20th maj, 2011

Hargreaves IP Review a copy of past recomendations

In November 2010 Ian Hargreaves was asked to answer a simple question asked so many times during the last decade: Is the UK intellectual property system working as it should?
Now the answer is out, and it’s negative in more ways than one.
The first negative is that the report conclude that the IP system is not working in some areas

The second negative is that the report does not in any way break new ground but is a repetition of old news. I know that repeating something is not necessarily bad, but the report is a disappointment in my view. Most of the recommendations have been made before, which makes the report disappointing reading. Of the 12 most important recommendations spread out in the document 9 of these were copies of recommendations made in the Gowers review from 2006(http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/gowers_review_index.htm).

Furthermore in the patent section (patents being my favourite subject) there is a discussion of patent thickets which is supported by a figure showing US lawsuits in the smartphone area. For one using US data to support a UK policy is not good, European evidence should have been used as documentation. Next the phone example is an old one. In the last 25 years the mobile phone area have been heavily patented without it damaging innovation. Furthermore in the microprocessor business this was also the case and haven’t damaged innovation (one research paper I read even suggests it has supported innovation).
The recommendations not copied from Gowers are

·         Evidence based IP policy

·         Cross border copyright licensing and a digital copyright exchange

·         Steps to avoid patent thickets

The first recommendation – a more evidence based policy approach – is actually interesting in the way that it is part of a European trend in public policy creation. The New Public Regulation movement has during the last 5 years moved towards evidence based policy and enforcement. Much work is done in the field and it’s very interesting (and a favourite subject of mine as well). Sadly in the IP field the call for evidence in IP policy has been the concluding remarks of almost all research papers in the last 10 years or so. Everybody wants data supporting the current IP system or changes to be made. Sadly the report shows no ideas on how this should be approached in a new way.

The cross border copyright licensing and patent thicket are old problems, and the report does not shine its light on new issues there.

One interesting thing about the report however is this: “Collecting societies fulfil a valuable role in licensing markets, reducing transaction costs by enabling “many to many” licensing. But they can also harm competition because they are in effect natural monopolies.” I very much agree on this point and their recommendation: “Collecting societies should be required by law to adopt codes of practice, approved by the IPO and the UK competition authorities, to ensure that they operate in a way that is consistent with the further development of efficient, open markets”. I would have liked to see the subject discussed further in the report, but hope that if the recommendation is followed we will see more on the collecting societies.

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