Feeds

IPO: Should stand for Intellectual Property Obliteration

Sir Humphrey's onslaught on creators' rights

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Comment Thanks to Yes, Minister, the idea of bureaucrats running the country is embedded in the nation's imagination. Governments change and ministers come and go with barely enough time to master the jargon. Public policy is quietly made in private, and while the media focuses on the elected government, the real one, our bureaucracy, quietly goes about its business. How true is this, really?

This summer The Spectator's political editor quoted a Cabinet minister as saying that, by his estimation, only four out of 22 colleagues lead their departments, the other 18 "just represent the views of their officials to Cabinet and the Prime Minister". They're messenger boys and girls.

That's arguably true at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where the Foreign Secretary is little more than an after-dinner speaker with a fabulous travel allowance. There's evidence of it at the Home Office: this Labour minister belatedly discovered he was being misled. And it's true at one other important outpost, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) as we shall see below.

The IPO is the old Patent Office, and its brief is to support British business. This is a particularly important sector since we don't build ships or bash steel anymore. Businesses based on the "intangibles" of IP are the cornerstone of economic growth – and the only part of the economy that's growing. Speaking English helps here, as does the British genius for improvisation and inventiveness. Design, computer software, games, music and TV are all areas in which the UK punches above its weight, and where property rights need to be asserted.

The problem is, the IPO has its own agendas. The constant turnover of ministers who can barely grasp their brief has left the Sir Humphreys of the IPO effectively in charge of policy, and the IPO reflects all the bien pensant dinner-party prejudices about creators' rights. The organisation appears to have decided that its mission to collectivise copyright, and it works unrelentingly towards this goal - although it's not one ministers or industry share.

On most IP topics hand-picked academics (often funded by government), digital activists and large, powerful internet companies (who fund the activists, and who benefit commercially from using other people's content without paying for it) all speak with one voice. They regard IP holders as grubby and parochial and backwards looking, and long for new technology and networks to sweep away the Ancien Regime, like an act of nature, leaving behind goodness and fairness.

The idea of the inventor or creator as the owner of important property rights is not one that's respected; the individual may as well not exist, and what rights they wish to assert must be collectivised "for the greater good". When pirates hoist the Skull and Crossbones, they imagine they're striking a pose as rebellious outsiders; they don't realise they are actually the Establishment. Their flag has flown over the IPO for many years. The slogan may as well be "Intellectual Property Is Theft".

Hargreaves: This evidence isn't really evidence

Six months ago Downing Street ordered a review into IP, which became known as the "Google Review" after a remark by Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron had been told Google may never have launched in the UK because of its intellectual property laws, and he wanted somebody to investigate.

Though it was nominally headed by journalist-turned-academic Ian Hargreaves, civil servants from the IPO were answering to MPs on the business select committee on Tuesday. It was a fascinating session.

The arguments kicked off with complaints from the officials that the supporting evidence justifying the new Digital Economy Act - which strengthens IP rights - was no good. Adrian Brazier of the Ministry of Fun (aka the DMCS) gave a long whinge to this effect and the IPO's Ed Quilty chipped in: the civil servants "couldn't look under the bonnet".

From left to right: Adrian Brazier, Ed Quilty, Baroness Judith Wilcox, John Alty

But the MPs had concerns too. They were scathing about the evidence the IPO had offered to justify the conclusions of the Google Hargreaves review, which argues for collectivisation.

The grilling found the civil servants – and biz department minister Baroness Wilcox – on the defensive. Instead of a chippy session extolling the promise of IP reform, they were on the back foot.

This isn't surprising as the IPO's economic "evidence" in support of the Hargreaves conclusions was cobbled together in a hurry, with fantastically implausible figures plucked out of the air. If you or I had produced something as amateurish as this for a company strategy document, we'd be picking up our P45s on Monday. But you don't get sacked at the IPO - you live to cobble another day.

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Preview redux: Microsoft ships new Windows 10 build with 7,000 changes
Latest bleeding-edge bits borrow Action Center from Windows Phone
Google opens Inbox – email for people too thick to handle email
Print this article out and give it to someone tech-y if you get stuck
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan
'Veteran Unix Admins' fear desktop emphasis is betraying open source
Entity Framework goes 'code first' as Microsoft pulls visual design tool
Visual Studio database diagramming's out the window
Google+ goes TITSUP. But WHO knew? How long? Anyone ... Hello ...
Wobbly Gmail, Contacts, Calendar on the other hand ...
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Redmond top man Satya Nadella: 'Microsoft LOVES Linux'
Open-source 'love' fairly runneth over at cloud event
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.