Making the most of intellectual assets

Baroness Neville-Rolfe spoke at the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) Congress in London.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG

Thank you, Catriona and Tony for your invitation to speak at your annual congress, and for your warm words of introduction.

I am delighted to be here. It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to such a distinguished and knowledgeable audience.

I have met some of you already. For those of you I have not met, let me tell you something about myself. My first career was as a civil servant including a spell at the Prime Minister’s policy unit. I then spent over 15 years in senior roles at Tesco, before retiring nearly 2 years ago and becoming a non-exec in food, television, consultancy and German retail. I joined the House of Lords last autumn, and to my amazement, became Minister for Intellectual Property and business minister in the Lords in July.

Intellectual property rights are of increasing importance in everyday life. They are an investment in knowledge. Making the most of our intellectual assets, both in the UK and globally, is more important now than it has ever been.

The UK invests more in intangibles, like IP, than it does in physical assets. Even in these tough economic times, investment in innovation has continued, as firms come to appreciate the importance of maintaining and developing their IP assets for future returns.

It matters that our businesses, as well as other creators, can protect their ideas, can spot and seize new opportunities, and can exploit them both at home and abroad. IP is, quite simply, vital to the economic well-being of the UK.

It is also a complex field, and the role you play in helping people understand, and get the most from their IP, is incredibly important. As Minister for IP, I am committed to explaining the role of IP in encouraging creativity and ideas and in preventing their theft. I believe we need to have a good framework of law, enforcement of that law and education. I will also ensure that its profile is raised externally and across government.

I would like to begin by highlighting some of the measures which came into force just yesterday with the Intellectual Property Act, and which will benefit businesses operating in the UK. These are of widespread importance because IP is so all embracing, featuring in so many sectors – engineering, electronics, medical science (digital and drugs), fashion, agriculture, consumer brands, literature, art, film and pop music.

The Act implements important reforms to the design IP framework. Intentionally copying a registered design, such as an original architectural drawing, is now a criminal offence which strengthens protection for the UK’s hugely important design sector. UK design law has also been simplified in numerous other ways.

Patent holders now have the option of marking their patented products with a web address. This is an easier and cheaper way to notify others of their rights. The Intellectual Property Office’s patent opinions service has been expanded, which will reduce litigation costs for business.

Another piece of legislation makes changes to the research exception for patents. This will make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to run clinical trials for new medicines in the UK. These changes benefit our economically important life sciences sector – and there is an ever-growing need to progress work on life threatening challenges such as antibiotic resistance and the challenges of old age and dementia.

Yesterday also marked an important step forward in the modernisation of copyright law for the digital era. Three new exceptions to copyright came into force. Taken together they will contribute more than £500 million to the UK economy over 10 years.

Whilst it is important that the law reflects the digital era in which we are living, government also needs to modernise the way it engages with, and delivers services to, business and the public.

The IPO is at the forefront of the government’s ‘digital transformation’ programme, which I think is so important in terms of both efficiency gains and modernisation of government. Our e-renewals project was one of the government’s 25 exemplars under this scheme. 90% of patent renewals are now done online, with user satisfaction consistently high. Further digital initiatives are in the pipeline, in particular the Orphan Works Licensing scheme, and an online filing system for designs.

Being able to deal with government electronically increases accessibility for businesses and individuals, and increases the speed and efficiency of transactions.

All of these changes will make the UK IP system even better for users. The UK has regained its number 1 position in the 2013 Taylor Wessing ‘Global Intellectual Property Index’ and I am keen to ensure it remains there.

However, it is not enough for businesses to be able to protect their ideas; they need to be able to enforce their IP.

The government has recently made important reforms to the Patent County Court (PCC), now the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC). The reforms make it easier, quicker, and more economical for SMEs and individuals to enforce and defend their IP. The Chinese were interested in this – the notion of small claims up to £10,000, caps on costs and damages and a maximum 2 day hearing.

Another key enforcement initiative is the IPO-backed Police IP Crime Unit (PIPCU). This unit tackles serious organised IP crime online. It is one of the first units of its kind in the world, and keeps the UK at the forefront of online IP enforcement. It is currently investigating IP crime worth nearly £29 million.

Moving beyond our shores, I would now like to speak briefly about IP in the European context. I have much experience in Brussels, dating back to my time as a civil servant in the Agriculture and Internal market Councils and in the ECJ in Luxembourg, and during my time in business operating in 6 member states. It was therefore fascinating to attend the EU Competitiveness Council last week as the Minister, and trade mark reform was on the agenda.

