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MPs press for priority action on patent reform

Members of the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee want the government to set out a regulatory timetable for implementing the recommendations of the Hargreaves review of intellectual property.

The committee’s report published on 27 June sets out the steps needed to reform the patent system to stimulate economic growth. It acknowledges that the government has made progress in developing policy since the team led by Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff University published its independent review of UK copyright law in May 2011.

But MPs warn that that the issues raised by Hargreaves must continue to be treated as a priority by the coalition’s parliamentary business managers.

“It will be important to maintain that momentum alongside the more rigorous approach to policy formation that Hargreaves recommended. Conclusions are near to formation in many areas, and the Government should press ahead with measures to implement new policy in those areas as soon as possible. We recommend that the department act swiftly to bring in legislation to that effect,” the report urges.

Reform of the UK patent and copyright system will be a difficult process but the committee insists that the government must grasp the nettle.

“While we recognise that the government is undertaking a major reform in a complex area, changes are both necessary and urgent. We therefore will expect the government to set out its road-map for implementation, including a timetable for legislative action, in its response to our report,” the committee says.

One of the main issues to be tackled is the Unified Patent Court to replace the current system under which inventors can seek to protect their discovery through any one of three routes: via national, European or world intellectual property offices.

However, the committee is unhappy with the government’s position in negotiations with other EU member states on a single European patent process.

It argues that the current proposals, which would create local, regional and international courts for settling intellectual property disputes, would be complex and inefficient. A particular concern is that litigants can choose to go ‘forum shopping’, picking the location of the local or regional court deliberately to disadvantage their opponent

“The treaty has the potential to offer great benefits to the UK but only if UK interests are protected. The government’s current approach does not provide a robust defence of those interests. We believe that the government needs to reconsider its strategy and the capability of the negotiation team as a matter of urgency,” the report warns.

Adrian Bailey, the committee’s Labour and Cooperative chairman, notes that some progress in changing the system can be achieved without the time-consuming process of primary legislation.

“The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill provides scope for some changes to copyright law through secondary legislation. The committee will carefully monitor the debate on these proposals in the light of our report conclusions,” he said.

“Other areas, notably those of orphan works and extended collected licensing, will rightly be covered in primary legislation. These are controversial topics and will benefit from full debate,” he added.