Review of the impact of exiting the European Union on provisions within this Act

Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 1:10 pm on 21st March 2017.

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“( ) Within 12 months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report on the impact of the Government’s plans for exiting the European Union on the provisions within this Act, and must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.”—(Bill Esterson.)

This is a probing new clause to assess the impact of exiting the European Union on the provisions within this Act.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade) 1:21 pm, 21st March 2017

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Intellectual property makes a significant contribution to the UK economy each year. In 2014, UK firms invested an estimated £133 billion in knowledge assets, compared with £121 billion in tangible assets. As the Intellectual Property Office notes, UK investment in intangible assets that are protected by intellectual property rose from £47 billion in 2000 to £70 billion in 2014, and is estimated to represent 4.2% of total GDP. What is more, the UK system of regulating intellectual property is considered to be one of the best: it was rated No. 3 by business in the 2016 Taylor Wessing global IP index in respect of obtaining, exploiting and enforcing the main types of intellectual property rights. It is clear that intellectual property is of great importance to the UK economy, so the impact of leaving the European Union on IP and the provisions in the Bill is vital to the economy. It is of great interest to businesses, which value certainty, and it is crucial to potential investors in businesses in the United Kingdom.

The Bill will apply to patents, trademarks and designs. The Minister stated in Committee, and in a written answer on 20 October last year, that the European Patent Office was established by international treaty and that our participation in its work will be unaffected by our leaving the EU. The suggestion is that patents will be relatively untouched by Brexit; it is to be hoped that the Minister’s confidence is not misplaced. Several IP rights that derive from EU regulations will no longer apply to the UK, and the impact of Brexit is far from clear at this stage. As the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys recently commented:

“The continued validity of these rights in the UK is uncertain. Transitional agreements may be negotiated to allow time for rights holders to convert these into national rights or to file separate national rights... The government has remained silent on whether or not it intends to implement the new Trade Mark Directive into UK domestic law.”

The Minister signalled in Committee the Government’s intention to ratify the unified patent court agreement by the end of April. The court will deal with disputes relating to European patents and help the business that the Bill seeks to assist by removing the threat of unjustified litigation—a point made by my hon. Friend Maria Eagle in Committee. Will we still be members of the court after we leave the EU? The court is part of the effort to reduce costs across jurisdictions and make it easier to do business. As we prepare to leave the EU, the last thing we need is additional costs on businesses, so clarity is needed about our membership of the court. The Minister said in Committee that decisions had not yet been taken, so will he provide an update and confirm that he understands just how important it is that we minimise costs across jurisdictions, including those relating to intellectual property rights? What is his view on our potential membership of the patent court after we leave the EU?

The CIPA said:

“For the UK to continue participating after Brexit, there would need to be a new international agreement with the participating Member States and the UK to provide compatibility with EU law... If the UK does not remain a member of the UPC…there will be a need for further transitional provisions to protect any rights acquired or cases in progress at the time the UK leaves. It is still unclear whether UK European Patent Attorneys will be able to represent parties in the different Divisions of the UPC after Brexit.”

It went on to say:

“CIPA has a strong preference for the UK to participate in the UP and UPC system, if a solid legal basis for this can be agreed.”

Given the UK’s leading position in patents and patent law, it makes sense to do all we can to maintain our position and to ensure that confidence in our position remains as high as possible. It is important that we avoid taking a step backwards on IP law and losing the potential benefits that the development of single European patent protection will bring. The economic and competitive advantages of such protection are clear enough. The alternative of having a separate UK system, with the likely need for rights holders to apply for UK and EU protection separately, will mean additional burdens for UK businesses and for our economy, compared with the UK remaining a central part of the European-wide patent system.

As my hon. Friend Chi Onwurah said in Committee, it is vital that the Minister takes all steps to ensure that patent law and IP law more generally do not take a retrograde step following Brexit. IP is how innovation is rewarded; it is fundamental to ensure our ability to deliver a high-pay economy and prosperity, and to Britain’s promise that the next generation is better off than the previous one. Since 2010, we have seen living standards fall while the economy as a whole has grown. The people of this country cannot afford to miss opportunities, including this one. The alternative of a race to the bottom, a low-wage economy and our competing as some kind of tax dodger’s paradise off the coast of continental Europe will not deliver better living standards.

Intellectual property is one of many ways in which we must build on our success as a country and not allow decline. How intellectual property rights are protected, and how they are seen to be protected during the Brexit negotiations, will be crucial to delivering and enhancing business and investor confidence and to getting the best possible outcome from the negotiations. The Prime Minister may not wish to give a running commentary, but she and her Ministers need to reassure businesses, their staff and the whole country that everything is being done to secure our future. That is why I tabled the new clause to call for the Government to review the impact of Brexit on the IP provisions in the Bill.

A report after a year would not only help to bring sovereignty back to Parliament—something we heard a great deal about during the referendum debates—but help UK businesses and foreign investors to understand the post-Brexit intellectual property world with respect to the provisions in the Bill. The protections being harmonised in the Bill are important to help to protect our businesses, ensure a fair market and encourage entrepreneurs and inventors, and especially to ensure opportunity for smaller businesses. Nevertheless, those businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors all want to know, as far as possible, what the arrangements and relationships with the EU will be like post-Brexit.

