Among the lengthy legislative programme for the coming year, this year's Queen's Speech saw the announcement of the Intellectual Property Bill, proposed in response to the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property published in 2011. That Review highlighted the need to update the IP legal framework to encourage innovation and economic growth in the UK.
At the IP Bill's second reading in the House of Lords, Minister for Intellectual Property, Lord Younger, identified the three main goals of the new legislation:
- to simplify and improve design and patent protection to help businesses (especially small and medium sized businesses);
- to clarify the existing legal framework to aid businesses in understanding exactly what is protected under the law; and
- to ensure an international IP framework that supports UK businesses effectively.
In relation to the first aim, the draft Bill hopes to create greater certainty for potential investors in new technologies and the growing design sector by offering increased protection in the form of criminal penalties for copying UK registered design rights, to bring these in line with the sanctions imposed for copyright or trademark infringement.
As part of the simplification of UK IP law, the Bill proposes that the UK joins the Hague international system for registering designs. This would allow businesses to include the UK in their international design application, making it easier for small businesses and individual designers to use and navigate the design registration system.
The Bill proposes to expand the Patents Opinion Service and introduce a new designs opinion service as an alternative to costly litigation. The Bill will grant new powers to enable the UK to implement the Unitary Patent Court Agreement which will lead to an estimated benefit to UK businesses of up to £40 million per year, in addition to speeding up and clearing the backlog of the patent application process by allowing the sharing of information between international patent offices.
In response to the announcement of the Bill, Lord Younger said: "The measures we are publishing to reform IP law are more evolution than revolution. Cutting red tape for SMEs, making laws easier to understand, and helping to speed up the granting of patents internationally will all help business in the UK. Our smallest businesses in particular, will benefit to protect their creative ideas and to further encourage them to grow."
On Wednesday, the Bill received a warm response from the House of Lords on its second reading, but concerns were raised about whether the IP bill does enough to deal with the issues with IP in the UK and implement the recommendations of the Hargreaves Review.
The Bill will be scrutinised further at the Committee Stage set to start on 11 June.