Government pressure over intellectual property

By Michael Servian

Although in many cases they are intangible, some of our most valuable property rights are intellectual property. From patents, designs and valuable trade secrets to software, intellectual property is potentially highly valuable and must be protected by companies just as they would protect other forms of property. It is therefore a positive step in the right direction that parliament is looking at the issue of intellectual property, including through the All-Party Parliamentary Group led by Conservative MP John Whittingdale OBE.

Gradually, society, and more importantly businesses, seem to be realising the importance of intellectual property, which consists of assets to which you have rights but which are not necessarily physical property. The value is in the thought and creativity that has gone into the development of the property, whether that is an invention, a textile design, a song or, increasingly a brand.

The increasing importance attached to intellectual property is reflected in the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s report, which describes intellectual property as “a vital foundation of economic growth” that enables “innovators, creators, manufacturers and designers to protect their innovation and monetise their work”. Given this, especially as we attempt to claw our way out of the economic implications of the recession, it is vital that we recognise and protect our intellectual property in order to protect potential earnings from some of our most valuable assets.

Under the slogan “Protecting innovation, promoting enterprise”, the report voices concern that the Intellectual Property Office (which was known until 2007 as the UK Patent Office) does not see its role as that of championing the intellectual property rights of the country and that the organisation sees itself as fundamentally tasked with providing access to existing intellectual property. The group feels that this is an error that “needs to be rethought”:

“The US has clearly benefited from having an IP (Intellectual Property) Tsar, and whilst we wouldn’t necessarily want to go down that route, we do think the Minister needs to become a champion of IP (Intellectual Property). We would like to see a small unit within the IPO (Intellectual Property Office) fulfilling that role or if they are unwilling to, a small team in BIS (Department for Business, Industry and Skills) undertaking that function.” – All Party IP Group

A US-style approach may have its benefits. It certainly has worked to raise the issues and provide robust strategies towards the media, helping to make people aware of the need to protect intellectual property and the potential harm that can come from failing to do so. However, the concerns I do have are that the report fails to consider the importance of appreciating the sheer range and diversity of intellectual property. It simply isn’t something that can be considered singularly. It is an extremely broad church and each area of intellectual property law is crucially different to and also overlaps with the other areas. Any move by the government going forward will need to address the complexity of intellectual property and I am not convinced that this is properly understood by the report.

This complexity is only going to increase, with the increasing popularity of online shopping and the expansion of the internet and the digital realm in our lives in general. There are more counterfeit goods than ever in the UK, and there are more forms of digital intellectual property infringement such as cyber squatting too.

These new forms and the increasing prevalence of intellectual property infringement require constant combative measures from companies in order to protect the most valuable asset of any business: its reputation. While intellectual property might seem intangible, its impact on the economy and its importance to businesses cannot be underestimated. If the government is going to effectively address its approach to intellectual property, it will do so in a way that recognises the complexity of the task ahead.

About the author

Dr Michael Servian is a Partner at Freeth Cartwright’s Stoke Office, specialising in intellectual property, media and IT law. He has advised on major reported intellectual property cases and is widely recommended as a leading expert in his field by guides including the Legal 500.

Freeth Cartwright LLP is a major national law firm offering services to a wide range of commercial and private clients. The firm has clients throughout the UK and many of those clients have strong international connections. They are the 78th largest law firm in the UK, with a team of over 500 operating from offices in Birmingham, Derby, Leicester, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Sheffield and Stoke on Trent.

A large proportion of the firm’s business is in the real estate sector, including construction, property and planning work, but they also have a significant capability in other areas such as employment, pensions and finance including housing finance, project finance, corporate finance and private clients. Their corporate and commercial teams deal with MBOs, MBIs, the reorganisation and financing of businesses, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. Their intellectual property and technology team deals with both contentious and non-contentious work including a comprehensive international trademark registration service and work in the telecommunications and IT sectors. The firm also has considerable expertise in other more specialist areas, competition, EU law and procurement, corporate tax, sport and entertainment law.

Freeth Cartwright was ranked in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For 2008, 2009 and 2010 listings. The Legal 500’s UK rankings also put Freeth Cartwright as a regional leader in no less than 12 categories and 42 partners are recognized by Chambers UK as leaders in their field.

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