General Election 2015: A Vic-Tory for Intellectual Property?

Since my last blog post, the small matter of the general election has come and gone. With the dust having now settled, the UK faces 5 years led by David Cameron and a majority Conservative government. I will stress at this juncture that I intend to remain apolitical from the outset of this blog post.

Whilst Mr Cameron did not, unlike his main rival, take the biblical step of etching his pledges for the next 5 years into a stone slab, he did, as did all of the other parties running in the election, outline various policies and pledges for the next 5 years in a manifesto. Whilst most of these commitments related to taxation, the economy and the NHS (and quite rightly so), Intellectual Property did get a mention on three main occasions relating to British food products (trademarks), commerce (patents) and supporting creative industries (copyright focused).

As we embark upon the next 5 years of a Conservative government, now seems the perfect opportunity to flesh out the promises made by the Tories concerning Intellectual Property in their manifesto and ascertain whether or not their implementation is both possible and worthwhile (this is, of course, written under the naïve assumption that an elected party with a majority government will keep to the promises made in their manifesto).

Trademarking British Food Products

First off, the Conservatives have pledged to establish a ‘Great British Food Unit’, with this body designed to aid the marketing of British food products around the world through helping to trademark these goods, thereby enhancing their marketability.

In theory, this is a lovely idea. However, aside from potentially reducing unemployment in the UK by a further 20 people through the establishment of this group, what ‘help’ is this group actually going to provide to improving the way in which produce is protected through trademarking? The Conservative manifesto provides no substantive explanation as to the composition of the Great British Food Unit (i.e. whether it will be comprised of government ministers, trademark attorneys, lawyers or a mixture of all three). However, it is widely understood that the main goal of this unit is to increase the number of British products attracting ‘protected name status’, meaning in practice that foods marketed as being produced in specific places cannot subsequently be reproduced in a cheaper way elsewhere, thus protecting the interests of regional industries.

Making the UK an Attractive Centre for Patenting

Credit where credit is due, Ed Miliband’s campaign message of wishing to under-promise and over-deliver rather than over-promise and under-deliver is a good approach to take in the long run, as governments are usually judged on their achievements, or lack of them, whilst in government (see how Mr Miliband was castigated for the failures of the last Labour government). However, statements like this can lead to fairly bland and vague pledges.

It seems that, as far as promoting commerce through making Britain an attractive place to seek patent protection for new inventions is concerned, David Cameron and the Conservative Party have developed a nasty case of ‘the Milibands’. Their manifesto provides that Britain will become the most favourable place in the whole of Europe to gain patents for new inventions; however, this is where the pledge ends. No whys or hows, no rhyme or reason.

Increased Responsibility On Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Arguably the final act of the last Labour government with a major impact on Intellectual Property was the passing of the Digital Economy Act 2010 under the guidance of Lord Mandleson. The primary goal of this legislation was to place responsibility upon ISPs to block websites carrying infringing content on them. The most common websites targeted thus far have been online video streaming websites and peer-2-peer file sharing hosts (one now only has to mention The Pirate Bay litigation for the debate about file sharing to re-open).

Whilst complaints from ISPs ensued due to the onerous monitoring conditions placed upon them, the Digital Economy Act 2010 remained in force throughout the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition, with multiple infringing websites being blocked by various ISPs as a result. Thus the pledge in the Conservative’s pre-general election manifesto this time around of continuing down the road of forcing ISPs to police the internet (whether or not they want to) is not surprising.

Thus whilst the next generation of young adults’ thirst for getting their hands on as much downloadable content as possible whilst simultaneously parting with as little money as possible increases, this newly elected government appears to be committed to protecting legitimate commercial interests and creative industries (film, television, music etc.) whilst stifling all those seeking to make a quick buck free-riding on the efforts of others. This, coupled with David Cameron’s pledge to continue to educate the general public as to what constitutes copyright infringement through voluntary anti-piracy projects highlights a government willing to place Intellectual Property at the forefront of commercial development.

Impact On The Next 5 Years

Whilst having a majority government goes a long way to increasing market confidence and, in turn, investment in creative development, the vague pledges regarding trademarks and patents are symptomatic of a ‘style over substance’ government. Of course the government wish to make the UK a more attractive place to gain patents and help to enhance the marketability of British products around the world through trademark protection – what government would want to harm the commercial lure of their country? However, aside from attempting to increase the reach of ‘protected name status’ products, your guess is as good as mine (and potentially as good as that of the Conservatives) as to how this is to be achieved.

On the other hand, whilst some may argue that there are other areas of copyright law that the new government should be focusing on, their specific pledges towards furthering the accountability of ISPs and educating the public are to be applauded in the way in which they promote the interests of creative industries in a society which has rapidly become one constantly demanding ‘more for less’.

And let us not forget that, irrespective of the Conservative’s plans for the next 5 years, who knows what curveballs the European Courts could throw our way, both in terms of legislation and case law. That is, until, the in-out referendum rears its head….

Note from the author – at no stage does the content of this blog post offer or provide legal advice of any form and should not be relied on as such. Should anyone have any personal/professional issues concerning Intellectual Property, please seek legal advice. For further information, please see the full Disclaimer under the ‘About’ tab.

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