The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has set out a new five-year anti-infringement strategy focusing on countering intellectual property crime. It highlights, in particular, the connection between IP infringement and serious crime, commenting that criminals often see IP infringement as a low-risk, high-reward activity that can be used to finance more serious crimes such as terrorism and human trafficking.
With this in mind, it states that a joined-up approach across agencies and businesses is essential and adopts the “4Ps” delivery methodology employed in existing strategies against counter-terrorism and serious and organised crime: prevent, protect, prepare and pursue.
Fundamental processes, not specifics
The strategy document emphasises that it is the first UK government IP Counter-Infringement Strategy that “looks at the fundamental processes and structures” needed long-term. The first phase will be to gather intelligence and build networks, the second to use this to facilitate a united UK response. Whereas this careful, evidence-based approach may be praised for its thoroughness, some IP stakeholders will feel frustrated that, by its own admission, the document fails to set out “current IP infringement issues and the specific actions we will take over the next five years to tackle them”.
Partnership, leadership, education
Partnership, leadership and education are the three key planks of the strategy.
Partnership – The emphasis on partnership expands on the IPO’s existing multi-agency approach to countering infringement. It commits to establishing a national centre of excellence for the development and analysis of intelligence on enforcement of IP rights, which will lead and coordinate IP enforcement activity. It will, among other things consider how IP crime is recorded, develop the existing IP Crime Group and create a new Strategic Operations Leadership Group consisting of government, enforcement agencies and industry; it will work with Trading Standards, the Border Force and the police to try to coordinate efforts. Many IP owners will welcome that the document specifically mentions enforcement issues around online intermediaries as an area of focus.
Leadership – The IPO will work with the Department for International Trade to ensure that new trade deals do not weaken the UK IP regime and that they encourage a higher global standard for IP protection and enforcement abroad. Here the point is made that high standards abroad benefit UK businesses which wish to do business internationally. The IPO will use its independent seat at WIPO and the WTO to show leadership on enforcement priorities. Although recognising the risks of illicit activities in free ports, the IPO commits to making UK Freeports “world leading for IP protection”. The IPO will carry out and share research to support this work, including research on future technologies.
Education – The IPO will continue to engage with industry to develop “effective, impactful campaigns to reduce IP crime and infringement and to help consumers understand what constitutes IP crime and infringement on social media and when they may unknowingly become involved in infringing activity. A particular issue, highlighted in the strategy document, is the need to counter the idea that buying counterfeit goods is a victimless crime.
The IPO recognises that the future will bring new, and often unpredictable, challenges so that there is a need for flexibility and research. Among the future challenges mentioned are the impact of the internet and e-commerce, which will create not only new opportunities for businesses and the consumer but – sadly – also for IP criminals. In order to try to predict future threats, the IPO holds regular horizon-scanning workshops both internally and externally and engages with experts in a range of emerging technologies. International espionage is also a potential threat to science and research, and the IPO is working to educate UK scientists and researchers about how to protect their IP from hostile activity.