Baroness Neville-Rolfe addresses the British group of the Union of European Practitioners in Intellectual Property.
I am delighted to be here at The Royal Society for the UNION summer reception. My thanks to all those who have organised this evening’s event, and especially to Gwilym Roberts.
I don’t know whether you planned it this way when you settled on a date for this reception, but there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we are gathering in interesting times.
It’s clear that there are many questions – not all of which can yet be answered.
But I would like to begin with a clear message: The UK has one of the world’s best intellectual property environments. The changes that will be triggered by the outcome of last Thursday’s vote will not alter that.
You can continue to expect outstanding, professionally delivered rights granting services including design rights; and copyright owners can expect that the framework will support creativity. The UK will continue to be envied around the world for the quality of its enforcement environment. We will continue to lead in international IP discussions. We will continue our work to build an environment that allows innovative and creative businesses across the UK to develop their ideas and exploit them effectively.
The changes that will come will take time to work through. Nothing will happen immediately. Today, the UK remains a member of the EU and will continue to engage with EU business as normal and be engaged in EU decision-making in the usual way until Article 50 is invoked.
When that happens and when we begin the process of negotiating, I will be working to make sure that those negotiations deliver an outcome that is right for British inventors, creators, service providers, businesses and consumers.
Some of you will have seen Secretary of State Sajid Javid’s piece in the Sunday Times at the weekend. I share his optimism for our future. Our economy has deep, strong foundations. No referendum has the power to dampen our capacity for innovation. We will remain the world’s greatest creators.
And whilst there will inevitably be some uncertainty as the exit process unfolds, we will continue to succeed in turning those talents into global success.
I know that many of you will be particularly concerned about the potential implications of the Referendum result for the Unitary Patent and the Unified Patent Court. Again, I am afraid that there is not much I can say at this stage. As you will know, we will have a new Prime Minister in early September who will need to take key decisions on our overall approach to negotiations on trade with the EU.
We will be using the period before September to prepare for the key decisions, and I have no doubt that our position on the Unitary Patent and Court will feature in these discussions. I will want to hear your views on the way ahead and as soon as we can I will of course share our thinking with you.
Zooming out slightly, and looking back, it is now almost two years since I became the Minister for Intellectual Property - quite a long spell for that role so I hope you value continuity! Before that, I had a more varied career than most, but with little experience of IP. So I had to learn the brief – (a highly technical one as I soon found out during a tough debate on copyright exceptions!) - very quickly. This was before being whisked off to China only two weeks into the role.
Luckily this was not a completely new experience. In an unexpected move I became company secretary of Tesco at the age of 52. Since I did not have a relevant qualification I had to take the exam for Company Secretary, which I did by studying on Friday evenings after a full week’s work. It was very good for the soul and even taught me the basics of IP. But being aware that you are all very skilled patent practitioners, and that I have a Q&A session following this, please let me stress the word basic.
Tonight is a good opportunity to update you all on our progress towards making Britain ‘…the best place in Europe to innovate, patent new ideas and set up and expand a business, to quote our election manifesto.
Two weeks ago, I was delighted to read the latest Taylor Wessing’s Global Intellectual Property Index (GIPI5), in which the UK came out well. On patents we are ranked first in the world. The overall result - third - was a good one - but as sportsmen always rightly say you are only as good as your last performance. We will do our best to maintain our strong position.
I would like to reflect this evening on a number of aspects of the Intellectual Property Office’s work: its domestic work to support education, commercialisation, and innovation; and its international policy leadership, particularly in relation to China, and patent harmonisation.
Everyone is agreed that we need to do more to raise the level of awareness of Intellectual Property, especially among the young digitally-savvy generations of tomorrow. Our programme, ‘Education in IP’, aims to foster respect for innovation and to support the commercialisation of formal IP rights. We need to make sure that today’s creators earn a living from their work; and we need to carry on with the good work so that future generations can do so to.
We are making progress. Take, for example, the IPOs Think Kit. This is an education resource for Key Stages 1 to 4 that puts IP issues in a relevant context for students. It encourages them to think about not only how to protect their ideas, but the importance of recognizing and respecting the ideas created by others. Last year we reached 1.1 million consumers and young people with our campaigns, so we seem to have some satisfied customers there.
