Gavin Davies, Secretary to the Law Society of Scotland Intellectual Property Sub-Committee reflects on the importance of protecting intellectual property rights and explores the wide-ranging impacts of their infringement.
What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual Property (IP) was considered as far back as the 17th century, by the philosopher John Locke who said that “individuals have the right to the fruits of their own labour.”
Some two hundred years later, Locke’s thinking remains relevant and is formalised by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) statement that “intellectual property and intellectual property rights continue to be one of the key mechanisms that provide inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs with the confidence to invest time and money into their ideas, knowing they will reap the benefits."
The World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) states that intellectual property refers to the “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce ” and the four main types of intellectual property protection are patents, trade marks, designs, and copyright.
We are all familiar with some of the more high-profile IP cases such as the recent Ed Sheeran copyright infringement battle. However intellectual property impacts on a wide section of society, beyond the rich and famous. Consumers, designers, inventors, academia, research organisations, Government bodies and indeed practically all commercial entities are affected.
Why is Intellectual Property important?
Intellectual property protection is important for several reasons:
- Protects the rights of the creator or inventor, giving them exclusive rights meaning that others cannot benefit financially from the rights without their authorisation
- Protects consumers and individuals from harm, providing them with certainty about the source of the goods or services
- Protects the interests of legitimate business by allowing the creator or inventor to license the use of their creation or invention for financial benefit
- Helps the economy and society benefit from knowledge and ideas
- Encourages research from academia, government research and other parties and organisations for publication, research, and commercial purposes, such as medical research
The infringement of IP protected goods can have a negative impact effect on consumers who knowingly or otherwise may be tempted to purchase counterfeit goods which are often cheaper than the genuine branded article. These can be of poor quality and even unsafe or dangerous. And while imitation goods might look as good as the real thing, they are not subject to consumer protection legislation and consumers can suffer harm. In addition, the creator or inventor may also suffer harm, such as financial detriment or reputational damage through the sale of counterfeit goods.
Inventors and consumers are not the only victims of the production of unauthorised copies of genuine branded products. Counterfeit goods and IP crime are “intrinsically linked to money laundering and is used to help fund other serious crimes such as terrorism, human trafficking, child sexual exploitation and prostitution."
According to the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, counterfeiting is now the second largest source of criminal income worldwide, second only to drugs and counterfeit goods are sold online on different platforms and social media . The cost of counterfeit goods to the UK economy in terms of loss of revenue and employment is significant, as figures from the UK Government state that the annual loss to the economy through counterfeiting and piracy is £9 billion and over 80,000 job losses each year.
UK’s IP Counter-Infringement Strategy
In February 2022 the IPO published the UK’s new IP Counter-Infringement Strategy , which has five key commitments for the IPO, namely:
- Establishing a national centre of excellence for the development and analysis of intelligence on IP infringement
- Work collaboratively with enforcement agencies (including Trading Standards, Police & Border Force) to embed IP crime coordinators in local regions to develop intelligence and coordinate activity
- Work collaboratively with enforcement agencies (including Trading Standards, Police & Border Force) to review how IP crime is recorded
- To develop the existing IP Crime Group to create a new Strategic Operational Leadership group consisting of government, enforcement agencies, and industry
- To develop impactful campaigns to reduce IP crime and infringement and work with partners focussing on those who knowingly and unknowingly infringe.
If IP crime is to be controlled, clearly creators must take the necessary steps to protect their work, but this is not a fight that is going to be won in isolation. The IPO’s five-year strategy advocates a holistic approach enabling ‘government, law enforcement, industry and consumers’ to better understand the IP infringement landscape, and work together to tackle its risks and threats. We will watch with interest to see the impact of the strategy’s implementation.