The UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO) should speak louder on behalf of rights holders, according to a report from the All-Parliamentary IP Group – a select committee of MPs from across the political spectrum. Entitled The Role of Government in Promoting and Protecting IP, the report was compiled from extensive written and oral evidence on the UK’s IP regime, submitted by a variety of different stakeholders.
In the document, published on 29 October, the group said: ‘We are concerned that the IPO is not a champion of IP and from their evidence, they do not see this as their role. This needs to be rethought. The US has clearly benefited from having an IP Czar, and while we wouldn’t necessarily want to go down that route … We would like to see a small unit within the UK-IPO fulfilling that role, or if they are unwilling to, a small team in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) undertaking that function.’
The group also raised concerns that UK-IPO officials who provided evidence found it ‘difficult’ to consider IP a property right. ‘It was described as a framework by one official, which immediately undermines it,’ said the report. ‘If the UK-IPO sees IP as a framework, then it suggests they see it as something that can be shaped and altered at will. We question whether such a laissez-faire attitude would be taken to other property rights – and if they were, whether senior officials and ministers would allow such an attitude.’
In the group’s assessment, the often-specialised nature of IP has led to a situation in which the UK-IPO ‘has been allowed freer rein by senior officials and ministers within BIS, who would otherwise have taken greater interest. We believe this must change, and the development of policy by the UK-IPO must be given far greater scrutiny by officials within the Department’.
It was also important, said the group, for the registration authority to have broader clout across the entire government machine. ‘Given the UK-IPO’s unusual position [of undertaking both policy and executive functions], we wonder how influential it is when policies affecting IP are being developed by other government departments,’ the report added. ‘We have heard doubts as to whether the UK-IPO was consulted when procurement policy that affected IP was developed within the Cabinet Office and within the Department of Health in relation to plain packaging. We are surprised that other government departments find it easy to develop policy without consulting the IPO. This suggests the IPO lacks influence.’
To help remedy this, the group proposed trimming the UK-IPO’s workload by shifting its responsibility for copyright across to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – cited as a ‘better promoter’ of copyright’s importance to the creative industries. Group chair John Whittingdale MP said: ‘IP needs a champion within government, who will recognise its significance, and who will have the influence to coordinate policy across different departments. From trademarks to patents, design rights and copyright, UK companies depend on their IP Rights to succeed and thrive. In this difficult economic climate it’s especially important that government backs British businesses on IP. We hope the government will take note of our proposals.’
Julian Heathcote Hobbins, general council at UK trade group the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), said: ‘At the beginning of the Coalition, we were assured that IP Rights would take more of a centre stage … But are we seeing the attention drift? This all-party report has made a series of recommendations that we can only support and applaud. Government now needs not only to listen to its recommendations, but actively implement them and focus on IP for growth.’
All-Parliamentary IP Group’s report says UK registration authority has been too concerned with process and must have a more substantial influence on policy matters