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May 22, 2011Science and Technology
'Digital Opportunity': Round-up on UK's Intellectual Property and its Growth

'Digital Opportunity' is the report prepared by Prof. Ian Hargreaves followed by a six-month review conducted independently, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister of United Kingdom. It pertains to evaluation of the IP laws in UK and the growth of IP there. The report has been released in May 2011.

The report concludes after an intriguing study for five months that laws designed more than three centuries ago with the express purpose of creating economic incentives for innovation by protecting creators' rights are today themselves obstructing innovation and economic growth. This concern is especially addressed for Copyright law, which seems to be falling behind what is needed. Copyright, once the exclusive concern of authors and publishers, is today preventing medical researchers studying data and text in pursuit of new treatments. There is assertion in the report that 'copying' has become basic to numerous industrial processes, as well as to a burgeoning service economy based on the internet. Prof. Hargreaves opines that UK cannot afford to let a legal framework designed around artists impede vigorous participation in these emerging business sectors.

The above also cannot be allowed to put their creative industries at risk of insecurity. These concerns are definitely not novel, since they have found place in myriad discussions, however law still remains oblivious of the changes taken place in the digital world. 'Digital Opportunity' set out how this can be achieved.

A more general suggestion to the Government is to ensure that in future, policy on Intellectual Property issues is constructed on the basis of evidence, rather than weight of lobbying, and to ensure further that institutions on which UK is dependent to deliver Intellectual Property policy, have clear mandates and adaptive capability.

Key recommendations

International priorities: Attaching highest immediate priority to achieving a unified EU Court and EU patent system, which promises significant economic benefit to UK businesses.

Orphan works: If a work cannot be found by search of the databases involved in  the proposed Digital Copyright Exchange, then the Government should enable mass licensing of such works collectively. 

Limits to Copyright: The Government should resist over-regulation of activities such as format shifting, parody, non-commercial research, library archiving, etc., which do not prejudice the provision of incentives to creators. 

Patent thickets and other obstructions to innovation: The Government should:

(a) play a lead role in cutting backlogs in patent prosecution and manage the boom in patent application by extend 'work-sharing' with other countries;

(b) ensure that patents are no extended to fields such as non-technical computer programs or business methods;

(c) investigate ways of limiting adverse consequences of patent thickets by assessing the patent fee structure (including renewal fee) and causing it to be based on innovation and growth goals instead of merely patent-office running costs.

The Design Industry: This being one of the neglected filed in IP over the years, the assessment should include exploration with design interests of whether access to the proposed Digital Copyright Exchange would help creators protect and market their designs and help users better achieve legally compliant access to designs.

SMEs and IP framework: The IPO should draw up plans to improve accessibility of the IP system to smaller companies who will benefit from it. This should involve access to lower cost providers of integrated IP legal and commercial advice.

IP system responsive to change: The IPO should be given necessary powers and mandate in law to ensure that it focuses on its central task of ensuring that the UK's IP system promoted innovation and growth through efficient, contestable markets. 

Enforcement of IP rights: The Government should pursue an integrated approach based upon enforcement, education and, crucially, measures to strengthen and grow legitimate markets in copyright and other IP protected fields. In order to support IP right holders in enforcing their rights, the Government should introduce a small claims track for low monetary value IP claims in the Patents County Court.

Conclusion

Every year in the last decade, investment by UK businesses in intangible assets has outstripped investment in tangible assets. In the light of the above, the Hargreaves Report could not have come at a more opportune time where requirement of upgrading the IP laws in UK is evident from the gaps in their system. 

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