Plain packaging could put Britain’s reputation for intellectual property at risk

 
John Cridland
Customers identify with brands, so companies are understandably uneasy (Source: Getty)
It's an acronym that might be thought to only excite lawyers, but the importance of IP (intellectual property) to the economy cannot be overstated. If we want a business environment that promotes trade and investment, it’s crucial that we’re seen as a global leader in this area.

Thankfully, the UK has many strengths. We have world-class universities producing high-quality research, coupled with innovative companies creating new products and services to meet customers’ demands. And as the respected Global IP Centre (GIPC) Index report confirms, we also do a good job of making sure these ideas are protected. The UK is ranked second only to the US in providing businesses with a strong IP environment. This assists research & development (R&D) and drives foreign direct investment.

This matters, particularly at a time when exports need strengthening. GIPC research finds that “companies in economies with advanced IP systems are 40 per cent more likely to invest in R&D”. And countries with robust IP environments yield 50 per cent more innovative output than those judged to be requiring improvement.

The correlations do not end there. Countries with strong IP protections also employ high numbers of people in knowledge-intensive industries, such as pharmaceuticals.

But although there are reasons to be positive about the state of our IP system, we cannot be complacent.

While the CBI is not commenting on the government’s public health agenda regarding smoking, we have concerns about the impact of introducing a plain packaging policy for cigarettes on the UK’s global reputation for IP. Customers identify with brands, so companies are understandably uneasy at the prospect of a key part of their identity being undermined. There is therefore a sound business case for voting against the proposals in Parliament.

Elsewhere, imminent moves to revise European copyright rules may present as many risks as opportunities for our creative firms. Imposing pan-European licensing, and mandating content availability in all markets, would cause extensive financial disruption, uncertainty, and set a dangerous precedent by telling private businesses which markets they must pursue. Instead, solutions must be customer-led, practical and allowed to develop sustainably.

An internationally-competitive innovation ecosystem lies at the heart of a vibrant, modern economy. But overall investment in Britain still falls short of our rivals, such as France and Germany. That’s why we need a long-term commitment by the government to achieve a higher level of R&D funding, putting us back among the world’s leading innovative nations. It should also strengthen the powerful incentive offered by the R&D tax credit to encourage greater commercialisation of ideas. Alongside this, the Patent Box should help to fortify the UK’s attractive position.

Further, to give our companies the best chance of success on a global scale, the next government should support enhanced enforcement of IP protections in other economies. This is not a call for greater bureaucracy, but a necessary step to safeguard the hard-won financial well-being of UK companies, protecting jobs and growth. This is especially important given our burgeoning trade relations in emerging economies such as Indonesia, Brazil, and India, which have low GIPC scores. To make progress, through diplomacy, the government should become a high-profile international champion for IP.

The government must use its clout in the EU and in foreign markets to support the growth of the UK’s global creative footprint and protect the IP rights on which the creative industries rely. While defending two letters may seem amiss to the legal laypeople among us, IP has never been so important and will continue to act as the hinge that will keep Britain open for business.

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