Baroness Neville-Rolfe speech at the 2016 International Law Enforcement IP Crime Conference

Baroness Neville-Rolfe promotes the value of partnerships in tackling intellectual property crime.

Good morning everybody, and thank you for welcoming me here today.

I’m especially glad to be standing before you all here in London, particularly in this tenth year of the International Law Enforcement Intellectual Property Crime Conference.

Already you have heard some fascinating conversations on the future of intellectual property and the practicalities of cooperation, but there is more to be said. As the Minister responsible for IP I am well aware of the importance of new ideas – and I would like to thank the wonderful speakers who have gone before me and all who have attended this conference from around the world.

In the ten years since our first conference the world has changed significantly, and technology has progressed at an incredible pace. In 2006 all cars needed human drivers, and tweeting was for the birds! But thanks in no small part to Britain’s own Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the globe has become truly connected, with individuals and organisations from all over the world able to reach each other.

This means that products and services of all sizes have access to a far larger market, which has fuelled an explosion in IP-intensive industries. One study has suggested these industries account for some 39% of the European Union’s GDP. Recently published IPO research also shows us that 53% of total UK investment in intangible assets was in assets protected by Intellectual Property Rights.

But as we all know, this level of access is double edged. When an idea or a brand can reach a global audience in minutes, it can be hard to maintain control. IP rights are undermined by infringements. As much as 5% of goods entering the European market are thought to be counterfeit, according to our friends at the EU Intellectual Property Office.

Some people will say that this is “just a headache for big brands.” But this is far from the case. IP crime affects all parts of the supply chain, including manufacturers and retailers. Many small innovators have fallen victim to larger criminal enterprises hijacking their designs. Meanwhile customers find that quality is no longer a guarantee, undermining trust, or, in the worst cases, causing mechanical failures and personal injuries.

I have been working with industry and officials all over the world: here in the UK, throughout Europe and as far away as South-East Asia. Only a few weeks ago I was in China where we discussed how we might work together to reduce both the demand for and the supply of set-top boxes that allow illegal access to subscription services. Much as I’d enjoy a 24 hour cricket channel, this is not the way to view it!!

Again, some might see this as a “victimless” crime; one which only affects abstract broadcasters and content owners, with little impact on “real people.” But think of the support technician whose legitimate employer no longer has enough work for them. Think of the honest tradesman fitting genuine equipment who finds himself threatened and intimidated by a criminal gang.

With IP crime, as with all crime, there are a few criminals who benefit personally, and a far greater number of law-abiding citizens who suffer. Danny Marti spoke very powerfully yesterday about the human cost and child labour. We cannot forget those victims.

This is a serious issue for everyone, with victims and perpetrators of all sizes across the globe. Which is why it’s crucial that we all work together to combat this growing threat, both to stop the criminals involved in IP crime, and to safeguard IP holders and innovators by refusing to let criminality take root.

The British Government have made enforcement of IP rights a priority. Enforcement must be proportionate, and it must be effective, both in terms of convictions and deterrence. Crucially, it must be straight-forward, so that potential victims can easily understand the support on hand. On many measures, Britain is the best place in Europe to innovate, patent new ideas and grow business, and the government is committed to keeping it that way.

When I speak of cooperation I don’t just mean between governments and law enforcement agencies. Suppliers and consumers must be brought on board too. That’s why Internet Service Providers in the UK are required to block sites carrying large amounts of illegal content, as well as their proxy sites, while we work to ensure that search engines do not link to the worst offending sites.

We are also expanding our voluntary anti-piracy projects, which warn internet users when they are breaching copyright. In our IP Enforcement Strategy 2020 I set out my belief that guiding consumers to legal content when they search will help ensure that the vast appetite that exists for new and creative content benefits the legitimate creators, and not those criminals who cynically exploit the hard work of others. An informed public is an essential weapon in this fight.

In our document we set out our plans to support innovation and creativity while remaining a world leader in IP enforcement. I would urge you to take a look at the document, as it covers a large number of commitments covering the full spectrum of IP enforcement.

Our core ambitions are to ensure:

  • that UK companies - including small businesses, which are so important to our economy and around the world - are more confident in operating internationally as a result of better IP protection
  • that rights-owners have straight-forward access to proportionate and effective mechanisms to resolve disputes
  • that consumers are educated in the benefits of respecting IP rights, as well as the possible repercussions of law breaking. Enforcement and education go hand-in-hand

These are, by nature, commitments which will take time to bear fruit. But we have already seen success, and as the theme of this conference is “Celebrating Ten Years of Success” I would like to mention some of our achievements together.

I am immensely proud of the work that the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit has done within the City of London Police. We would not have anywhere near the level of success we have had were it not for a close working relationship with Interpol. Your international reach and influence has been indispensable.

So too have Interpol’s programmes for developing training and awareness in IP law for law enforcement throughout the world. These programmes have brought together different services from different countries, uniting them in a common purpose to lead a change through operations around the world, in particular in South East Asia, Europe, Africa, South America.

