Yesterday the IPKat paid a trip to the Stephen Stewart Memorial Lecture, organised by the Intellectual Property Institute and hosted by Slaughter and May. The subject was the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, and the speaker was Andrew Gowers himself.

Mr Gowers started by apologising that his talk preceded the release of the report, which probably wasn’t the organisers’ intention at the time of inviting him. Actually, the IPKat reckons that this was rather a coup – it’s not often you see a room full of IP lawyers and specialists, tounges hanging out suspense, hoping to get a hint about what’s to come.

On the date: Gowers noted that the date of 6 December had been widely predicted. His response: ‘You may very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment’.

While he couldn’t comment directly on the contents of the report ahead of its publication, he identified three key areas that he had identified whilst hearing the evidence presented to him.

The need for stronger enforcement: he noted the harm to industry caused by piracy and counterfeiting. He further noted that legal sanctions for online activities are less severed than those for offline activities and commented on the key role played by broadband internet access in enabling infringement.

He also noted that while Trading Standards do a good job in relation to trade marks, they do little in relation to traders who infringe copyright [a possible hint concerning one of his proposals wonders the IPKat]

The need for IP to be less complex in the interests of industry: While Patent Office fees are reasonable, he noted that legal fees make up a high percentage of costs in relation to IP. He noted the lack of an industry-wide standard contract with regard to licensing.

He also identified the cost of litigation as a problem. In particular, while the Patents County Court if meant to be a cheaper option, this is often not the case. Costs were even worse for European protection, and he noted that Europe is the most expensive jurisdiction in which to obtain patent protection.

[The IPKat wonders if this last comment is fair though – Europe is actually lots of jurisdictions, with a simplified system for getting protection in them all. More fundamentally, the IPKat wonders what kind of Government-led policies could be made to combat these problems. Presumably capping legal fees isn’t an option and previous attempts to cut costs (such as the PCC) don’t seem to have been completely successful. As for European costs, the UK alone can’t control this, though it could press for simplification at the international level.]

The need for a clearer understanding of IP by consumers: the fact that many consumers do not realise that private copying infringes copyright was picked out for comment. This led to concerns about respect for the law which were undesirable since copyright is too important an area to fall into dispute [another possible suggestion to be made by the Review, the IPKat reckons].

Left: following the lecture, these golden ducks - individually signed by Andrew Gowers - were auctioned for the benefit of the Intellectual Property Institute.

Bonus information: Gowers noted that there had been little interest in petty patents or utility models.

Summing up. Gowers reckoned that the system was broadly along the right lines, but there are some areas where ‘tweaking and sensible reform’ are desirable. He noted that there is probably the opportunity for such reform, since there is the political will in the UK, both on the part of the current Government, and the Opposition. In the past though, there have been issues concerning the strategic formulation of IP policy at the Government level. Moreover, there is an opportunity for the UK to influence policy on the international level, in particular since Germany, which is to lead both the EU and the G8 in the near future, is keen on promoting innovation.

The IPKat was secretly a little disappointed. Of course, it’s hard to know what the Review will say, but from Mr Gowers’ talk, it seemed that any change would be limited to incredibly specific areas. There does not seem to have been an engagement with the fundamental balance of IP, and Gowers mentioned little in terms of substantive law. Unsurprisingly, considering that the Review was set up by the Treasury, he seemed to be coming at it from the view of IP as a tool for business and innovation, rather than as having nobler aims (an attitude with a proud history in the UK), and there was little if any mention of the cultural benefits of IP to the wider public. He also notes that, while Gowers criticised the fact that IP policy had traditionally been something of a lobbyist’s playground, he relied on statistics that sounded rather like they’d come straight from the mouths of the industry's lobbyists.

The IPKat awaits 6 December (or whenever it is) with interest.

GOWERS SPEAKS GOWERS SPEAKS Reviewed by Anonymous on Thursday, November 30, 2006 Rating: 5


  1. I was disappointed too - but for another reason. If you take a look at the November issue of the CIPA Journal, at pages 706 to 709 you can read, under the title "Andrew Gowers' speech to CIPA Congress, 3 November 2006", a virtually verbatim version of last night's talk (even down to the little witticisms and asides).

  2. Those interested in trying to predict what the Gowers review is going to say might also like to read a transcript of a speech Mr Gowers gave to the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys congress on 3 November, in this month's CIPA Journal. The content appears to be pretty much the same as reported here.

  3. Sorry for repeating it; Anonymous beat me to it by 18 seconds!

  4. Woodpecker - I guess my computer lives nearer the server than yours does ;-)

  5. Hmm. All sounds a bit depressing.

    I'll be interested to see whether the report itself engages at all with the influence of US concepts of "fair use" on public perceptions regarding copyright. It strikes me that one major influence of the internet on public perceptions of copyright is that it has brought people into greater contact with US fair-use concepts, and people are then very surprised to find that similar rights often don't exist in the UK.

    People are using websites on a daily basis that rely on US fair use and that could not be run in the same way in the UK - many of Google's sub-sites, for example (Google Images, Google News). This is changing public perceptions about the right balance for copyright protection. If Gowers has fallen for the content industry's line that this just shows people need to get their perceptions back in line with the law - rather than questioning whether the law should fall in line with people's perceptions of what is "fair" - then that is something of a missed opportunity.

    But hey! Let's see what pops up on the Treasury website (or wherever) next Wednesday...

  6. I think there is scope to see through the differences in the two presentataions. See my predictions


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