The UK IPO has this week published a new document: IP Enforcement 2020: protecting creativity and supporting innovation, which highlights its updated strategy for tackling IP infringements in the next 4 years. 

The document highlights how the UK already has a good international reputation in tackling IP infringements but then sets out a compelling case for further work. The three core strategic aims are:

  • To make UK businesses (including small businesses) more confident in operating internationally as a result of better global IP protection;
  • To provide rights owners and users with access to proportionate andeffective mechanisms to resolve disputes and tackle IP infringement; and
  • To educate consumers and users on the benefits of respecting IP rights and to ensure that they do so.

Future actions will be focused in the following key areas:

1. Reducing the level of illegal content online

The aim is to make it easier for consumers to recognise and avoid copyright infringement websites. This involves:

  • Reviewing the effectiveness of notice and takedown procedures (in line with similar reviews in the EU and US) and considering a possible Code of Practice for intermediaries;
  • Considering a "notice and trackdown" procedure, which would enable rightsholders to send notices and take action directly against identified infringers;
  • Pushing within Europe for clarification of the current EU rules around platform liability (see further here);
  • Developing understanding of the challenges posed by set-box boxes and Internet Protocol television;
  • Encouraging enforcement agencies to use the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) to ensure that criminals do not benefit financially from their activities;
  • Building on the "Follow the Money" approach to make it more difficult for illegal websites to obtain funding e.g. by obtaining commitments from payment service providers to remove services when notified by law enforcement;
  • Ensuring that effective sanctions are available for online copyright infringement (see further here).

2. Tackling the trade in counterfeit goods

The Government will build on current work in this area by:

  • Continuing to invest resources in helping those countries identified as key sources of counterfeits to improve their IP laws and stem the flow into the UK;
  • Helping to develop broader disruption measures to make IP crime less attractive (eg working with HMRC to tackle unpaid tax).

3. Further strengthening the legal framework to facilitate easier access to justice

The Government wants to ensure that UK business and rights holder have the necessary legal means to protect their IP. It will therefore consider the need for potential legislation to take action against:

  • a range of intermediaries involved in the sale of counterfeits (e.g. fulfilment houses); and
  • search engines, ISPs and platforms that facilitate or support infringements.

4. Increasing education, awareness and building respect for IP

The Government wants to work with partners to build respect for IP and encourage consumers to choose legitimate options over illegal sources. In support of these ambitions, there will be a focus on:

  • promoting UK sites that aggregate sources of legal content such and;
  • Offering enforcement advice and information for business advisors through IPO workshops and Master Class Training; 
  • Offering more IP enforcement advice and information in blogs, tweets and via online interest groups.

5. Making it safe for UK rights holders and businesses to trade internationally

According to research, 1 in 4 UK businesses are deterred from entering an overseas market due to the risk of IP theft. To address this, there will be:

  • senior government interaction to reinforce key messages with international partners;
  • practical training and engagement for IP enforcement practitioners.

6. Improving the evidence base

The IPO wants to better understand the scope and scale of IP infringement and crime in the UK. The steps it will take in this area include:

  • Developing a comprehensive scoreboard to be published annually with available data on the prevalence of civil and criminal IP infringement;
  • Developing more accessible civil and criminal IP court data, including an IPEC case database;
  • Encouraging greater use by CPS prosecutors of IP legislation when they undertake charging decisions.

Next Steps

The IPO is committed to driving forwards the outlined work over the next 4 years. There are some "quick wins", which should be delivered in the short term whilst others will take the full 4 years. Interestingly, the IPO's immediate focus is to influence the current EU review of the IP Enforcement Directive. The IPO thinks this presents a valuable opportunity for the UK to use robust evidence to influence the direction of EU law making to ensure that its strategies are properly reflected on the wider stage.