David Prosser: Hargreaves Review is just the beginning
Thursday 19 May 2011
Outlook As he was preparing to unveil the findings of his five-month investigation into Britain's intellectual property and copyright laws yesterday, Ian Hargreaves was asked how he could be confident his recommendations would not end up gathering dust in Whitehall, the fate of a string of similar reviews over the past decade. Ever the optimist, Professor Hargreaves said he hoped the Government would have the courage of its convictions this time.
Maybe it will – and the report's many sensible conclusions certainly deserve ministers' support. But the problem is that this will not be sufficient for Professor Hargreaves's recommendations to become law: in many of the areas considered by his investigations, Britain gave up its legislativepower to the European Union many moons ago.
The concept of a unified patent system, for example, requires the support of every member of the EU – a unanimity we have not yet been able to achieve. Only last month, the European Court of Justice ruled the latest proposals for just such a system were illegal following challenges from countries worried about language issues.
Similar problems affect copyright law, another key area of focus for the Hargreaves Review. Its recommendation for a single digital copyright exchange is realisable, but the new body is likely to find itself faced with all sorts of knotty legal headaches related to European law (and some worldwide agreements too).
The Hargreaves Review was launched when the Prime Minister was spooked by a warning from Google that had it been a British start-up, our antiquated intellectual property laws would have prevented it becoming a success.
As it happens, Google's ownsubmission to the review rather undermined that thesis, but the bigger problem now is that Professor Hargreaves' big ideas cannot be introduced unilaterally in this country. If David Cameron isserious about reform, the next step – and a far tougher one than asking for an investigation – is to fight for an EU-wide agreement.
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