Managing intellectual property

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

Speech by Baroness Neville-Rolfe to the International Patent Forum on managing intellectual property.


As Minister for Intellectual Property I am pleased to have been invited to give the keynote address at this important International Patent Forum. IP is important for us as a nation. £63.5 billion, over 4% of GDP, is invested in intellectual property rights. This is an investment in knowledge. Making the most of those intellectual assets, both in the UK and across the globe, is more important now than it ever has been.

When I was appointed Minister for Intellectual Property last summer I was struck by the importance of IP to our creative and scientific industries. I was also delighted to see that the UK was judged by Taylor Wessing to have the best IP regime in the world.

This was confirmed recently in the US Global IP Centre International Index which ranked the UK number one for enforcement, and recognised all we have done in the past year.

Some highlights are:

Bringing together copyright owners and search engines to reduce the number of infringing websites which appear in search engine results.

Securing additional funding for PIPCU, the IP crime unit in the City of London Police. This unit is the first of its kind in the world and is dedicated to tackling the sale of counterfeit goods and the availability of infringing websites online.

Engaging in Europe on collective rights management, trade mark reform, and trade secrets. We have also been building international relationships, for example with China, India, Brazil, Mexico and south east Asia where we have worked closely with local partners to help improve cooperation, identify business issues and increase enforcement capacity.

The IPO is also at the forefront of the government’s ‘digital transformation’ programme. Over 90% of patents are now renewed online; the online filing system for designs is due to launch next year; and work is underway to offer further digital services. And although less important for patents than other areas of IP we are very engaged in bringing our expertise to commission thinking on the digital single market.

Because IP can be a driver for growth and investment, I am therefore pleased to announce today that the IPO, working with industry and the financial services sector, has developed an IP Finance Toolkit. This will help businesses to present the security and financial worth of their IP when seeking finance and help banks recognise the value of IP in a business. It will assist businesses which are rich in intangibles, but lack traditional assets, to make a stronger case when they need to access the finance they need to grow.


It is important that we help British business make the most of their IP by investing abroad. I know from my own business experience that investing and operating in foreign markets can be challenging for companies. They can be fearful of IP infringement and poor enforcement regimes overseas. I feel we can and should help with that. This means helping create a better system in the future to protect investments. And it means standing side-by-side with our companies as they navigate the global IP systems they find today.

The IPO works closely with UK Trade and Investment, and the Foreign Office, to help businesses understand the IP aspects of operating abroad. In addition, our specialist IP attachés support UK businesses in 4 important and challenging markets (China, Brazil, India and South East Asia). We have recently appointed Vijay Iyer to provide support to UK business in India, whilst our attaché Anshika is on maternity leave. We have also added Monica Su to the team in China to assist Tom Duke.


I witnessed first hand the vital part our attachés play in achieving successes in foreign markets during my week-long visit to China last year. I led a delegation from the UK including Justice Birss, a UK High Court Judge, senior IPO officials and over 80 British businesses to Beijing in September for the 2nd UK-China IP Symposium.

During the visit, the delegation visited 8 cities and brought together UK and Chinese counterparts at senior ministerial level, as well as at a technical level, to share best practice from our respective IP systems. There was engagement with top ministers and state secretaries.

I facilitated a landmark agreement between the China Britain Business Council (CBBC) and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba which will help address the tens of millions pounds lost to Chinese counterfeiting and piracy via the online platform each year. The agreement is enabling British businesses to gain easier access to Alibaba’s online enforcement mechanisms. This was one of only 2 IP agreements that Alibaba signed in 2014.

This was followed by a constructive exchange in November, when the IPO held discussions with Chinese officials on improving efficiency of patent examination and on civil procedures in IP enforcement. This builds on the UK-China pilot Patent Prosecution Highway, signed during the Prime Minister’s visit in December 2013. The UK is now one of China’s primary partners for IP cooperation, and our engagement is bringing significant benefits for UK businesses.

The Duke of Cambridge’s recent visit demonstrates the importance of the UK’s relationship with China. Across Shanghai Prince William promoted the best of British creativity: film, design, architecture, digital healthcare, education and fashion. Our IP cooperation with China underpins business opportunities in all these sectors, and is building a platform for global business success in the years to come.

Global patent reform

The UK is also at the forefront of efforts to improve the global patent system to make it work better for business. Most of you will know John Alty, Chief Executive of the IPO, who is leading the B+ group. This is considering how to harmonise patent laws as part of an overall package.

Of course, harmonisation of laws between countries is a gradual process and hence improving the international Patent Cooperation Treaty system is a high priority for us. We recognise that small changes there can have a big impact because of the number of users and offices involved.

We continue to seek other ways to make the patent system more efficient for business. For example we are part of the 19 IP offices which form the Global Patent Prosecution Highway, as well as having a number of bilateral agreements in place. This allows companies to take advantage of the timely service on offer in the UK to speed up approval of their patents abroad.

The message from users is clear: harmonisation of patent issues such as the grace period is important - even if there is not yet consensus on the end result. And users have been equally clear that, to be worthwhile, harmonisation must be truly international. Group B+ provides an opportunity to harmonise across a wide range of key markets, something which cannot be achieved through bilateral trade agreements.

UPC/unitary patent

At the European level we are making progress on the Unified Patent Court and Unitary Patent.

I know one of your biggest concerns is how much this new system will cost. One of the principles we are seeking to get accepted is that any charges will reflect cost and, of course, that the system is sustainable. Renewal fees for the unitary patent will be set by the participating states in the EPO Select Committee. They have an ambitious timetable to reach agreement on renewal fees and other financial issues by the summer.

As far as the Court is concerned, the Preparatory Committee is expected to run a 3 month consultation on a draft set of Court fees this spring. This will be your opportunity to have your say, which I encourage you to do.

London will have responsibility for life sciences cases in the Unified Patent Court. This is a great opportunity for the UK life sciences sector, which is one of the most productive in the world, generating turnover of over £50 billion and contributing more than £12 billion a year to the UK economy.


All this shows the government is committed to helping protect the intellectual assets of British business in key markets abroad, through engagement with key decision makers and by negotiating for the best outcomes for UK business.

We also need to ensure that the IP framework in the UK continues to meet the needs of its users. I would like to finish by outlining my vision for IP with 3 themes.

Firstly, we must ensure that the IP framework encourages innovation by offering the correct incentives to foster creative thinking. To do this we need to have the correct legal framework and networks of good practice.

Secondly, there must be adequate enforcement mechanisms. In the UK we are strong in this area, for example PIPCU, and also more recently the reforms made to the Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court which are widely admired.

Thirdly, we need to reach out to the future creators by making sure they learn about the importance of intellectual property. The IPO has developed education strategy to make sure that IP awareness is increased amongst school children and also amongst those at university studying relevant.

By doing these things, we will ensure that the UK continues to have a world class IP system good for all of you involved with the Forum and good for our economic well-being as a nation.

Thank you for listening.