The law firm Charles Russell Speechlys says:

“Discussions are taking place regarding the post-Brexit options for IP. National IP rights are unlikely to be affected post-Brexit. Pan-European IP rights will be affected. Trade marks and designs are likely to be the IP rights most affected but it will impact on other IP rights as well.

On leaving the EU, the UK will no longer automatically be covered by EU trade marks. An orderly transitional period is expected with the potential to split existing EUTMs into UK national and EUTMs post-Brexit (subject to negotiation and relevant supporting legislation). Trade mark owners will need to reinstate lapsed UK marks which have been subsumed into EUTMs by seniority but it is not yet clear how that will work.

The firm goes on to say:

“New EUTM filings post-Brexit will not extend to the UK (they will be limited to the EU). Trade mark owners will need to seek national protection in the UK for their trade marks. Application through the Madrid Protocol will still be available for IRs designating the UK.

The UK court system will no longer have EU trade mark courts post-Brexit. EUTM holders will not be able to enforce them in the UK and obtain pan-EU injunctions under the EUTM Regulation. The effect on pan-EU injunctions already granted is unknown. Brexit will also impact on the general jurisdiction of the UK Courts and enforcement of their judgments. Infringement proceedings may need to be brought separately in the UK and EU.

UK trade mark laws may develop independently over time and diverge from EU trade mark laws. CJEU decisions will not be binding but are likely to be persuasive.”

The firm ends by saying:

“There will be no obligation to implement the new Trade Marks Directive (in line with the already in force new CTMR”—

Community trade mark regulation—

“if Brexit takes place before January 2019.”

The uncertainty that is set out by that legal opinion shows the need for proper analysis and for confidence to be built in during negotiations, rather than after we have left the EU. Clearly, there is a considerable amount of uncertainty. We are unlikely to be able to remain in the new European unified patent court after Brexit. The Government have not said whether we will implement the trademarks directive.

To provide the certainty that business needs, perhaps the Minister could use this opportunity to confirm which IP rights not currently on the UK statute books will be enshrined in UK law once we leave the EU. Does he understand from the detailed analysis that I read out from Charles Russell Speechlys just how much of a concern this is, just how complex it is, and just why businesses want and need that certainty for the good of themselves and the wider economy?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education) 1:30 pm, 21st March 2017

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to issue a report on the impact of the Government’s plans for exiting the European Union on the provisions in the Bill within 12 months of it coming into force.

The Bill does not take forward any EU obligations. The IP unjustified threats provisions do not derive from EU law. They are “home grown” provisions that were first enacted for patents back in the 19th century. The important protections provided by the Bill will not in themselves be changed by Brexit. Businesses pushed for clarity and certainty about how they can contact others over IP disputes, and the Bill will deliver that. Our leaving the EU does not alter that. Of course some IP rights are EU-wide, and the Bill will apply properly to those rights. The threats regime will be consistent across all relevant rights that have effect in the UK.

Furthermore, the Bill will ensure that our UK threats regime works appropriately with the proposed unitary patent and unified patent court when they come into effect. Bill Esterson asked about the UPC following our exit from the EU. The options for the UK’s intellectual property regime after our exit, including our relationship with the unified patent court, will be the subject of negotiation, and it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions in advance. None the less, our efforts will be focused on seeking the best deal possible in negotiations with our European partners, and we want that deal to reflect the kind of mature co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy.

As long as we are members of the EU, the UK will continue to play a full and active role, and making sure the IP regime continues to function properly for EU-wide rights is an example. The UK’s involvement in the EU IP framework after exit is not a matter for the Bill; it will be part of the EU exit negotiations, which of course have not yet begun. It is likely that those negotiations will still be in progress at the point at which the new clause would require us to report. Publishing the suggested report would be unnecessary and could well undermine our ability to negotiate the best deal for Britain in this area.

The hon. Gentleman asked about EU-wide IP rights on Brexit. Of course we are already talking to businesses and to other stakeholders about this important issue. There will be time to address it fully and properly during exit negotiations. Naturally, we will want to see the best outcome and one that supports our innovative businesses. He asked also about EU trade marks and designs. We recognise that users will want clarity over the long-term coverage of those rights. We acknowledge the importance of involving users in the consideration of these issues, and we are working with stakeholders at the moment to gather views on how to address their concerns.

The hon. Gentleman asked on a number of occasions about the EU trademark reform package and the directive. On balance, we think that the reform package is a good one, with modernisations that will make the overall system easier and cheaper for businesses to use.

We are committed to getting the right deal for the UK and we will work with Parliament to ensure a smooth and successful exit. The new clause would not help us in any of this work; it is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the UK’s interests. For that reason, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I am glad that the Minister said that he was already having discussions with businesses; that is incredibly important. I urge him to make it clear very publicly, sooner rather than later, exactly what the nature of those discussions are. Businesses are already exceedingly worried about the consequences for intellectual property. I thank him for picking up the points that I made about the relationship between EU patent law and UK patent law. I think that he understands that a great deal of reassurance is needed. I do not agree that we would make life more difficult by having this requirement on Government. In fact, it is a sensible move. I would be surprised and very concerned if we did not see a degree of reporting back during negotiations on these and many other matters. None the less, he has put forward the Government’s view in response to the points that I have raised, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1