Gowers Review of Intellectual Property

At the Enterprise Conference on 2 December 2005, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that, as part of the Pre-Budget Report 2005 package, he was asking Andrew Gowers to lead an Independent Review to examine the UK's intellectual property framework.

The Open Rights Group has been formally invited to participate. We are currently drafting our submission and wish to include your thoughts and opinions. We have reproduced the Call for Evidence below and invite you to contribute - just hit 'respond' next to the paragraph you wish to comment on.

Many of the questions asked by Andrew Gowers in this review are very focused, but you should feel free to comment on the issues and the wider implications rather than feel obliged to provide specific answers. If you want to talk about issues not raised by this call for evidence, please do - just leave your comments on the Introduction.

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  1. How IP is used

    (a) What types of IP does your organisation use and why?
    (b) To what extent do you seek multiple overlapping forms of IP protection?
    (c) To what extent are these decisions influenced by sector-specific considerations?
    (d) How does your company value its IP? Are there problems with raising finance against intangible assets based on IP? What improvements could be made in this area?
    (e) To what extent does the term of IP rights at the margin affect investment decisions?
    (f) How well does the UK IP system promote innovation?
    (g) To what extent does your organisation make use of other methods used by Government to encourage innovation, such as public funding?
    (h) Are data on the use of patents and other forms of IP useful as a means of measuring innovation?
    (i) Do you have any evidence as to the static or dynamic costs that IP rights (as statutory monopolies) impose on the economy?
    (j) Have you encountered patents or other IP rights being used defensively, i.e. obtained not to develop products, but only to prevent others from doing so? Under what circumstances do you consider this acceptable?

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4 responses

  1. David Mytton Says:

    a) As a software development company, we make exclusive use of copyright. We do not hold any trademarks nor any patents (we do not believe in software patents anyway). The copyright protection is crucial to protect the source code we write along with other technical protection measures (encoding and callback licensing). We have both commercial products and open source products so see the issues on both sides. But where software is concerned, it is copyright that should provide the protection because it is the specific expression of an idea in the code that is protected, not the general idea which a patent would protect – which we do not think is appropriate because of the many different ways a problem could be approached.

    b) Whilst we could trademark our logos and/or names, we don’t think it is necessary at the moment to protect our identity. The price is not restrictive, but it isn’t worth the cost right now.

    d) A patent would, I think, make it easier to raise finance against an intangible asset since an investor could “see” what they were paying for. However in our case, software, as I said above, patents are not appropriate. Finance has never been a problem for us, but it may be for some. And if they are restricted only to use copyright it may be difficult to raise that money. So another argument for the registration of copyright presents itself.

    j) When we were developing one of our products, we were threatened by the only existing competitor with a software patent against our product. Being US based, they were able to take out a patent at relatively low cost on a computer implemented invention – ie. the software we were also developing. This didn’t go any further because we ignored them, but it could potentially have posed an issue if software patents were legalised in the EU/UK. We were entering their market, which they had been the sole member of for several years and they went on the defensive. Their product had remained relatively static for that time and we were bringing new ideas, better and faster – we were innovating on their idea. At the time, it was worrying because although we were implementing the idea in a completely different fashion (all be it in the same language), they could have enforced a patent against the idea and prevented us from continuing. Whether they could actually have enforced it or not, it was a problem that arose.

    What would have helped us in this situation was clear guidance on how the patents granted in the USA affect UK based inventors and how they carry across to the UK/EU system. This would still be useful.

  2. Richard Strickland Says:

    I belive it would be helpful for the law to address, and allow clearer exemptions for thrid parties that offer services on intellectual property. For example, Google offers a translation service that creates a derivative document in other languages, another service may render images into a format used for braille devices, or scaled for viewing on a cell phone.

    Such services make derivative works of intellectual property without the premission or knowledge of the rights holder, and that’s no bad thing. I was recently the subject of a cease-and-desist letter from Yahoo! UK which caused me to shut down a service which performed a technical translation of documents on Yahoo’s launch website. The service de-obfuscated complex javascript pages so as to give users clearer information on streaming media they were watching (which had been hidden in the complexities of the page), to allow users to better control their use of the streaming media.

    There are a great many services which can add value to online content (translation services being a good example) and the public would benefit from them having clearer legal status.

    Other services:
    Email Browsers – make web sites available via email, modify page content to do so.
    CGI Proxies – make web users anonymouos, modify pages to remove viruses, javascripts, popup windows and advertisements. Sometimes add content.
    Format Conversion Services – such as for converting a web page to or from PDF
    MetaData services – modify pages by adding information about them, such as a list of links on a page
    Servcies for the disabled – make content available in new forms, such as text-to-speech or to braille
    Educational Services – such as for simplifying English language documents for foreign language speakers.

  3. Richard Kirk Says:

    I have 30-odd patents. These were all filed by large companies for use in a portfolio. I have worked for small companies, but never filed a patent for them. The costs of a patent is too much to bear; the costs are unlikely to be recovered unless they form part of a protfolio; and the portfolio is not likely to be used unless there are a few known competitors of roughly equal size.

    There are prople who have a single patent and go on to found a company. I haven’t met any, though.

  4. Gordon Says:

    A collegue was stopped from doing work for a company because they wanted indemnity from IP but because they were small they could not afford this sort of luxury and lost the work.
    Certainly from all reports especially from the US the problems with IP are hitting smaller companies the worst.
    From the legal definition of Software this should not be able to be used in IP as a weapon of “Restrictive Practise”