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The hargreaves review


8th Jun 2011

In November 2010, the Prime Minister commissioned a review into the UK Intellectual Property framework, with the aim of investigating whether IP rights are achieving their intended purpose of promoting innovation, or are, as critics have suggested, inadvertently hampering it. The findings of the review have now been made public, and the government is expected to publish its response to the report before the summer parliamentary recess.

The review was chaired by Professor Ian Hargreaves, who holds the chair of Digital Economy at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and Cardiff Business School. Detailed information is available from the UK Intellectual Property Office, while the report itself is available here in PDF form (1.35Mb): “Digital Opportunity – A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth”, Professor Ian Hargreaves, “The Hargreaves Review”.

Summary

Much of the report focuses on the need to update copyright law to balance protection for authors and artists, with greater flexibility in the way in which copyright works can be accessed and stored by third parties.

By way of example, provisions in the current legislation that prevent libraries from maintaining digital archives of their stock, and which prevent researchers from using modern text and data mining techniques, are cited as problematic. In turn, the report proposes allowing format shifting of copyright works as well as greater reproduction of copyright works on digital media.

The report also makes a number of recommendations intended to facilitate transactions in copyright works, including a proposal to establish a Digital Copyright Exchange, and to make available for use so called “orphan works” (that is works to which access to these is hampered because the owner of the copyright is no longer traceable).

Two chapters of the report are dedicated to patent and design considerations, and these are briefly discussed below.

Patents

The report notes that an effective patent system is crucial for protecting innovation, but draws attention to problem areas such as patent proliferation (“patent thickets”) and uncertainty in the scope of pending patent applications that may unduly hamper third parties. The report recommends that patent offices continue to pursue work-sharing procedures, aimed at reducing patent application pendancy time, as well as considering increased patent annuity fees as a possible measure to encourage patent holders to drop granted rights that are no longer of value (paragraphs 6.31 to 6.38). The report does however acknowledge that the cost of obtaining patent protection should be kept as low as possible.

The report’s conclusions with regards to computer implemented inventions are somewhat disappointing (paragraphs 6.21 to 6.26). While the report acknowledges that harmonisation between the UK and Europe Patent Office patent law concerning protection for computer implemented inventions is desirable, the report suggests that UK IPO’s strict approach to computer software patent applications is preferred in comparison to the European Patent Office, which in recent years has become “more open in awarding such patents”.

The report supports international initiatives that aim to simply obtaining patent rights in different jurisdiction, and identifies the achievement of a unified EU patent court and EU patent system as the top priority (See chapter 3).

Designs

The report comments that the current provisions for protecting designs are under-used, and identifies the lack of clarity arising from the patchwork of design protection presently in force in the UK as a possible culprit: there are four overlapping design right provisions, covering UK and EU registered and unregistered rights, and in some circumstances, protection may also be available under copyright law. The report concludes that the current design legislation should be investigated by the UKIPO with a view to future policy review.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.

Author
Nick Reeve
Partner
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