The UK Government has called for evidence as part of its review of intellectual property ("IP") launched by the Chancellor last December. The evidence will form the basis of the review to be led by former Financial Times editor, Andrew Gower.
The called "call for evidence", which was issued on 23 February, is in three parts:
1. general questions about how IP is awarded, used, licensed, exchanged, challenged and enforced;
2. specific issues; and
3. evidence on other issues outside the scope of (1) and (2).
The broad-based review is pitched as a thorough assessment of the IP system and its performance. The consultation aims to garner the views of those working in a wide a range of industry sectors including scientific, manufacturing, high-tech, media and creative industries. The public sector, industry associations, investors' bodies, consumer groups, experts in corporate finance and venture capital, the legal profession, economists and academics will also be consulted. The review team aims to publish its findings this autumn.
One of the specific issues the Government is targeting is the term of protection on sound recordings and performer's right. In the UK this is protected for 50 years. Other countries offer up to 95 years of protection.
It has also asked for view on whether the exceptions to copyright allowing limited use without the copyright owner's permission need to be updated to reflect technological developments. One example of this could be an exception to allow people to copy music from CDs to computers and then onto MP3s or ipods for personal use.
In the area of copyright, issues relating to the identification of owners of copyright in "orphan works" and the licensing public performances of music and sound recordings have been singled out.
The Government is looking for solutions to these issues "within the existing framework".
Other areas for specific review include:
# Trade marks and registered and unregistered designs
# Digital rights management (DRM)
# IP infringement sanctions
# Competition issues
# Parallel imports restrictions
# Introduction of a second tier patent system for simple inventions
# Pharmaceutical supplementary protection certificates (SPCs) and pharmaceutical and plant protection products
The Gower Review aims to find the right balance between protecting IP rights and encouraging innovation. In doing this the Government hopes to foster a climate that will encourage innovation and place the UK at the forefront of technological innovation, which is viewed as increasingly important as the economy becomes more knowledge-based. Figures show the sector grew on average 6% each year between 1997 and 2003. At the same time, counterfeiting and piracy is estimated to be costing the UK economy around £10 billion every year.
The review body has branded the current IP system as "highly complex". Most of the laws that deal with IP in the UK come from a variety of sources such as statute (laws passed by the UK Government) and common law (judge-made law). The European Union (EU) is also creating rights that will be enforceable in the UK such as the IP Enforcement Directive, which must be implemented by member states by 29 April 2006. However this state of affairs is unlikely to change as a result of the review.
The Gower Review is one of many that the Government has launched in this field. This is clearly a review that has been prompted by economic reasons. It is unlikely that this will involve wholesale changes to UK IP law. However, what is clear is that the UK must keep up with technological change and must also strike the appropriate balance between protection and freedom. Any changes should ensure that the law maintains the flexibility to deal with technological changes in future.