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5-a-day: music downloads, a taste of tobacco and the Bolar exemption

James Nurton

Today’s roundup of IP news covers IFPI’s report on digital music, research on the impact of plain packaging, new tech transfer rules in the EU, a Supreme Court trade mark case in Brazil and why the UK is introducing a Bolar exemption

Uptick in downloads

Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe was the top-selling single last year

Consumer and digital activist groups have long complained that the music industry has had its priorities wrong: rather than focusing on tackling illegal downloading, it should be doing far more to promote legal digital music services. After all, in many countries fans of downloading have to choose between an illegal service and no service at all. Latest figures from the industry group IFPI suggest that the sector’s shift towards ensuring supply of legal products might be more lucrative than stamping out demand for illegal ones. Revenues from digital music are up 9%, with major music services now open in more than 100 markets (up from 23 just two years ago). The number of people paying to use subscription services rose 44% last year to 20 million. But despite the growth in global music revenues (up for the first time since 1999), the IFPI is still haranguing others for not doing more to help in the fight against copyright infringement: companies that advertise on file-sharing sites, search engines that link to them, and internet service providers that give them access to the internet are in their sights. Google is singled out for particular criticism. Despite Google pledging to take into account copyright complaints when returning search results for music, the US industry group RIAA says that there has been no “demonstrable impact” so far.

Plain-pack cigarettes leave bad taste

Plain packagingPostscript Interactive has a story about the early effects of plain packaging in Australia. Though the regulations requiring standardised packaging for all cigarettes were intended to prevent younger people from starting smoking, the article claims that there have been some surprising effects on current smokers as well. According to Fiona Sharkie of Quitline Victoria, a government funded hotline for helping smokers quit, one in four callers says that cigarettes taste worse since plain packaging was introduced. She suggested that this might be related to research showing that consumers perceive cigarettes in plain packaging to be of lower quality. It’s unclear whether the new regulations are the cause of this and if the effect is widespread, but as other jurisdictions debate their own plain package laws, any effects stemming from Australia’s, real or imagined, will be noted with great interest.

Tech transfer redefined

There’s no rest for civil servants in Brussels. Hot on the heels of the unitary patent, the draft plans for trade mark reform and various copyright initiatives, the Competition DG has now launched a consultation on draft proposals for a revised Technology Transfer Block Exemption Regulation and revised Guidelines on the application of EU competition law to tech transfer agreements, after receiving submissions since 2011. Comments can be made until May 17, with the new rules expected to come into effect next year. On the IPKat blog, Stefano Barazza says the proposals mainly amount to “fine-tuning” with revised definitions of “technology”, “tech transfer agreements” and “market share” as well as more detailed provisions on settlement agreements and some guidance on technology pools. But he warns: “The impact of some of the most controversial changes proposed in the draft, which include the exclusion of termination clauses from the exemption and the elimination of the exception related to passive sales, appears difficult to predict.”

Absolut ColourAbsolut certainty

Last week the third chamber of Brazil’s Superior Court made a useful ruling on well-known marks, reports IP Tango. The Court ruled unanimously that the mark Absolut could not be given well-known status – because such status can only be granted by the IP office, and then only in the process of opposition or cancellation proceedings. The decision is welcome for confirming established practice, though it’s not clear why Absolut pursued the case given that established practice.

Keeping up with the Germans

EU harmonisation alert: the UK government has said it will amend the Patents Act to exempt clinical and field trials from patent infringement (a Bolar exemption). The changes will come into effect on October 1, and the government claims they will make the country more attractive for pharma R&D and benefit patients. On Marks & Clerk’s website, patent attorney James Robertson welcomed the change: “Since the new exemption to patent infringement will apply to the use of innovative drugs for clinical and field trials to obtain regulatory approval for them in any country, this may help the UK become a more attractive centre for international clinical trials.” First the patent box, now a Bolar exemption: is the UK serious about promoting a more research-friendly business environment? Or is it just belatedly catching up with more innovative economies elsewhere in the EU?


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