Dave’s Dabble or The Future of IP? The Hargreaves Report Reviewed

During a recent presentation I found myself referring to “our increasingly knowledge based economy” with a smile, because I was aware that phrases such as “knowledge based economy” still sounds like something Del Boy Trotter might say whilst trying to flog you some digital watches.

However, the truth of the matter is that creative, digital and information technology industries are amongst the biggest contributors to the UK economy in terms of employment and exports. In November 2010 Prime Minister David “call me Dave” Cameron commissioned Professor Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff University to carry out an independent review of “intellectual property and growth”.

Entitled Digital Opportunity, the report was published on Wednesday, and mostly contains commendable and commonsense suggestions.

For example, the Professor recommends that a “digital copyright exchange” should be established to make licensing transactions as straightforward as possible, and that a switch to the wider US law understanding of “fair use” should be resisted (save for works of parody).

I found the chapters on patents a bit more difficult to wholeheartedly agree with, because the “patent thickets” which the report criticises (where a particular technology is beset by overlapping patent claims) are sometimes an unavoidable result of important research by competing parties. Furthermore, calls for a unified EU approach to patent litigation already look out of date, given that the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled decisively against a unified patent-litigation system just two months ago.

Personally, the part of the report which really struck a chord was in relation to design rights – in my opinion a fairly confusing and frankly unhelpful area of the law. I was pleased to see Professor Hargreaves refer to the current design rights regime as a “patchwork”. While his reference to “polymer fabrication through 3D printing” (I paraphrase) may well be a dreaded case of name dropping a trendy technology which then instantly becomes obsolete, I nevertheless applaud his sentiment that a big overhaul of design right is needed, and the UK Intellectual Property Office should conduct an evidence-based assessment of the relationship between design rights and innovation.

So, overall it’s a thumbs up for Professor Hargreaves. However, all these changes he’s recommending are going to require pretty unconditional support from the government. Does David Cameron genuinely have the inclination? Back in November the commission was derided as Dave’s “Google Report”, so it’s now up to him to prove that he wasn’t just flirting with change.


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June 2011
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