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Monday, 29 October 2012

Get your IP act together, British MPs tell government

With a succession of very Junior Ministers, British
IP policy-making seems to have being round in circles ...
Making every effort to generate a frisson of excitement by embargoing the release of this news till 4.15pm (that's now), the British Parliament's All-Party Intellectual Property Group has just released a ten-page report which urges the Government to get a grip on how intellectual property (IP) policy is made.  According to the accompanying media release,
The report, The Role of Government in Promoting and Protecting Intellectual Property, says that while intellectual property is vital to the foundation of economic growth, too often it is overlooked by Government departments who do not grasp its importance.

Although the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is praised as an efficient as a registration body for rights, MPs are concerned that it does not hold sufficient influence within other government departments [well, it does seem to be a long way down in the governmental pecking order.  The choice of junior ministers has done nothing to remedy the situation, particularly since they generally seem to have little interest in and/or aptitude for IP policy (see eg here) and, perhaps more seriously, are responsible for significant areas other than IP too: take a peep at the list of responsibilities given to the current Minister, Lord Marland, on his appointment]. The Group is also worried that the IPO’s policy-making function has lost the confidence of a large number of its key stakeholders [there are many reasons for this, one of which being that some stakeholders, being businessmen and scientists, don't hold degrees in economics and struggle to engage in a dialogue with policymakers who are well-versed in that discipline and who may evince little understanding of their day-to-day business issues].

John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the All-Party IP Group, said: 
“The current system of creating intellectual property policy just isn’t working. IP needs a champion within Government, who will recognise its significance, and who will have the influence to co-ordinate policy across different departments [says the IPKat, this would really help. He wonders whether there is a list anywhere of all the different departments which have an input into IP policy or are directly responsible for it.  A couple of significant IP rights -- geographical indications and plant varieties -- aren't even administered by the IPO, and this surely can't aid the creation and coordination of policy] .

“From trade marks to patents, design rights and copyright, UK companies depend on their IP rights to succeed and thrive. In this difficult economic climate it’s especially important that Government backs British businesses on IP. We hope the Government will take note of our proposals.”
The report makes six key recommendations:

1. The IP Minister should take on the role of being a champion of IP, supported by a small team in IPO, or within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS[if this means stripping a Minister of all other responsibilities, it would be welcome since the Minister could both develop sufficient depth of understanding to be able to appreciate and respond to the work done by his team and would spare him from important distractions];

2. The IPO should revert to seeing IP as a property right [this particular Kat thinks this is a bit of an irrelevance: IP is whatever the European Union says it is. What's important is what it does in practice, not how we categorise it];

3. The Government should be as concerned to promote the creation of new IP, as how existing IP is accessed [in fairness, this Kat thinks that both this government and its predecessor were and are concerned. The difficulty lies in transforming that concern into a tangible result. Taking the US as a paradigm, new IP requires time, money, patience and the tolerance of reasonable failure];

4. Ministers in BIS and their senior officials need to have greater oversight of the IPO [this needn't be greater in quantitative terms, if it's better in qualitative terms];

5. The IPO’s oversight of copyright policy should be moved to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) [this Kat is unconvinced that, at the very point that a proposed centralised and coordinated IP governance is mooted, a major chunk of IP, i.e. copyright, is to be placed within the oversight of the DCMS rather than BIS. If copyright is seen as a basis for developing businesses, channeling investment and creating employment, rather than as a restraint on consumers' enjoyment of their leisure activities, might this be worth reconsidering?];

6. Senior officials and Ministers at BIS should take a greater role in ensuring other Government departments consult them when developing policies affecting IP [the reason why this isn't happening already is that, within the IP community, the perception as to what is relevant to IP policy keeps expanding; those outside the IP circle of information, as it were, will keep being wrong-footed when some hitherto non-IP issue takes IP wings and flies away].
The IPKat is certain that readers will be full of ideas and suggestions.  Merpel is certain that some other countries have already done their version of this exercise and hopes to hear from them.  Do tell us what you think!

8 comments:

Jack Allnutt said...

The term "intellectual property" is such a broad term and the different types of monopolies that are referred to as IP can be quite different in character.

If anything, splitting the responsibilities up into clearly defined areas would be better than lumping them under one minister.

Jan Vleck said...

I was at the AIPPI conference in Korea which was opened the week before last by the Korean Prime Minister who was accompanied by members of the Korean Presidential Council on Intelelctual Property. Bearing in mind that North Korea was going through one of its periodic bouts of threatening to fire shells over the border, the presence for over an hour of the Prime Minister was particualrly telling.

Does anyone really believe that HMG takes IP as seriously as the Koreans and others? Whilst listening to the conference opening ceremony, I was wondering about the odds of getting a senior minister to open an IP conference in the UK. I suggest we all think they are low - perhaps that suggests something about the priority given to IP by HMG.

Anonymous said...

Well that was time wel spent.......not.

Anonymous said...

The report is clearly a shot across the bows of the IPO, radical academics and lawyers who view copyright as a tedious regulation rather than a historical, and socially accepted property right. It really couldn't be clearer:

2. The IPO should revert to seeing IP as a property right

Jeremy opines:

" [this particular Kat thinks this is a bit of an irrelevance: IP is whatever the European Union says it is. What's important is what it does in practice, not how we categorise it];"

But this is a circular argument.

How we (or Europe, or Berne) categorise copyright defines exactly how we use it. The moral and philosophical underpinning of law is not arbitary or temporary.

If we wish to think of a creator's right as "property" (and we do), then this has qualities attached to it. We can trade property. We can withdraw our property from use by others. These are intrinsic qualities of the thing. When we describe IP as "property", we choose such words carefully. It is not temporary or contingent.

Perhaps the Kat is falling into the trap of thinking of digital things as somehow special, and exceptional - digital 'bits' can not have property rights attached to them?

MaxDrei said...

Did Mr Vleck have any free time to watch any TV while in Korea? If so, he might have seen something of the EPO's advertising campaign, currently running there. The EPO thinks advertising on Korean television is worth the money. How about on British TV?

Anonymous said...

MaxDrei -

Samsung earned revenues $47.6bn in the three months to September 30, with a profit of $7.4bn.

Perhaps British companies could learn to "fail" like Korean companies "fail".

Unfortunately HMG and Whitehall is only interested in making life easier for Google.

MaxDrei said...

Funny you mention Google. In this week's FOCUS (German news weekly) is an article explaining how Google pays virtually no tax on its huge profits in Europe. The money it makes gets routed through IE and NL en route for Bermuda and then home. Be thankful for small mercies, it ain't HMG lettting them get away with it.

Anonymous said...

Free from important distractions? Unimportant distractions, surely? - Recommendation 1

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