Monday 8 June 2020 6:25 am

IP lock-out: Is Britain handing the EU the keys to a billion-pound industry?

Richard Goddard is president of The Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA)

We are getting close to crunch point in the Brexit negotiations. 

Last week saw the culmination of the final round of talks between the EU and the UK ahead of the 30 June deadline to agree an extension to the transition period. Given the glacial progress so far, a sudden breakthrough appears highly unlikely, with enormous ramifications for our collective economies — potentially putting millions of jobs at risk on both sides of the channel. 

So it seems odd that in one significant area, our own government is leaving the doors open to Britain at exactly the same time as the EU will close, bolt and padlock theirs against UK professionals. 

The government’s current negotiating stance is a severe threat to the UK’s thriving intellectual property (IP) industry. What may seem a niche issue in these trade talks is neglected at our peril. 

The UK trademark sector, centred in London, is worth nearly £2bn to our economy directly, while our world-beating trademark intensive industries — such as biotech, life-sciences, design, creative arts, advanced tech and manufacturing — are worth over £650bn, supporting one in five UK jobs. 

The UK’s ability to thrive post-Brexit and to recover quickly from the economic effects of Covid-19 will be led by our stellar global businesses and our innovative and creative SMEs. For now, they are protected and supported by the unrivalled expertise of UK practitioners and the distinctive strengths of the UK’s regulated system for IP protection, rated as the best trademark environment in the world by the US Chamber of Commerce. 

But the government’s approach to IP protection in the EU-UK Brexit negotiations risks seriously undermining them — and with them, the UK’s economic interests. 

Currently, our negotiating mandate would hand a competitive advantage to European Economic Area (EEA) practitioners by allowing them unrestricted access to the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) without any reciprocal expectation. This will seriously damage the industry, and the jobs it supports throughout the wider British economy. 

Businesses from across the world look to the UK, and London specifically, as a professional hub for their IP protection. UK Chartered Trade Mark Attorneys are used for securing trademark protection across the EU, as businesses can instruct UK practitioners to register their marks with the UK IPO and the EU IPO. We are already seeing UK businesses invest in EU offices and employ EU lawyers, when previously they would have invested here instead. 

If the government’s mandate remains as it is, this trend will only be magnified, and could seriously damage the industry.

In this context, “taking back control” seems to mean handing over control of a valuable asset by retaining EU legislation and not taking advantage of the benefits of being an independent state.

Even at this late hour, however, there is a simple, cost-free solution. The government must commit to a level playing field by restricting EEA “address for service” at the UK IPO via statutory instrument if there are no reciprocal rights of representation. 

But if the government remains distracted on other issues, ministers risk undermining the very economic interests they said Brexit would help protect.

Get City A.M. columnists’ views delivered straight to your inbox in our daily Midday Update newsletter.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.