Intellectual property: recent developments

In this article we introduce some of the latest developments in intellectual property law in 2014.

Intellectual Property Act 2014

On 14 May 2014, the Intellectual Property Act received Royal Assent. The main purpose of the Act is to provide better protection of intellectual property rights and make enforcement of those rights more accessible, especially to small and medium sized enterprises.

From a practical perspective, a number of changes will come into force in October 2014 with the remainder of the changes coming into effect in late 2015.

The headline changes are as follows:

  • The implementation and ratification by the UK of the United Patent Court Agreement
  • The introduction of initiatives to help businesses to assess their intellectual property rights before costly and lengthy proceedings
  • Criminal sanctions for the intentional copying a registered design
  • A new Opinions service for registered designs
  • Easier online access to information about registered designs
  • A new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for pre-publication research
  • The UK IPO will share information of unpublished patent applications with other overseas patent offices.

Copyright reforms

On 1 June 2014, a number of reforms to the UK copyright system were introduced. Not only do the reforms specify what third parties may do in relation to copyright works but they also widen existing, and introduce new exceptions to infringement.

Importantly, the reforms will allow:

  • Disabled people and disability groups to make accessible copies of copyright material (for example, music, film and books) when no commercial alternative exists
  • Researchers to benefit from the introduction of the new text and data mining exception for non-commercial research
  • Schools, colleges and universities to use copyright material on interactive whiteboards and presentations, provided that they have a licence
  • Public bodies to publish online material that they hold for public inspection, which will reduce costs and administrative burden of having to issue paper copies or requiring people to come to their offices.

It is also understood that further reforms are likely to be introduced that provide exceptions for private copying and parody/quotations.

Whilst the reforms are designed to bring the UK’s copyright system into the modern age, the proposal to extend the exemptions to private copying will inevitably be an issue of concern for rights holders.

Groundless threats reforms

The Law Commission has now published its final report on its proposed changes to the law concerning groundless threats of patent, trade mark and registered design infringement. A summary of the key reforms that have been proposed is set out below:

  • To bring the provisions relating to design rights and trademarks into line with patents. This would mean that a threats actions could not be brought by those who are ’primary’ infringers
  • For communications with ‘secondary infringers’ to be permitted where a legitimate commercial purpose can be demonstrated. For example, to seek further information about a primary infringer. It was also suggested that guidance as to what could be communicated should be provided
  • That a legal / professional advisor should no longer be jointly liable for threats when acting in a professional capacity on their client’s instructions.

Whilst the report is a welcomed development and recognises that there are problems within the existing system, a draft Bill has not been proposed and it is unclear as to how, or when, these changes will be introduced.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.