Published On: Fri, Apr 8th, 2016

Intellectual Property: The Brexit Basics

The UK on the verge of making a decision to stick or twist with the EU. And, there is one area of business that might be a thorny issue for companies all over the country. Any sensible small or medium business in the UK seeks protection from intellectual property laws. These regulations safeguard patents, ideas, and technology so that no other company can steal them. However, given that the European Patent Office currently grants IP and patent rights, will Brexit have an effect should it occur?

Copyright, Patent, or Trademark

It’s something that many SMEs will have serious concerns about. The EPO are about to ratify a brand new, unitary patent scheme across the 26 countries in the EU, to be enforced by a Unified Patent Court. The law will cut down costs and slice through a lot of red tape in the Union, but a Brexit could cause significant problems.

Why IP is so important

IP laws exist to safeguard industrial espionage and theft of creativity and innovation. Without it, businesses would not invest in creating new products, as they would just be stolen by somebody else. It’s all about keeping a competitive advantage over your industry rivals, and there is a lot of different areas to consider. IP firm Trademark Consultants say these range from registration through to enforcement and disputes. You will need to consider patents, copyrights, trademarks, and much more.

On a national basis, IP laws are simple to navigate. But, if you want protection on an international stage, there can be many problems you will encounter. For example, you have to obtain patents on a country by country basis, and you should do so wherever you sell a product. The idea behind the Unified Patent Court is to streamline these processes for the EU, making protection easier to set up and pursue.

The trouble with Brexit

In principle, there won’t be too much change. UK businesses will still file their IP patents on the EPO as well as using domestic laws. Whether Britain leaves or not, these will still be the standard ways of getting IP protection. However, enforcing the rules will be a much more challenging task. SMEs may find that the costs of pursuing their legal rights across many different jurisdictions will be too high to contemplate.

There are also difficulties with the future setup of IP laws. There are some countries that use different models while remaining outside of the EU. Norway and Switzerland are two good examples. However, while both countries follow EU legislation so that they can trade with member states, they have no say in creating those laws.

Another issue is that the unified trademark scheme – EUTM – will not be available to the UK if they decide to leave the Union. It means that owners of UK Trade Marks will not be able to challenge similar EU Trade Mark applications. There are obvious problems for innovators.

The cause and effect for SMEs will be that it could be more expensive to apply for – and to pursue – protection from EU countries. Of course, no one can be certain about what might happen, but SMEs should be wary and watch out for the results coming through on 23 June of this year.