The UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) has published its 2008 Corporate Plan (the Plan) detailing its goals for the coming three years. This is the first Corporate Plan from Ian Fletcher as the Chief Executive and Comptroller General of the UK IPO and is viewed as particularly important due to increasing competition in the global market. The Minister for Intellectual Property and Quality, Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, highlights the importance of intellectual property (IP) in introducing the Plan noting: "Intellectual Property is an essential component in ensuring the UK's future economic prosperity".

The Plan builds on developments in Government policy over the past two years. In particular the 'Gowers Review' (Dec 2006); Lord Sainsbury's review 'The Race to the Top' (Oct 2007); the Creative Economic Strategy (Feb 2008); and the Innovation White Paper (Mar 2008), all of which stress the importance of IP to the UK's "increasingly knowledge-based economy".

The Plan is split into two sections with the first focusing on the wider role of IP in the UK, in economic and social terms and the role of the UK IPO in meeting Government objectives. The second part depicts the goals and strategies of the UK IPO both short and long term.

Current issues needing addressed by the UK IPO are laid out in the Plan along with strategies to tackle these.

For example, the patenting systems, both in Europe and Worldwide, are under increasing strain and as a result there are large numbers of delays and backlogs. This poses a problem domestically as innovative companies will not get the quick legal certainty they require from a patenting system. Additionally there are continuing problems in securing a EU wide patent that need to be overcome.

In the realm of trade marks their increasing popularity mean steps will have to be taken to simplify procedures and reduce time scales. Challenges also exist in reviewing the Community trade mark arrangement to make it more effective by reducing the blocking effect it produces and in restructuring the Office of Harmonisation for the Internal Market (OHIM) budget to bring it into better long-term balance.

The increasing use of digital technology means that the copyright protection framework needs to be adapted so that it can face the new challenges of the digital age. The UK IPO will work with the Government to identify and work on key areas that need to be addressed both in the UK and European sphere.

The UK IPO asserts that in order to reduce IP related crime it will be required to raise awareness, facilitate enforcement by others, make penalties more proportionate to the harm caused and work across national boundaries.

Upon analysing the issues discussed above, the UK IPO has identified six distinct external challenges that need to be addressed and the steps to resolve these issues form the basis of the UK IPO's three-year plan, namely:

  • Developing and improving the economic evidence base

This builds on the conclusion of the Gowers Review and the Sainsbury Review that the UK IPO needs to put in place a programme to develop and make effective use of economic evidence about the role of IP and wider intellectual assets in the modern UK economy. The launch of the Strategic Advisory Board for IP Policy (SABIP), "an independent body set up to give strategic advice to Ministers on IP", will aid this goal by using its research budget to commission research to underpin its thinking.

  • Further attention and growing resources need to be given to copyright and related issues requiring partnership with enforcers

The UK IPO aims to consult within the next year on change going beyond the Gowers Review to amend copyright exceptions and whether to amend sections 67 and 72 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which deal with public performance of copyright works for the purposes of a club or society and public performance of works to an audience who have not paid for admission to the place where the work is broadcast, respectively.

  • Enforcement of IP

For the UK IPO this area concerns better understanding of the impact of IP on the economy and partnering with enforcement bodies, such the police and trading standards officers, to raise awareness and understanding of IP.

  • Innovation, Business Outreach and Education

The UK IPO believes that it needs to "connect more effectively with the Government's wider innovation policy and business support activities".

  • New Rules: the Community Patent, EU patent litigation and the Community Trade Mark (CTM)

The UK IPO identifies that there are still significant practical issues which need to be addressed concerning the Community Patent and it aims, in the coming three years, to influence the decisions made in the EU on this topic to ensure the needs of businesses in the UK are met.

  • Governance and Financial Reform: the European Patent Office (EPO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)

It is recognised by the UK IPO that "a functioning global IP institution is a necessity, and putting new governance arrangements in place over the next two to three years is extremely important".

Further areas of development include: the creation of an economic analysis, stronger policy making capability, modernisation of the current IT support system, maintenance of skilled examiner numbers and reviewing of the documents governing the UK IPO.

The UK-IPO Corporate Plan 2008 depicts far-reaching goals for the coming three year period and to get the immediate priorities in focus a "Balanced Scorecard" has been created which will allow monitoring of these goals monthly.

It shall be interesting to assess the extent to which the UK IPO achieves these goals in the coming years. Performance against targets will be published on the UK IPO website.