This article first appeared in the March 2010 edition of the Contact Magazine.

Ever feel like you’re living in Guernsey’s Groundhog Day? As debate drags on over the incinerator, another confrontation crops up over consensus government and we zero in on zero ten again, you may think this article should be entitled ‘Guernsey goes back to the past’!

Of course, there are many good reasons why the issues listed above have not reached resolution. More to the point, it is all too easy to focus on the problems and not on the positives. What we want to do here is to tell the positive story of how, in many respects, Guernsey has gone - and is going - back to the future.

Examples of innovation by Guernsey in the past and at the moment abound. In the financial services sector, Guernsey has helped lead the way in developing innovative products, such as the introduction of cellular companies. In the growing sector, Raymond Evison is world-renowned for developing new varieties of clematis. Specsavers introduced a new way of selling opticians’ services which has proved to be a winning formula the world over and Moonpig has enjoyed wonderful success in delivering greetings cards in a new way.

So much for yesterday and today, but what of tomorrow? In what way could it be said that Guernsey is or will go back to the future tomorrow?

One innovation initiative stands out. In 2002 the States approved a new policy, endorsing the creation of a cutting-edge intellectual property (“IP”) regime. What is IP? In very simple terms, IP is all about ideas and creativity. Specifically, it’s about stopping others from copying or exploiting your ideas and creations. It’s about making sure that the person who puts time, effort and investment into developing an idea or creation gets the benefit of it. For example, IP law makes sure that the Tenease device which won the Schroders Bright Ideas competition can be exploited by its inventor and only its inventor, unless of course he decides to let others use or licence his invention.

The States’ forward-thinking decision in 2002 has equipped Guernsey to be the offshore jurisdiction of choice for IP rights. Over the past few years, Guernsey has undertaken the significant and time-consuming step of introducing the foundation stones of an up-to-date IP jurisdiction, with some of the most advanced levels of protection in the world in relation to database rights, copyright, trade marks, design rights, plantbreeders’ rights and more besides.

At this point it is worth noting, if only to dispel what seems to be a common misconception, that other offshore jurisdictions are actually far behind Guernsey in relation to IP, even at this ‘foundation stone’ level. For example, Jersey does not yet have its own domestic trade marks, whereas Guernsey had these from 2006. Both Jersey and the Cayman Islands are working with copyright legislation which dates back to imperial times. The BVI have only just announced that they are setting up a focus group to start the process of updating their IP laws. Be in no doubt, readers: Guernsey is at the forefront of offshore innovation on IP rights.

The States have even more reason to pat themselves on the back, however, as Guernsey has not stopped at the basic ‘foundation stone’ IP rights. Guernsey has given itself scope to go a step further and to look at developing new, innovative and highly attractive IP rights. Thus the key IP law which the States passed in 2004 allows the States to introduce a wide range of innovative IP rights in areas as diverse as the information society, innovation patents, domain names (essentially web-site addresses) and image rights.

Such innovative rights allow Guernsey to harness the creative output of today’s fast-changing world. It also allows our children to sally forth into the knowledge economy equipped with some of the most advanced protection for that brave new world. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Guernsey’s got Genius World IP Day competition for schools is proving so popular. Incidentally, that competition is the first in the world to go live on the World IP Organisation’s website at en/ipday/) – so a hearty well done to Guernsey!

Guernsey’s exemplary IP legislation is an essential part of the new world in which we are increasingly living. In the past few decades alone we’ve gone from Pacman to Wii, from the News at Six to the news at your desk or on your ‘phone and from the book to the iPad. The pace of change is relentless - on 9 February the BBC carried a story about a pressure-sensitive material developed by a UK company, Peratech. The material is likely to be used in many touch screen devices going forward. “Quantum Tunnelling Composite” uses spiky metal nanoparticles which are embedded evenly throughout a polymer material. As you press the material, the particles get closer to each other and go through a quantum physics effect referred to as ‘tunnelling’. This brings a 3d element to touch screens and, for example, allows games to be developed where you can accelerate your speed by pressing harder. It also allows users to drill down through lists more quickly by applying more pressure. Not surprisingly, Samsung have already incorporated “Quantum Tunnelling Composite” into some of their smart phones. ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched now after all!

These kinds of innovation are not only protected by Guernsey’s IP regime but positively encouraged. Some creative outputs, particularly in the pivotal area of computer software, get varying degrees of IP protection around the world. In January 2009 Guernsey introduced new patents legislation. When this new legislation comes into force, Guernsey will be able to give protection to a wide range of inventions, including many inventions based on computer software. As a result, some US software patents which are otherwise unable to obtain protection within Europe may well qualify for protection in Guernsey. An advance application service has been opened by Guernsey’s IP Office, which has already led to one substantial business opportunity taking the decision to relocate to Guernsey so as to exploit its US patent for a business software model.

Under the enabling legislation Guernsey can also introduce rights to innovation patents, which are likely to offer greater scope for early protection of inventions. This is likely to be of interest to many development companies in diverse fields such as the pharmaceutical, technological and chemical sectors, to name but a few.

Another area in which Guernsey has power to introduce legislation is in relation to image rights. In broad terms, the phrase ‘image rights’ is used to refer to a person’s right to protect and exploit their own image. It includes the right to exploit (and to prevent anyone else from exploiting without permission) the person’s name, likeness or other personal characteristics such as physical appearance or characteristics, signature, voice, nick-name or slogan. Image rights are also sometimes referred to as personality rights or publicity rights. At present, no country in the world has yet developed a specific IP right which encompasses the various elements of an image right. Part of the difficulty has been to balance the competing interests of the individual with other legal rights, such as the freedom of the press to comment on celebrities. However, in today’s celebrity-centric world, image rights is an area of huge interest to high-earning sportsmen and women, celebrities and entertainers, eager to prevent third parties from using their image without permission.

Many such individuals already have wealth structures managed in or connected to Guernsey, so that the development of an image rights regime is likely to be of huge interest to them. Guernsey’s IP Office confirmed in a publication of a few years ago that it was contemplating image rights legislation and this fact has not escaped international attention, so that there has been an ever-increasing interest in what Guernsey might do in relation to image rights. This is particularly so as we get closer to the 2012 London Olympic Games, which offer Guernsey a unique and limited opportunity to harness this initiative and establish itself as the place to hold image rights.

Guernsey’s Groundhog Day? Not any more – if Guernsey grasps these opportunities, there’s a good chance it can say goodbye to Groundhog Day forever.