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ConDems launch Tech Blueprint

Reviews all round

The Patent Office (better known as the IPO) has launched a six month review of intellectual property issues in the UK. It's part of a larger 'Blueprint for Technology' (pdf) from the Department for Business and Skills.

The Blueprint takes on board the proposals made in James Dyson's report for the Conservatives published just before the election (summary here). Dyson advocated lower corporation tax and special tax breaks for R&D, including retention of the 'patent box' (a tax break for income derived from patents); and looked at capital investment and science education. The Blueprint adds the creation of Technology and Innovation Centres (paid for by £200m earmarked for funding via the Technology Strategy Board, but whose purpose is rather nebulous).

Other proposals include quotas for SMEs in Government procurement (25 per cent) and opening up government data. Here the Blueprint cites activist Rufus Pollock, who reckons this will open up "£6bn of economic activity". The name might be familiar.

But what of the Intellectual Property Review? This will trial a crowdsourced patent review experiment "which draws on the expertise of people across the globe to help maintain patent quality". It will also examine barriers to entry for new internet business models (eg obtaining music licenses), and the cost and complexity to SMEs of protecting their IP.

Google is tipped a wink with a reference to what the UK can learn from Fair Use rules in law (here they're called "exemptions") "covering the circumstances in which copyright material may be used without the rights-holder's express permission". The short answer is - not very much. The creator's moral right to decide how his or her creation is used is recognised throughout Europe, but it's largely alien to US law - it only applies to visual works and only in some situations.

In reality any Government seeking to overhaul copyright must to do so within the constraints of the Berne Convention - which both makes copyright automatic, and pledges the state to guarantee minimum protections for the creator - and EU copyright directive and commerce directive.

The most recent IP review was announced almost exactly five years ago and entrusted to Andrew Gowers. He proposed the sound recording copyright term should remain unchanged, and advocated the legitimisation of format shifting (which everyone does already) but without compensation to rights holders. After a brief bit of controversy, no one ever mentioned it again. ®

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