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Opinion: Reasons to celebrate on British IP Day

To mark British IP Day, UKIPO chief Tim Moss hails the work of his IP attachés worldwide, but says a refresh is needed to maximise business opportunities

Today (July 1) marks the fifth annual celebration of British Intellectual Property (IP) Day. A home-grown initiative from the Alliance for IP, it gives the IP community a chance to celebrate success and reflect on the work ahead of us. Making the UK into a stronger business environment and harnessing the potential of innovation is core to the UKIPO’s work – it is so much more than just granting patents and registering trademarks and designs.

At home, the UK’s IP regime has responded with versatility to the challenges thrown at it by COVID-19. The UKIPO has relaxed the IP system to create more breathing time for businesses. We are planning additional support by waiving a range of fees between now and 2021.

Farther afield, the challenges of COVID-19 and the opportunities presented by our departure from the EU demonstrate the importance of looking outwards, engaging in new partnerships and building on our successes as an innovative nation.

IP plays a vital role here. It is an international language that is understood widely, even if we tend to speak different dialects in different countries. Good IP regimes provide reassurance and certainty for creators and investors. They can be confident that their ideas will be protected, and that their investment of time, money and talent will reap returns. The UK has one of the leading IP regimes in the world and is perfectly placed to use its innovation assets to build stronger trading relationships.

Our stakeholders – users of the IP system – have demonstrated impressive collaboration and cooperation in response to the global pandemic. Researchers, companies, partners and even competitors have shared their technologies and knowledge to support efforts to find an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Organisations have found innovative ways to share their content in a remote-learning context.

Despite these efforts to help combat COVID-19, the long battle to recover business growth and trade levels will need to be hard-fought. Access to international markets, consumers and audiences is essential.

UK firms keen to get that foothold in overseas markets can seek support from the IPO’s network of IP attachés, who provide hands-on, expert IP advice to businesses that are already active in, or planning to invest in, emerging economies. The current network members (based in China, Brazil, India, Southeast Asia, the US and at WIPO) have engaged with more than 30,000 businesses over the last eight years. They now routinely provide tailored support for hundreds of businesses a year. Feedback from organisations on the specific IP issues they have encountered – for example, market value opportunities gained, revenue foregone, or sometimes remedy costs saved – indicate that this support is worth a combined £100 million ($123 million) annually.

In recent months, network members have been helping British businesses on IP protection in the face of challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. They have also been instrumental in supporting the UK’s national response, including procuring personal protective equipment and supporting UK nationals overseas.

The attachés work alongside colleagues from the Foreign Office and Department for International Trade to support businesses operating overseas.

Meet the team

In Geneva, Jan Walter works closely with WIPO, based at the UK Mission to Geneva. He seeks to showcase the UK’s approach to IP and to use this to inspire others and shape the international IP framework.  

The team in China, now led by Conor Murray after he took up his post this week, has helped change the way UK brands are treated there, making it easier to protect and enforce their rights. Engagement with Chinese IP authorities includes regular senior-level exchanges on IP rights protection and enforcement. Judicial and technical exchanges have brought tangible impacts on influencing China’s regulatory and legal framework to benefit UK IP rights holders here.

In Brazil, playing its part in a £3.7 million investment from the British cross-government Prosperity Fund Global Trade Programme, attaché expertise has contributed to the modernisation of the country’s IP framework. The prosperity fund investment is aimed at modernising Brazil’s IP office, helping to reduce the backlog and increase efficiency.

Led by Brazilian attaché Angelica Garcia, the IP team is also working closely to the Brazilian government on the enforcement agenda, and has already seen a significant increase in enforcement actions against fake physical and online goods and their suppliers in Brazil.

In India, Pragya Chaturvedi is based in the British High Commission in Delhi, and has an excellent working relationship with the Indian government and industry bodies. She helps to identify key issues faced by UK businesses operating in India.

Based in Washington DC, Kayleigh Nauman is the North America attaché and policy advisor. She has been advising on the UK-US Free Trade Agreement, and also supports UK SMEs interested in operating in the US, Canada and Mexico.

In Singapore, the attachés are Christabel Koh, the regional IP business and trade advisor, and Desmond Tan. One of their key roles is to collaborate with the regional governments to build a fit-for-purpose IP ecosystem in Southeast Asia that respects and protects IP assets. They have already made steady in-roads in this respect.    

Time to refresh

But our attaché network is just one part of the story – with the government’s ambition of increasing the proportion of exports from 30 to 35% of GDP, much more still needs to be done. Differences in IP systems, concerns about protection and a lack of understanding of IP issues all still act as barriers for companies looking to grow overseas.

That is why we have been looking at refreshing our offering to UK businesses operating internationally.

First, we need to make sure we update and improve access to our online guidance making it fit for purpose for our new, independent trading role in the world. Second, we need to look at our presence in other key regional markets. We know that most of the global economic growth over the next 10 to 15 years will happen outside Europe in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Our current offering has a gap in two hotbeds for UK investment in Africa and the Middle East. Both offer significant opportunities for UK businesses and brand owners.

So, when we celebrate British IP Day in a year’s time, we can reflect on the progress we’ve made on these truly international challenges. I sincerely hope that this time next year we will be benefitting from the results of the collaborative efforts of research institutes and pharmaceutical companies in producing, manufacturing and distributing a coronavirus vaccine. And, as we are rebuilding from the economic shock of the pandemic, I want to see our support for UK firms that are keen to grow and export making a real difference.

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