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Brexit and Europe Brexit and Europe

Protect intellectual property when we leave the EU

Last updated: 11:10pm 5 December 2019

We will ensure there is a robust system for protection of intellectual property when the UK has left the EU, with strong protections against infringement.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.78

Our verdict

“Intellectual property” refers to assets that are not physical, things like software, reputation and branding, design, and research and development. These “intangible assets” represent an increasingly large area of the economy. According to estimates from the Office for National Statistics, in 2016 the UK invested over £134 billion in their development.

In the UK, intellectual property is protected by a set of European Union directives and regulations. The European Patent Office (EPO) keeps registers and settles disputes on intellectual property under European law. Upon leaving the EU, however, the UK may lose access to the EPO and the wider European intellectual property framework. This policy promises to ensure that there is a robust system in place to protect intellectual property after Brexit.

In March 2018, the government published its draft agreement on withdrawal from the EU, agreeing on a transition period to last until the 31 of October 2020. Until this date, the UK will remain under EU statutory obligations regarding the protection of intellectual property. However, the document does not specify how intellectual property will be protected after the transition.

Between July 2018 and January 2019, the government made technical changes to six pieces of legislation using powers under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, covering intellectual property, copyright, patents and trademarks.

In October 2019, the government published extensive guidance on the future of intellectual property after Brexit. The guidelines explain changes affecting copyright, trademarks, patents and intellectual property rights.

With statutory changes to legislation on intellectual property, and guidance documents published, we can see the government making arrangements to protect intangible assets after Brexit. With Brexit postponed until after a general election, however, this policy pledge cannot be moved to ‘done’, as its timescale – “when we leave the EU” – now falls outside the government’s term of office. It will have to remain ‘in progress’.

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