Intellectual Property

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th January 2001.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 12:00 am, 18th January 2001

What guidance he gives to businesses about protection of their intellectual property; and if he will make a statement. [144534]

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

Advice on intellectual property matters is delivered by the Patent Office to a wide audience of inquirers, including business. The Patent Office produces a comprehensive range of literature and has a well established central inquiry unit. Guidance is also available in downloadable form via the internet—if the House can contemplate putting up with such a vile adjective as "downloadable".

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

Intellectual property theft is estimated to cost industry and business about £8 billion a year, and there is also evidence of a link with organised crime. The Government consulted on this issue 12 months ago and said that they would introduce legislation to strengthen the legal position. Will the Minister say when he intends to do so?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

We certainly have been trying to pull together all the enforcement agencies and have formed the Anti-counterfeiting Alliance, in which intellectual property rights play a big part. We shall certainly legislate when we have finished reviewing the situation, although views and perspectives on intellectual property rights in developing countries are different from those in the advanced and industrialised world. However, we are mindful of the dangers of not tightening up intellectual property safeguards as the scams multiply out there in the marketplace.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply because I want to ask about consideration of the new intellectual property rights legislation. Will he ensure that we re-examine the definition of what constitutes intellectual property and separate design from discovery? In particular, I should be grateful if United Kingdom legislation did not go further down the path that has led to the exploitation of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, where intellectual property rights and patents are being used to deny access to medical care to the millions of HIV sufferers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

We are very keen that intellectual property rights should accrue to people who have developed new products honestly and as a result of scientific endeavour and engineering expertise. We are certainly not in the business of allowing any multinational corporation to exploit any terrible situation, such as that which my hon. Friend describes, in Africa or anywhere else.