05 July 2016

IP and Brexit: Private Inventors

Jane Lambert

There are two schools of thought on Brexit.  The one that the government, most political parties, much of British business, international institutions and our allies supported is that it will be detrimental to British business. The other, which was supported by a few economists, politicians and business leaders, was that membership of the EU was somehow holding us back and that there will be a blossoming of British enterprise, innovation and creativity once we leave. I was and remain profoundly sceptical of the latter view which is one of many reasons why I voted to remain but I acknowledge that the rosy picture painted by the leave campaign is not entirely outside the realms of possibility. Countries like Israel and South Korea show that it is possible for small nations to survive and prosper outside economic blocs by relying on a propensity to create and innovate and there will probably be opportunities in post-Brexit Britain as well as many downsides.

So what advice should I give the bright research student, small businessman or skilled technician labouring in his or her lab or workshop?   The first is that there is likely to be quite considerable change in the legal, social and economic environment - but not just yet.  The UK remains a member of the European Union until Parliament repeals or amends the European Communities Act 1972 and the two-year notice period for withdrawal from the EU under art 50 (3) of the Treaty on European Union expires. The second is that the nature and extent of many of those changes will be determined by negotiations that have yet to start. Those negotiations are likely to be tough as the Commission and remaining member states have no interest in doing this country any favours. Thirdly, some things will not change. We shall continue to be party to the European Patent Convention, the Patent Co-operation Treaty and many other multilateral treaties. Fourthly, though we may lose preferential access to the European single market we need not stop trading with or investing in it. It consists of several hundred million of the world's most affluent consumers. While we remain in the single market and indeed afterwards we should take every opportunity of consolidating and extending our business relationships . Finally, we should develop new business relationships wherever we can particularly in North America, India, West and Southern Africa, Australasia and the Gulf where English is spoken and the common law is used,

Brexit will have two particularly unfortunate consequences for IP. For the whole of our membership of the EC and EU our government has striven for a Community or EU wide patent. We were one of the few countries to ratify the Community Patent Convention and when that failed to get off the ground we supported other initiatives such as an EU patent regulation, European Patent Litigation Agreement within the European Patent Organization and most recently the unitary patent. Had the UK voted to stay in the EU the unitary patent would have come into effect within 12 months. It would have reduced the cost and complexity of patent litigation and restored legal aid for individuals of modest means which would have included many inventors. It may still come into being and a single patent that covers much of Europe including France and Germany will still be attractive to British business but it will not apply to the UK once we leave the EU. The other unfortunate consequence is that the UK will cease to be covered by EU trade marks and Community designs and our English and Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish courts will cease to have jurisdiction in disputes over EU trade marks and Community designs.

However, although Brexit has already brought uncertainty and could well bring disruption it need not be the end of the world. In the next few months I shall be publishing a lot of articles on the topic and I am available to talk to local inventors' groups and others. Should anyone wish to discuss this article please call me on 020 7404 5252 or message me through my contact form.

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