UK IP Minister’s speech in Hong Kong

26 August 2016

Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG, the UK’s Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property, is presently on a week’s tour of China with a small delegation which includes Potter Clarkson partner, Saiful Khan. The principal aim is to reassure Chinese central and regional government institutions, the Chinese attorney profession, and applicant companies that the UK is very much open for business and to explain the positive Intellectual Property landscape in the UK following the Referendum to leave the European Union.  

Set out below is the full speech that Baroness Neville-Rolfe gave in Hong Kong which emphasises the importance of IP enforcement, and UK efforts to offer proportionate and effective dispute resolution.


“Good morning to you all.

Thank you Ada for the introduction. I am very pleased to be here on a panel with former Justice, Mr Anthony Rogers and Judge Hacon from the UK’s Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.

I agree very much with what Ada has said. IP is one of the most important areas of law for businesses. This morning I have been hearing businesses speak about registering IP rights in Hong Kong.

I am an ex-businesswoman, and as a result I know Hong Kong well. I operated for over 15 years here and in other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. I am delighted to be back and am enjoying the architecture, including a walk around St John’s cathedral last night.

I was recently re-appointed as minister with responsibility for IP. I am passionate about IP, which may be unusual! IP is the lifeblood of industrial success. I have now also been appointed as minister for energy, and I continue to sit in the House of Lords, not only focusing on IP and energy but also other areas of responsibility for our department.

I would like to speak a little about the importance of IP enforcement, and our efforts in the UK to offer proportionate and effective dispute resolution.

EU referendum

But first I would like to briefly touch on the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. You will have seen that the British people voted to leave the EU, and that our new Prime Minister is committed to implementing this decision.

The process of negotiation and leaving the EU will take time. There will be no immediate changes. Today, the UK remains a member of the EU and applications for IP rights giving protection in the UK will continue as usual.

The UK’s excellent patent and trade mark attorneys continue to represent clients at the UK Intellectual Property Office, the European Patent Office and the European Union Intellectual Property Office.

Indeed, British IP attorneys provide excellent value, fighting hard for clients’ interests after years of schooling in the UK legal tradition, close in many aspects to Hong Kong’s. I am pleased to be joined today by representatives of the UK’s patent and trade mark attorney professions. And I know from past experience that we will hear from them during the discussion!

More generally, the UK is – and will remain – open for business. However, it is clear that there are many questions around future IP arrangements, not all of which can be answered today. There will inevitably be some uncertainty as the exit process unfolds.

But several points are clear:
  • First, companies operating in the UK can continue to expect outstanding, professional rights granting services from the UK IPO
  • Secondly, the UK will continue to be a world leader in dispute resolution and enforcement and
  • Thirdly, we will continue to lead international IP discussions, including with our counterparts here in Hong Kong.

I look forward to discussing more about these issues in questions.

UK-Hong Kong IP Cooperation

But whatever happens over the coming months in Europe, Hong Kong will remain an important partner for the UK. Our legal and business communities have strong links. And our deep cooperation on IP reflects that.

Exchanges between the UK IPO and Hong Kong IPD have deepened under Ada’s excellent leadership. These have included:
  • Regular meetings between senior trade mark hearings officers
  • Updates on policy priorities, including the introduction of an Original Grant Patent system and IP trading in Hong Kong and
  • Discussions on copyright policy covering collective licensing, enforcement, and limitations and exceptions. I can assure you these are just as controversial in the UK as I think you are finding them here!

On IP crime, today’s hosts, Hong Kong Customs have become a key partner for UK law enforcement agencies, including for the City of London Police IP Crime Unit - PIPCU - a dedicated police unit funded by the UK IPO, which I think is envied elsewhere, and sits alongside police units tackling money laundering, people trafficking and other areas that can have links to IP crime.

For example, Hong Kong Customs and PIPCU are at the forefront of global efforts to combat illegal set-top-box services. There are many reasons why the UK and Hong Kong should work together to tackle this problem:
  • We both have TV and film industries with a global cultural impact, and which generate investment, employment and economic growth
  • Our law enforcement and legal systems have so many elements in common, including similar criminal offences to prosecute illegal broadcasting and copyright piracy and
  • The problem of set-top-boxes and the offences they facilitate is in fact global in scale. I know industry groups such as CASBAA here in Hong Kong have led analysis of the international crime syndicates behind this problem.
Also with Hong Kong Customs, we are exchanging information on:
  • The UK’s Infringing Website List which helps stop mainstream advertising appearing on pirate websites, cutting off revenue and reducing credibility and
  • Cross-border anti-counterfeiting. We want to understand how the business of international counterfeiting operates, and develop law enforcement responses to stop the fakes which threaten our economy and the safety of consumers. This is a serious problem in East Asia, not just in China and Hong Kong, but also stretching down in to Southeast Asia.

