreneurs see a return for their investment.
Forging the right intellectual property (IP) regime is key. As a nation, our total investment in intangible assets is vast and growing rapidly. Today we invest far more in intangibles than we do in physical assets such as buildings and equipment. And we know this expenditure is making a difference to our overall economic performance with intangible assets responsible for 20 per cent of the UK’s productivity growth during the past ten years.
Just over half of this investment in intangibles is linked to the development of IP assets – the patents that cover new technologies, the trademarks that help new brands to flourish, the designs that shape our spaces and services, the copyrights that underpin so much of our creative output. It underpins success in thriving sectors from our pharmaceutical industry, which invests more than £4 billion in research and development and employs more than 72,000 people, to our creative industries, which contribute £16 billion to the UK’s economy. It matters that government delivers a backdrop which encourages continued investment and growth.
There is much to be proud of, I believe. At the end of last year, the independent Global Intellectual Property Index compiled by Taylor Wessing judged the UK’s IP regime to be the best in the world and the UK to be the best location to obtain, exploit and enforce IP. But, as the world changes and as new technologies spark new business practices, as the digital revolution continues changing the way we produce and consume music, images and the written word, we have to make sure our IP environment remains fit for 21st-century purposes and that our businesses are ready to exploit it.
That ambition was an early priority for this government. In 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned Professor Ian Hargreaves to carry out a comprehensive review of the UK’s IP framework to ensure it was fit to promote the innovation and growth we need in the UK economy. Professor Hargreaves’ recommendations have stimulated far-reaching reform of our IP regime, which is continuing through the Intellectual Property Bill just now completing its journey through Parliament.
Our support for businesses, especially small firms, is key. We know that, while businesses may spend a great deal developing new ideas, too often they don’t put in place the strategies they need to secure the best return on that expenditure. This is why, unlike most IP offices elsewhere in the world, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is routinely out and about, talking to businesses, to help them understand their IP and how to protect it.
While businesses may spend a great deal developing new ideas, too often they don’t put in place the strategies they need to secure the best return on that expenditure
In addition to its business outreach programme, which reaches around 20,000 firms annually, last year it launched a new suite of tools giving detailed guidance to help businesses identify and protect their IP assets and seize the opportunities they create. I would encourage readers who haven’t seen them to take a look at the IPO’s website at www.ipo.govuk.
The UK is also doing much to make core rights granting services more accessible and easier to use. The Patents Law Amendment Act 1852 introduced the world’s first “modern” patent law and in October that year the same law brought The Patent Office into being, but the paper-based systems and limited focus of the mid-19th century do not reflect the needs of 21st-century firms. Today’s IPO encourages online applications for patents, trademarks and design registration. In the coming year it will be looking to expand its digital services to include an e-patents renewal service.
Better guidance and more accessible services are making a difference. They make it easier for businesses to get to grips with the risks and opportunities associated with their IP and to take action which allows firms to manage them, for example by applying for registered rights.
But having rights is worthless if they are not respected and if they can’t be enforced. Getting this right means educating people to respect IP, ensuring that we have good intelligence on IP infringement, focused enforcement authorities and an effective judicial system which understands IP issues.
Since I took up post, I’ve been pleased to see and encourage real progress across this agenda. The changes we have made to the old Patents County Court, now the IP Enterprise Court, have created a space where creators and innovators can challenge those who would infringe their rights. Also the launch last year of a new, specialised unit in the City of London Police to tackle IP crime has increased our ability to tackle counterfeiting and online crime.
Because IP infringement doesn’t respect national boundaries, in June I will host a “Respect for IP” London summit to focus on international enforcement issues. For the first time, the summit will bring together senior creators, businesses, enforcement policy-makers and authorities from across the globe to consider the issues and share best practice, showcasing the UK as a centre of excellence for IP-rich companies.
I hope the summit will also send a message out to British businesses that the international community is serious about protecting IP. As Chancellor George Osborne underlined in his recent Budget, exporting is key to our continued economic recovery. But I know that fear of being copied, in challenging markets, can deter businesses from finding new global customers.
I am keen that we should do more to support those who reach out to new markets. We have set up a network of IP attachés covering four key emerging markets – South-East Asia, China, India and Brazil – who are there to help businesses with IP-related issues. Already they have helped hundreds of businesses with specific issues and helped protect IP assets worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
They are also helping to strengthen government-to-government relations in those markets and increase our influence. Our Beijing attaché, for example, is making sure that the Chinese Intellectual Property Office is able to share not only our economic analyses, but also our experience of driving change in the UK. It is no surprise to me that when the Chinese judiciary wanted to boost its understanding of IP legal issues, it turned first to the UK, sending a delegation of judges to look at how we do things here.
Being ahead of the curve, for the benefit of British businesses, is an essential element in making sure we have a fit-for-purpose IP regime that will support and promote new opportunities for growth both here and overseas. I am proud of what we’ve achieved so far and pleased that others judge us to be the best, but I also know we have an important and ambitious agenda for the future.