I am pleased to tell you that the Council reached agreement on further harmonisation. This will improve both the community and national trade mark systems for users. The proposals will bring greater clarity and certainty for businesses looking to protect their trade marks, and I am particularly pleased to see measures to improve the fight against counterfeiting.

The Council also considered a progress report on patents. The government wants the UK to be part of a European patent system that supports growth and fosters innovation. We are fully committed to the unitary patent and Unified Patent Court (UPC). This project, which has been 40 years in the making, will provide a more streamlined and cost effective way of maintaining patent coverage, and enforcing patent protection across Europe.

I want to thank you all, especially those on the Litigation Committee, for the work that CIPA has done in providing a user’s view of the court. We need to understand the views of those who will be working with the UPC and the unitary patent on a daily basis, to ensure that we deliver a court that people have confidence in.

For those keen to know about recent progress – I can tell you that, following the 12 week public consultation, work is being done on the legislative changes required to implement the Unified Patent Court Agreement. We hope to put them before Parliament in early 2015.

Work is also progressing on the Rules of Procedure and the European Patent Litigation Certificate. These issues should be settled early next year.

The domestic and European IP landscape needs to work for all users, but it is also extremely important that we help UK companies make the most of their IP further afield.

Investing in, and operating abroad can be challenging for companies, as they can be fearful, as I know, of IP infringement and poor enforcement regimes overseas. As an ex-businessman, I feel we can and should help with that.

China, for example, is a key international market. UK-China bilateral trade stood at just under $80 billion in 2013 and is on course to reach $100 billion by 2015. IP helps British businesses maximise the value of their products in the Chinese market.

I very much enjoyed leading the UK delegation at the UK-China IP Symposium in early September.

During my visit I clearly felt the willingness from my Chinese counterparts to engage with the UK on IP issues as they take their industry up the value chain and become innovators and mass patent applicants themselves . We were able to secure a landmark agreement with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to help address the tens of millions of pounds lost to counterfeiting and piracy each year in China. We also reached a copyright agreement which paves the way for an estimated £80 million of royalties to be paid to British authors, publishers and visual artists.

I would like to thank the Institute for their participation in the trip. CIPA’s Gwilym Roberts joined government officials in a range of meetings. His participation enriched the dialogue by providing a view from a user of the patent system. Thank you, Gwilym, for your participation and for the blog which you wrote on your return.

Our specialist IP attachés also help UK business abroad. We now have attachés in 4 important and challenging markets (China, Brazil, India and South East Asia). Between April 2013 and March 2014, they provided direct support to 233 UK businesses, with an estimated IP value at risk of over £377million. It is testament to the success of this network that I can say that over 3,700 UK businesses have benefited from information and support provided by our attachés.

The attachés will be visiting the UK in October for their annual networking week. During the week, I am delighted that they will have the chance to meet and work with CIPA in person.

Whilst well-functioning IP and enforcement regimes are important, education is vital.

Our future creators need to know how to protect their creative output and innovation. Our future economic wellbeing lies with them. Artists, designers, musicians, scientists and engineers all need to understand IP.

The government is also working to help universities and their students make the most from their intellectual assets.

Universities need to be able to create an overall strategy for managing the IP they generate. The IPO’s ‘Intellectual Asset Management Guide for Universities’ and ‘Lambert Toolkit’ help institutions develop tailored IP strategies and negotiate effectively.

Of course, whilst is important for universities to have a fair share of the IP they generate, it is not a one-sided process. The involvement of business is often essential to commercialise a successful academic idea.

So education is important to build up respect for IP and awareness of its commercial value. I met with Catriona and Andrea, president and vice-president of this Institute a few weeks ago. They touched on the excellent work CIPA is doing to increase awareness of the needs of business amongst your membership.

We also discussed the importance of attracting people from a wider range of backgrounds into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). These subjects are essential to developing new technologies which will help the UK thrive. My step-daughter is an engineer, and I am personally committed to promoting these subjects. She works on the international nuclear fission facility at ITER in the South of France, not a bad place to work and it is the largest construction project in Europe! There should be more like her and I want to ensure that the economy and wider society have access to the widest talent pool, irrespective of gender, background or ethnicity.

I am delighted that the IPO and CIPA will be working together to raise the profile of STEM subjects, and of intellectual property careers for STEM graduates.

This collaboration is one of many between this institute and government which will help deliver real benefit to the UK.

*[UPC:] Unified Patent Court (UPC) *[PCC]: Patent County Court *[IPEC]: Intellectual Property Enterprise Court

Published 2 October 2014