IP dispute resolution

These efforts to tackle IP crime – including the creation and funding of PIPCU – are part of a broader effort by the UK Government to provide a world-leading IP enforcement and dispute resolution framework.

An effective framework should cover both the criminal side and civil disputes, and I believe we should also offer a range of alternative dispute resolution options.

We need to build on previous successes, including working with international partners, like Hong Kong, to tackle global threats.

We recently published a strategy document called “IP Enforcement 2020”. It sets out how the UK intends to remain a world leader in IP enforcement, supporting innovation, protecting creativity, and trying to do that in a joined up way.

Our core strategic ambitions are to ensure that:
  • UK companies - including small businesses, which are very important to our economy and around the world - are more confident in operating internationally as a result of better IP protection
  • Rights-owners need to have access to proportionate and effective mechanisms to resolve disputes and
  • Consumers need to be educated in the benefits of respecting IP rights. Enforcement and education go hand-in-hand. We’ve done a lot on this and we can exchange examples of best-practice. I know that there are lots of good examples here in Asia too.
This emphasis on proportionality and small business is important. Enforcing IP rights can be expensive. A dispute resolution system that prices out small companies (and remember how important they are to economic growth) would mean that large parts of our economy are denied access-to-justice and rule-of-law.

The UK has our share of history and innovation. A 2009 review by another distinguished judge, Lord Justice Jackson, into civil litigation costs led to reforms to our IP dispute resolution system. These changes included boosting the IPO’s mediation service, plugging a gap in the ADR offerings of the private sector with a specialist, SME-friendly mediation service.

But perhaps the most high-profile change to the IP system following the Jackson Review were reforms to the Patents County Court. That is now renamed the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, or “IPEC”, and I visited it recently.

Judge Hacon will talk about the IPEC shortly so I won’t steal his thunder. But I will note that we are proud of the IPEC in the UK. Its streamlined procedures offer the best of the British legal tradition – evidence disclosure, witness cross-examination, adversarial lawyers – but with cases managed to keep costs in proportion to the size of the dispute.

Of course, in a diverse, globally-connected economy, there are still larger disputes that rightly belong to the Patents Court of the High Court. But the IPEC offers an alternative for businesses and individuals with smaller – but no less important – disputes.

I understand that some of the problems IPEC was reformed to solve may also be present here in Hong Kong. In many ways, our high-quality, common law justice systems can become a victim of their own success, developing expertise and complexity that unfortunately takes justice out of reach of smaller litigants. I believe strongly that we must maintain quality - which is essential - whilst at the same offering access-to-justice for all our stakeholders.

I can assure you that the demand is out there. The IPEC is now one of the busiest IP courts in Europe, meaning Judge Hacon needs to give up part of his summer holiday to make international visits such as this one. There is certainly no time for visits during court time!

But as IPEC demand has soared, we have not seen a corresponding dip in IP case filings at the High Court. This is reassuring to our policy-makers, to our judges and to our rights holders, and I suspect for many of you gathered here today.

So to close:
  • Firstly, post referendum, the UK remains open for business. I see it as an opportunity to do more and to work together. There are some areas of uncertainty over our future IP system, but we working with our stakeholders to make sure the UK IP system remains one of the best in the world
  • Secondly, cooperation with Hong Kong on IP will remain a priority for the UK. IPO-IPD discussions, law enforcement and judicial exchanges are set to continue and
  • Thirdly, the UK’s IP enforcement framework is designed to be proportionate and effective, offering (to reference an iconic British brand) “Rolls-Royce” justice where this is appropriate, but also providing lower-cost options to help smaller businesses.

Thank you for listening. I look forward to listening to the other speakers and to what will no doubt be a lively discussion.”

Saiful will be returning from China in the week commencing 29 August.

People tagged in this article:

Back to all news