This article first appeared in Education Technology.

UK schoolchildren are nowadays born ‘digital natives’; they’ve never known a world without the internet, smart phones and tablets. Most of what is consumed these days is in digital format and children assimilate the information they obtain quickly and instinctively. However, ask your average school child what intellectual property (IP) is or for their thoughts on copyright and trade mark ownership, and you might not get much of a response.

As their entertainment, information and social lives become digitised, it has never been more important for us to teach our children the meaning and importance of IP and something of the laws of ownership. In order to maintain the UK’s position as a world-leading digital economy and to realise the government’s ambitious digital strategy, it is vital that children not only understand how to protect their unique creations but also that they appreciate the often delicate balance between deriving inspiration and IP right infringement.

The digital revolution

According to the World Economic Forum’s ‘The Future of Jobs’ report, 65 per cent of children entering primary schools today will ultimately work in new job types and functions that don’t currently exist. Even today, children are aspiring to brand new job roles. A recent study by Barclays Business Banking found that almost a quarter of children wanted to start a digital firm, with app and video game development frequently cited as popular destinations. In order to reach these goals, children need to understand the vital role that IP plays in this vision. Without adequate IP protection, in the form of trademarks, copyrights and patents, opportunities to exploit important inventions could be lost.

IPO education campaign

In order to address concerns about the importance of IP protection, the UK’s Intellectual Patent Office (IPO) has launched a new education campaign aimed at teaching primary school children (Key Stage 2 in the national curriculum) about IP infringement on the internet. The IPO is hoping that the adventures of Nancy and the Meerkats can make IP ‘fun’, arguing that learning to respect copyright and trade marks is a ‘key life skill’. The cheerful campaign employs cartoons and puns on pop stars’ names – such as Kitty Perry the cat and Ed Shearling the sheep – to teach children lessons such as the importance of choosing an original brand name or logo and registering them as a trade mark. Whilst IP is a complex subject for young children and something of a challenge to make accessible and entertaining even to adults, the IPO succeeds in simplifying the topic for a younger audience by depicting everyday relatable scenarios.

Whilst light-hearted in nature, this campaign from the IPO is leading the government's efforts to crack down on internet piracy and protect the revenues of Britain's creative industries. In the digital world, where goods and services are no longer tangible at all times, understanding IP rights is vital. It is a challenging and complex landscape, and children today face this dilemma on a daily basis, even whilst surfing the web for a homework assignment.

Making the UK competitive

It is worth remembering that the schoolchildren of today are the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, therefore the IPO campaign represents an important step towards educating them about IP from an early age. It is also a means of equipping children with the digital skills needed to thrive in the future workforce. Given that children are already being taught advanced skills in coding, AI and data science which will be required in many future job roles, it makes perfect sense that IP education should play a prominent part in this process.

I commend the IPO for creating this education campaign and making what many would consider to be a very complex subject into something far more digestible, and, dare I say it – fun. By relating IP to everyday situations, children may be better placed to spot potential IP infringement situations. Campaigns such as this will provide them with the right foundations on which to build upon as we move further into the digital age.