15 July 2020Muireann Bolger

LSPN Connect: Exclusive interview with UKIPO CEO Tim Moss

IP is at the heart of the trade agreements that will determine the UK’s economic and political success in the aftermath of Covid-19 and Brexit, the chief executive of the  UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) told  LSPN Connect yesterday, July 14.

Speaking exclusively to the group editor of WIPR, Tom Phillips, Tim Moss discussed how IP is central to discussions as the UK forges new trade agreements with other countries as it prepares to leave the EU on 31 December.

IP central to Brexit trade agreements

“We have made sure that all aspects of IP are covered well in the various trade agreements that are being negotiated, such as the UK and EU free trade agreement that is currently being negotiated, the work that is ongoing with the US, and the work that is being carried out with Japan, Australia and New Zealand.”

He added that the UKIPO has expanded its teams to cope with the workload involved. “We've been directly involved not only in the negotiations, but also in the preparatory work. Every trade agreement has an IP chapter. We are absolutely front and centre of negotiations and want to reassure that the IPO is absolutely ‘at the table’ and negotiating on all these aspects.”

When asked if membership of the European Patent Convention (EPC) might be jeopardised by a potential trade deal with the US, he said: “We want trade discussions to build on what we’ve got, not take away from it. EPC membership is really key for the UK”.

He added that it had been essential to ensure the IP framework supported life sciences  patents in the aftermath of Brexit. “The UK has a great life sciences sector and the IP regime is a key enabler of that.

“The main thing we have had to focus on is making sure the legal framework works, right through the UK leaving [the EU], and the transition period and particularly the EU legislation around SPCs and, more recently, issues around the SPC waiver.”

During the broadcast, he also touched on key topics affecting the IP landscape including: Covid-19, the Unified Patent Court, the current UK patent landscape, and how AI is forcing a re-evaluation of the IP framework.

IP’s response to the global pandemic

Covid 19, he explained, had posed some unprecedented challenges for IP, but the sector had responded admirably. He said that in the early days, there had been some concerns around how the IP framework would cope with challenges, but, in practice, the industry had seen some excellent collaborative efforts. “It is fantastic to see how the IP has responded. Undoubtedly there have been issues, but in the vast majority of cases, it has been a very positive story for IP,” he said.

He added that, crucially, the sector was able to share patents related to ventilators with the government and help develop manufacturing and capacity within these areas.

He explained, however, that all too often IP was perceived as a technical specialist area, rather than a force at the heart of innovation and creativity. “Great innovation does happen in a crisis; the UK has a fantastic track record in coming up with solutions. I'm sure it will have an impact on applications.”

He added that the UKIPO had seen a slight dip in requests for patent applications in early days of Covid-19 crisis, but that applications have now reached the forecast levels for this year.

He said that the UKIPO had also seen a surprising increase in trademark applications. “Initially, we saw a 25% reduction in applications for trademarks, but we are now operating at around 20% above our forecast levels.”

The UKIPO has responded to the challenges faced by the UK by putting the country’s return to full strength as an “innovative and creative nation” at the heart of its  Corporate Plan 2020-21.

There is still a knowledge gap about the potential of IP, he explained. “That is something we want to really build on and change over time. There is a lack of understanding of how it underpins so much.”

Challenges facing the UKIPO

He also broached the issues around the UK pulling out of the Unified Patent Court. “There were mixed views around it. But it’s been clear from how the UK government views our independent economic future, that the UPC just didn’t fit with that,” he said.

He added, however, that the UKIPO’s engagement with the  European Patent Office was not diminished by the UK’s departure. “The decision has been taken but again, it doesn't take away from the fact that we have a great IP system in the UK.”

Moss said that one of the key issues facing the UKIPO was around the harmonisation of the patent system globally. “There are different patent systems around the world, and that it isn't good for business, and if there are slight differences or significant differences, it creates friction.

“We have been working on an international basis, trying to find common ground. It is hard work, but it is really important to the UK, we have played a key role especially in discussions with the  World Intellectual Property organization (WIPO).”

AI is one of the hot topics for IP, he added, and he said the UKIPO would be calling for views on how AI could be better incorporated into the IP systems. “There are important questions asked of the patent system, and wider IP issues around ownership, inventor and authorship. There are issues around liability and rights to underpinning data, and ensuring the IP system is fit for purpose for the future.”

He added that one issue was that nowadays different industries work at very different paces. “Life sciences and pharmaceuticals can take years to develop rights for products whereas in the technical areas, even weeks can be too long.”

He said there are questions around how the IP system supports this range of innovation and creativity going forwards. “It is about how we make sure IP is mainstream, and that it is seen as part of that essential ecosystem of innovation and creativity.”

LSPN Connect is the membership programme for the Life Sciences—to watch on this session and for more information on joining, visit

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