In May 2016, the government launched its enforcement strategy, 'Protecting creativity, supporting innovation: IP enforcement 2020'.
The purpose of the strategy was: to reduce the level of intellectual property (IP) crime, strengthen the legal framework, build greater respect for IP, and make it safer for UK rights holders and businesses to trade internationally.
Exactly two years to the date, I find myself asking 'what have we done and has it made any difference?'. The first half of the question is easy to answer. Since the launch of the strategy, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) have delivered on a number of commitments. These include: increasing the maximum penalty for online copyright infringement from two years to 10 years and brokering a ground breaking Code of Practice on search engines. We have also boosted our education and awareness campaigns and have continued our work to promote the value of protecting IP in key markets around the world.
I had the pleasure of visiting Manila in late April, where I spoke at an event organised by the IP Office of the Philippines and the EUIPO on enforcement. Events like these give us the opportunity to speak about what we have done and the lessons we have learnt. Also to learn from others about what their particular constraints are and where we might be able to help. It is only by building these alliances and working together that we will make the kind of lasting difference which is necessary.
Following my presentation in Manila, I travelled to Bangkok where I spent World IP Day. With the focus on empowering women, the Department for Intellectual Property in Bangkok organised a fantastic event. It involved a panel discussion with a group of women including: an entrepreneur, author, and academic, each talking about their experiences with IP. This was followed by the film ‘Wonder Woman’ which I had not actually seen before.
I had the pleasure of meeting one of the most famous authors in Thailand and to hear a story which really brought to life why the work we do in the IPO is so important. Miss Rompang, described by one commentator as the J K Rowling of Thailand, admitted that she had stopped writing for a year. Not because she had run out of ideas, but because her work was being so infringed that she didn’t see the point. Someone had taken a photo of each page of her book and made it available online so that others could read it.
So, to the second half of the question. Has our work made any difference? I think it has, and that’s not just me saying so. Some of our rights holders have publicly acknowledged that the UK has one of the best IP regimes in the world and that we are setting the trend as far as the enforcement of rights is concerned. But we know that there is much more we could do.
Counterfeiting is still a problem and so too is infringement of copyright. That is why we need to continue to work not just on boosting our legislative offering, but on raising awareness among consumers. Whether that is about the dangers of buying counterfeit goods or accessing copyright protected content through Illegal Streaming Devices (ISDs).
Technology is constantly evolving and we need to get ahead of the game if we are to prepare for the impacts this will have on IP protection. But we can’t do it alone. We need to continue to build partnerships with industry, law enforcement (domestically and globally) and with key governments around the world.