Government takes on IP crime in major new initiative

United Kingdom

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt has announced a series of new initiatives to protect and promote "creativity in the knowledge economy". The measures are specifically concerned with those industries based around the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.

One such initiative is a national strategy to deal with IP crime, as proposed by a 2003 Department of Trade and Industry report. The strategy, which is set out in a paper published by the Patent Office, aims to prioritize tackling IP crime, including finding a way to interlink the activities of the various agencies involved. It also aims to improve the processing of information to support the enforcement process.

Other steps taken by the strategy group regarding IP crime include the:

  • creation of a new database of IP criminal cases, created in conjunction with the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society;

  • creation of a training package to guide police and trading standards officers through the enforcement process; and

  • inclusion of an IP module in training courses for trading standards officers.

The 2003 report also raised concerns about civil IP rights, fearing that these could be rendered ineffective if concerns regarding cost or efficiency, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), mean that they are not enforced. In response to these concerns, the Patent Office has published a feasibility study on the institutional arrangements that are in place to help SMEs protect their IP rights. It is also in the process of considering ways to improve the speed and cost of resolving IP disputes.

In keeping with the theme of innovation, the government has launched the Creative Industries Forum on Intellectual Property. This cross-government body will bring together key players to discuss how best to meet the opportunities and threats (eg, piracy and file sharing) that rapid technological developments are generating for the UK creative industries sector. Two new IP advisory services have also been launched: (i) Creative London's Own It service, which will deliver seminars as well as online and face-to-face advice to encourage creative businesses to exploit and protect their ideas, and (ii) the Patent Office's 'What is the Key?' campaign, which will advise SMEs on how to make the most of their intellectual assets.

It is heartening that the government is taking steps to ensure that criminal sanctions are applied in a coordinated manner, and that IP rights owners are aware of civil as well as criminal remedies. As Hewitt commented at the launch of the new initiatives, 7% of all world trade is in counterfeit goods and this should not be tolerated at either the domestic or global level.

Jacqueline Irvine, Bird & Bird, London

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