UK businesses who want to protect their products and technologies through patents and design rights will be better off as a result of a new Intellectual Property Bill tabled by Intellectual Property Minister Lord Younger.
The Bill proposes changes that would help businesses to better understand what is protected under the law, reduce the need for costly litigation, and provide greater certainty for investors in new designs and technologies.
Key elements of the Bill include new powers to enable the UK to implement the Unitary Patent Court Agreement. The Court is a central part in introducing a single patent across almost all EU countries. It is estimated that this would lead to direct benefits to business of £40m per year. It is also anticipated that the London Court, which will adjudicate on pharmaceutical and life sciences patent disputes, will benefit the economy an estimated £200m per annum.
In addition, the Bill introduces criminal penalties for copying UK registered designs and the strengthening of design protection. This is already the case for copyright and trademark disputes and brings parity to this area of IP law.
What is more, proposals for a designs opinion service and an expanded patents opinions service have been made. This would allow design or patent rights holders, or anyone else to ask the Intellectual Property Office to provide an expert opinion on whether a UK design or patent is valid or being infringed. This will help businesses assess the strength of their case before embarking on more formal and costly legal proceedings, and may help avoid litigation altogether.
Business Secretary Vince Cable says: “Figures show that UK business invests nearly £16b in design each year, which represents 1.1% of GDP. The changes in this Bill are to help SMEs and innovative businesses get on and grow. By reforming and simplifying IP rules and making them easier to understand, we aim to help businesses protect their innovations more easily.”
Minister for Intellectual Property, Lord Younger, says: “The measures we are publishing to reform IP law are more evolution than revolution. Cutting red tape for SMEs, making laws easier to understand, and helping to speed up the granting of patents internationally will all help business in the UK. Our smallest businesses in particular, will benefit to protect their creative ideas and to further encourage them to grow.
“One of the keys initiatives we have outlined today is the introduction of criminal sanctions for deliberate copying of registered designs. This will be a deterrent to those who deliberately copy UK registered designs and provide greater protection for our hugely important design sector.”
Other measures include allowing the sharing of information – between international patent offices – on unpublished patent applications to help clear existing backlogs and speed up clearance times. As a result, UK businesses who also apply for European, US and Japanese patents – in addition to a UK patent – could increase the value of their patents by £4.2m per annum.
Also, allowing the UK to join the Hague system – an international designs registration system – will let applicants designate the countries in which they wish their design to be registered. Currently, registration for six countries, taking account of the cost of translation, notary and other fees could add up to £7500. Through the Hague system this would cost £500 for a business.
Patent owners will have the option of marking their patented products with a web address which links to the details of the relevant patent number rather than having to put the patent numbers directly on the product in order to get maximum protection. This change will reduce the burdens on businesses and individuals who own patents, whilst also making it easier for the public to access up-to-date patent information in relation to a particular product.
Moreover, the introduction of a new exemption in the Freedom of Information Act for continuing programmes of research intended for future publication will provide researchers with clarity and certainty, and the opportunity to validate and analyse their results before putting them into the public domain, or before any related patents have been granted.
CEO of Anti Copying in Design and Vice Chair of the Alliance for Intellectual Property, Dids Macdonald, says: "It's great that the Government has taken a positive first step to protect designers against design copying with a proposal to introduce criminal sanctions for deliberate registered design infringement – this will encourage more designers to register their designs. However, we hope that in the future this will apply to those who rely on unregistered rights, which comprise the majority of designers in this country."
Finally, Law Society Chair, IP Working Party, Isabel Davies, says: "The Law Society IP Group is delighted that the Government recognises the value of intellectual property to the economy of the UK. Currently detailed discussions are taking place amongst all interested parties to ensure that a fair and balanced regime which fits in with pan-European legislation and protects intellectual property in the UK is included in UK and European legislation."