The UK government has published its annual report on the work of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the role it plays in driving innovation and growth in the UK. In particular, the report identifies the UK as a leading innovator in key areas of green technology and outlines ongoing developments to the UK IP system.
The benefit of IP for the UK economy is clear – with investments in intangible assets now exceeding total tangible investments, the IPO estimates that industries with above average use of IP rights accounted for 15.5% of total UK employment and over half (£159.7bn) of all exported goods in the last year.
The Innovation and Growth Report 2021-22 sets out how the work of the UK IPO has promoted innovation and productivity within the UK and how it supports the UK’s position as a ‘global science superpower’. In particular, their strategy is characterized by two outward facing pillars: delivering excellent IP services and creating a world leading IP environment.
Core IP services
There is an ever-increasing volume of IP activity in the UK, with the last year seeing record numbers of trademark and design applications (up on the previous year by 16.1% and 71.8% respectively) and the highest number of granted patents in over 30 years. The IPO has also cleared Covid-induced backlogs and examination times for its core IP services. A funding support scheme was launched to help innovative SMEs recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as an IP audits scheme helping businesses fund professional audits of their IP assets.
The IPO has also made progress with the ‘One IPO transformation program’ for streamlining IP services, with the opening of an integrated digital renewals service for all registered IP rights. They have also developed prototypes for ‘manage IP’ (IP management service) and ‘secure IP’ (digital IP application service) and have performed initial work for ‘research IP’ (searching and analysis tool for UK IP rights) and ‘challenge IP’ (digital hearings and tribunals service). The rollout of these four services under the ‘One IPO’ umbrella can be expected in 2023.
World leading IP environment
The second pillar of the IPO’s strategy is about developing IP policy frameworks for the UK, both domestically and internationally, emphasizing the importance of securing post-Brexit trade deals. IP provisions in recent trade deals include a commitment from New Zealand to adopt a reciprocal right to compensation for visual artists, and an agreement from Australia to make reasonable efforts to accede to the Hague agreement on industrial designs. In addition, an innovation collaboration has been agreed with Switzerland and negotiations are underway with India, Canada and Mexico.
Looking ahead, the report identifies several ongoing research projects commissioned by the IPO to create a sustainable, innovative and world leading IP environment. These projects include developing trackers for copyright infringement and counterfeit goods, researching the use of trade secrets in SME communities, and exploring key areas of technology for the future, including metaverse/extended reality technologies, blockchain/NFTs, artificial intelligence (AI) and ‘green’ technologies. There has been a significant increase in worldwide patenting activity for renewable energy and green vehicle technologies (more than doubling in the last five years), with the UK ranked as the top patenting country for offshore wind power and green building technologies. Further analysis on green technologies is due later this financial year from the IPO’s green technologies working group.
Following the consultation on how to handle AI within the patent and copyright systems, the government’s response was published earlier this year, and the IPO has conducted various studies, including on the use of IP to incentivize investment in AI, and the use of AI to enforce IP rights. In September, they also released guidance for patenting AI inventions in the UK.
IP enforcement has also been a major area of work for the IPO, having published their new counter-infringement strategy in February and increasing intelligence capabilities and coordination with law enforcement.
We are pleased to see the ongoing success of the UK IP system and look forward to the upcoming developments and publications from the IPO.
Written by William Wathey of Mathys & Squire