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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  • Past legislative reform has resulted in a highly complex IP system. While a degree of complexity is inevitable in a system covering a wide range of products and innovations, aspects of the system appear to have become increasingly opaque. There may be options to improve the transparency of the system and increase business awareness of IP, making the system easier to navigate.

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3 responses

  1. Louise Ferguson Says:

    It is not just business awareness that is an issue. In the digital terrain, ordinary consumers (both adults and children), are increasingly being required to have an understanding of a very opaque system of IP.

  2. Richard Kirk Says:

    The principle and operation of most of the patent system is fairly straightforward. Yes, the syntax rules in the claims are a bit strange, and there are strange words like ‘plurality’ which can faze newbies, but are essential when you cleanly need to distinguish between “zero, one or more”, “one or more”, and “more than one”. If this sounds a bit silly, remember the Kodak vs Polaroid case, where $900M damages rested on whether the swapping of magenta and cyan dye layers in a film was an innovation becasue the Polaroid claims hadn’t explicitly mentioned other orders, though it could easily have done so without weakening its original case.

    What went wrong there? This sort of thing commonly happens when companies have a patent department that takes a lot of the burden of writing and proofing the patent from the inventor. Large companies (and German companies, in my experience) seem to fall into this trap, and issue patents which are very restrictive (sometimes to the particular product), missing trivial generalizations, and quite often mistaking the inventive step entirely.

    There are other people who want to have a patent for their company, because they see it as a Certificate for being Very Clever. Often it isn’t that. if it is very clever and very obscure, then the obscurity may be protection enough. The things that need patenting are the very obvious things. Example: the Sony Walkman was lighter and cheaper than other cassette players because it did not have a record button. Really obvious when you see one, but they were the first to see it.

    The complexities mostly arise from the changing nature of patents – are algorithms patentable? – are living organizims patentable? – are business methods patentable? Case law is like that. Unless you restrict the nature of innovation and protgress, we will always be feeling our way.

    If we are going to simplify matters, the thing that would help most is a good book, website, or blog. Most people’s problems with patents are fairly trivial and cureable. And the other bits, no-one understands.

  3. James Says:

    It would help if all sides could agree not to use the term “IP” (or derivatives thereof) and to realise that Copyright, Trademarks and Patents are all distinct areas of law (and should remain so as they fulfill different functions).