In Britain, we are particularly grateful for the platform Interpol has offered to our excellent IP attachés in India, South East Asia, Brazil and China.

Interpol’s work with Europol through Operation Opson has ensured that food fraud is on the agenda of many countries represented here today, making sure that consumers can trust what they’re eating.

At a more local level, we have also seen some truly game-changing successes. One key decision was the creation of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, or PIPCU, which I mentioned earlier. PIPCU allows us, for the first time ever, to coordinate industry resources which can enable both interventions through intermediaries, and arrests where there is sufficient evidence.

Alongside this, preventative measures have been undertaken to squeeze illegal suppliers out of the digital marketplace. A unique agreement between IP rights holders, legitimate advertisers, the Internet Advertising industry and the police has reduced criminal websites’ advertising business by 73%, a staggering figure.

This conference is rightly focused on the successes of the last ten years, and one of them surely must be the outstanding leadership of Chief Constable Giles York, who has headed up our IP Crime Group since the first conference ten years ago.

It is also time to congratulate Mick Ellis who has headed up Interpol’s Illicit Trade team and someone whom you all know and have worked with. As he moves on to new challenges I am sure you will wish him well and acknowledge his tireless contribution to IP enforcement.

The IP Crime Group was established to bring together any and all interested parties. This group works with the team put together by the Intellectual Property Office, which serves and supports law enforcement and industry. It is a key part of our effort to provide country-wide strategic leadership and coordination across enforcement.

Close to this building, over in Camden Market, concerted efforts have all but eliminated the sale of counterfeit goods, a reduction which an industry-led preventive agreement called ‘Real Deal’ will sustain. This is an agreement between the market operator and local authority. It is spearheaded by our National Markets Group, and is an excellent example of successful cooperation across sectors.

So while we maintain vigilance in our domestic markets, UK Border Force and Her Majesty Revenue and Customs are working closely with the IPO to turn intelligence from seizures into further interventions inland and upstream, extending our ability to disrupt criminality with colleagues abroad.

This work will no doubt be bolstered by the benefit we all get by sharing good practices. We learn much from our colleagues’ initiatives and have adapted them to our laws and practices. Likewise some of our initiatives are influencing them, for example a PIPCU-style team in India and an advertising reduction programme in Southeast Asia.

Across agencies and departments we are seeing a shared commitment to work together to stop IP crime in its tracks. To achieve this we will utilise our combined strengths, methods and resources. Finally, I should also like to briefly touch on the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

You will all be aware that the British people voted to leave the EU, and that our new Prime Minister is committed to implementing this decision. I want to be clear: the process of negotiation and leaving the EU will take time. There will be no immediate changes.

Today, the UK remains a member of the EU and applications for IP rights giving protection in the UK will continue as usual. The excellent patent and trademark attorneys continue to represent UKIPO, the European Patent Office and the EUIPO. The UK remains a committed partner to Europol, as well as Interpol. IP crime does not respect borders and we will continue to work closely with our European colleagues to tackle IP crime across Europe, just as we will throughout the wider world.

The UK is and will remain: open for business. There will clearly be questions around future IP arrangements, some of which can only be answered as our exit negotiations progress. I know that this will lead to some uncertainty, so let me clarify a few points:

  • firstly, companies operating in the UK can continue to expect outstanding, professional rights-granting services from the UK IPO
  • secondly, the UK will continue to be a world leader in dispute resolution and enforcement
  • thirdly, we will continue to work closely with our valued international partners, many of whom are in this room

Whatever the outcome of our exit negotiations, it’s clear that IP crime is an international problem which will demand an international solution.

On my recent visit to China I had the great pleasure of witnessing the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding between the China-Britain Business Council and Tencent, who operate WeChat in China. This international agreement builds on the success of the arrangement with AliBaba, and will greatly enhance our ability to remove listings which infringe on IP law in China.

With that in mind, I would like to leave you with a couple of challenges to consider.

The first involves dealing with online IP infringement. Initiatives like Operation Pangea – which removed domains used to host illegal pharmacies, leading to the seizure of over 9.5 million doses of illegal medicines – demonstrate the huge benefits that working together can bring. The challenge is how we make international cooperation the norm.

The second challenge is how we might expand the kind of agreement between the CBBC and Tencent across different platforms to reduce IP crime of all kinds. We need to reduce the amount of counterfeit goods being offered for sale, and identify the individuals and organisations selling them, tackling the whole supply chain.

We have the knowledge we need to achieve this already, but it is in many as-yet unconnected places in the private sector and law enforcement agencies. Europol and Interpol have a vital role to play in achieving this, and I urge you to do all you can to make it happen, adapting to our digital age. The agencies of the UK stand ready to assist.

Over the last ten years we have made fantastic progress, and I applaud each of you for all that you have done to date. If we work as one over the next 10 years, we can shut out criminality, and together we can create a marketplace which benefits our consumers, our businesses, our economies and our communities in more and more countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening.