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Guest post by Baroness Neville-Rolfe: The lure of intellectual property

The UK's new IP minister sets out her priorities and reveals why the past fortnight has been frenetic in a special guest blog post for Managing IP

I may be used to change, but the last fortnight has been frenetic.

One moment I was preparing to try to support business as a Lords backbencher, with questions on the Infrastructure Bill. The next I found myself giving up my hard won non-executive business portfolio (ITV, Metro the huge German retailer and others) to become Minister for Intellectual Property. What a surprising turn of events. As someone for whom innovation and creativity have always been a personal driver, this is a fantastic opportunity and one that I could not turn down.

Innovation was behind our industrial revolution – I had an ancestor who was in Stephenson’s team on the Rocket – and creativity has given us the world’s greatest heritage in literature and the applied arts. I speak as a collector of pottery from Staffordshire, the patent and design hotspot of its time.


Gordon of Khartoum, Staffordshire pottery

I have been pleased to discover that the Government’s aim is to make the UK the best place to start and invest in innovative companies. Our ambition is to increase the value generated by all sectors with a stake in the UK’s intellectual property regime. As well as investing in the skills and infrastructure necessary for a 21st century economy, we have taken action to review and update the UK’s IP framework, so it supports, rather than hinders, economic growth.

I want us to build upon Britain’s history of ingenuity and to attempt to make conditions easier for innovators. I want our existing innovators protected with the right framework of laws on copyright, design, patents and trade marks. I want our future innovators encouraged. I want an idea protected, but I want its light to inspire others.

Having grown up in a small farm business and worked in competitive environments, I value enterprise, determination and hard work. My four sons sometimes get rather bored with this refrain.

Working for over 15 years at Tesco and before that in the Policy Unit at No 10 and in the civil service, I have become used to dealing with major problems and large-scale concerns. Yet in reading my briefing papers I have been bowled over by the size of the sector for which I am the Ministerial guardian.

Global trade in intellectual property is huge. It is worth some £600 billion a year and it is growing. I want Britain to secure an even greater share of that market. To do so our innovators need to be confident that their rights will be respected and enforced wherever they operate. Our innovations help to create a high value economy with huge rewards to creative talent and creative business, but that is only possible if we continue to be highly inventive.


Forbidden City, China

One of my priorities will be developing Britain’s relationships with key international partners. My first overseas visit will be to China,

which I know quite well, delivering on an agreement made by the Prime Minister with Premier Li when he led a large business delegation there last December. I will be co-hosting a symposium with the Chinese authorities. Now that the Chinese are creating record numbers of patents and trade marks of their own, there is a real opportunity for us to encourage Chinese policy makers as they develop their maturing IP framework.

Europe will be incredibly important too. I will be keeping a close eye on Brussels, on the unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court to secure the best outcome for UK businesses and UK professionals. I have walked the corridors of Brussels for 40 years, but I will have a new spring in my step.

As well as scale, I have been delighted by the breadth of the intellectual property brief. I want people to understand that though it is a technical subject it is important for many of our industries.

By protecting rights we spur on our aerospace industry, technological innovations in simple household appliances and complex computing, fashion, pop music and the other creative arts and, also close to my heart, medical advances. We don’t only protect new drugs. At the British Business House during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow we brought together some of the best brains in digital healthcare to discuss breakthroughs in mobile technology which are radically improving care and reducing error.


Speaking at the Digital Health Seminar , British Business House, Glasgow

Another vital aspect of our work is better enforcement of rights. My predecessor led the first ever international IP Enforcement Summit here in London in June and I will carry the baton forward.

Our Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit established only 9 months ago with IPO funds has already investigated £30m worth of IP crime.

During the fiery debate on copyright in the House of Lords on 30 July, everyone spoke warmly of the Copyright Hub, a new development by the creative industries and supported by seed funding from the Government, to make sure all users – consumers or businesses – can easily secure legal access to copyright work thus reducing the temptation of infringement.


Demonstration of the IPO’s new online patent renewal service

I should end by thanking the Intellectual Property Office at Newport for making me welcome so early in my tenure. Coming from business I like to visit the front line.

I am not sure whether I was more impressed by the inventions and designs that were being protected - from graphene to sensor technologies; by the speedy transition to a digital service; or by the professionalism and courtesy of the staff.

My challenge is a formidable one. As Mark Twain said 150 years ago, even God could not find any sense in any copyright law on the planet! So with all humility and cautious optimism, I am determined that this Government remains alert to the needs of IP creators and IP users alike. I want the UK to retain its status as the best IP regime in the world and for the premier ranking to be felt and recognised by everyone.

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