For anyone who doubted whether intellectual property was firmly on the Government’s agenda, the long-awaited Gowers Review (published in December 2006) clearly showed that it is. Commissioned by the Chancellor just over a year ago, and led by the former editor of The Financial Times, this was the biggest Government-sponsored review of UK IP for years, and it contains useful indicators as to the future development of IP in this country.

The Review’s call for evidence resulted in over 500 responses from individuals and organisations. These included a detailed submission filed by Wedlake Bell, a number of whose proposals were adopted.

The Review concludes that the UK has a fundamentally strong IP system, but that there are a number of areas where reform is necessary. It contains over 50 recommendations grouped into 3 targeted areas for reform:-

  • stronger enforcement of IP rights to protect our creative industries from piracy and counterfeiting;
  • additional support for British businesses using IP in the UK and aboard;
  • balanced and flexible rights to encourage innovation and investment while ensuring that markets remain competitive and that future innovation is not impeded.

What, then, could the Review mean in practice for those who own or use IP in this country?:-

1. For users of IP, highlights include the introduction of a limited private-copying exception, which (if adopted) would allow consumers to format-shift legitimately-purchased content from (say) CDs on to PCs or MP3 players. The Review also proposes to introduce easier procedures for clearing the use of “orphan” works whose copyright owner is unknown or untraceable, and to allow private copying for research purposes to cover all form of content.

2. Rights-holders have welcomed the proposed implementation of rules enabling trading standards agencies to enforce criminal liability for copyright infringement. The Review also recommends radically increasing custodial sentences for on-line copyright infringement: it has long been an anomaly that the latter are much tamer than the sentences for those who deal in infringing goods.

3. And for those comfortable with the status quo, the Review resists lengthening the term of sound recording copyright, which currently stands at 50 years.

What lies in the future for IP in this country? No one knows for sure, but the contents of the Gowers Review should help us gaze into the crystal ball.