U.K. reviewing intellectual-property laws

As patents, IP violations dominate IT sector, British legislators investigate whether legal changes are needed.

The British government has launched a review of the laws protecting intellectual property, an issue of growing importance to the technology industry.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has asked Andrew Gowers, former editor of The Financial Times, to lead an independent review into intellectual-property, or IP, rights in the United Kingdom. The Labour Party manifesto in the last election included a commitment to "modernize copyright and other forms of IP so that they are appropriate for the digital age."

According to the U.K. Treasury, this review will consider how well businesses are able to negotiate the complexity and expense of the copyright and patent system, including copyright and patent-licensing arrangements, litigation and enforcement. It will also look at whether the current technical and legal IP infringement framework reflects the digital environment and whether provisions for "fair use" by citizens are reasonable.

Battles over intellectual property have dominated the technology industry this year. In July, an attempt to allow software patenting in Europe failed, despite many software companies supporting it.

European politicians are now considering another directive, which would make violating IP a criminal offense rather than merely a civil one.

The proposed directive, which was adopted by the European Commission in July, would allow criminal sanctions against "all intentional infringements of an IP right on a commercial scale."

Legal experts have warned that this directive, if passed, would mean that a company executive could be jailed if his firm was found to have infringed another's copyright.

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