And in the case of universities, our goal is to see intellectual property included in a much wider range of university courses in more universities across the UK. Students are focused on getting a return from their ideas, and so are universities. To make this happen we have been working with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to ensure that IP is included in their subject benchmark statements for relevant courses. We have already had successes with IP now featuring in QAA’s engineering, business and management, and biosciences standards.
Knowledge exchange and commercialisation
But whilst education is undoubtedly important so is the other side of the IP coin – commercialisation. We are committed to supporting collaboration between businesses and universities to stimulate innovation and economic growth. Indeed, this year we will be launching an updated Lambert Toolkit, which provides model collaboration agreements as a starting point for negotiations around the ownership of any IP generated during a joint university-business project.
We do, however, recognise that there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to IP. So we have published a guide to help universities develop their own strategies suited to their own organisation and business models.
Now, as some of you may know, I also hold some ministerial responsibilities for diversity. So, before I move on I would like to say a special thank you to Andrea Brewster for her work to promote diversity during her presidency of CIPA.
Finally, I would like to turn to international matters which extend far beyond Europe. Last week I was at the OECDs important digital economy summit in Cancun and I was pleased by how many fellow Ministers referenced IP. I should mention in passing one of the highlights - the Canadian Minister’s adage that Innovation is a mindset. That is a refrain for all of those who love IP.
I also met a Minister from China - a country that is pivotal to our international success in getting IP registered and enforced.
As you will have seen from the coverage of last year’s Chinese State Visit to the UK, we appear to be in a ‘golden era’ of UK - China relations, with cooperation on IP at the heart of our relationship.
Let me give you a practical example of what this means for patenting. Over recent years, a number of bilateral agreements have been signed between Patent Offices to promote work-sharing and enable patent applicants to request accelerated processing in the national phase, where patent examiners can make use of the work products from the other Offices. And I am pleased to announce an agreement to renew our bilateral Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreement with China. This will now run for an indefinite period and we believe that it will cement 20 years of collaboration. I hope that this is a useful development for users, who can generally obtain a final action more quickly when applications are processed under this agreement.
I am very grateful for the continued support of the UK’s IP Enterprise Court, representatives of whom are here tonight. In particular, I am grateful to His Honour Judge Hacon for agreeing to a further visit to China this summer, to take forward joint work on a range of issues, including damages calculations, evidential standards, and interim injunctions. These are issues that matter a lot to both Chinese and British firms litigating in China.
And, this week, we are hosting a week long patent examiner exchange with the State Intellectual Property Office. This includes an in-depth exchange with a series of workshops and presentations to enhance the understanding of examination practice in each Office and to enable the professional development of individual examiners and examining teams. I hope that our working relationship will continue to strengthen.
In this vein, I am pleased to confirm my visit to China during the week commencing 22 August, and encourage you all to participate.
Turning now to the important issue of global patent harmonisation. I would like to mention the crucially important involvement of industry and patent user groups in the work of Group B+ towards achieving progress in this area.
I spent an excellent evening with the B+ group during their recent visit to London, and made the point that the need for harmonisation has never been greater. Businesses operate internationally, the Internet knows no borders, and the more we can do to help creators and businesses to navigate the patent system - the more they will be able to grow and boost the global economy.
Through the hard work and collaboration of officials and industry experts, we have made significant steps towards a solution.
But I appreciate that reaching agreement on these issues is not simple. There can be fundamental differences in the underlying philosophies of different patent systems, so users who have grown accustomed to their native systems can be reluctant to change.
But this will not be change for the sake of change. If the task can be approached with willingness and open minds from all sides, the prize will be a simple, harmonised framework which rewards innovative businesses and individuals from all backgrounds. I would like to really encourage your continued involvement in, and of course honest feedback on our work going forward.
I would like to conclude by thanking you for your continued contribution towards securing a sustainable future for intellectual property, not just in the UK but around the world. From education, to commercialisation, to patent harmonisation – progress has been good. I know that by continuing to work together, especially in times of change, we can continue to achieve real improvements together.