Government launches review of intellectual property laws

After a year in which patents and IP violations have dominated the IT sector, the British government is investigating whether legal changes are needed

The British government has launched a review of the laws protecting intellectual property (IP), 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 IP rights in the UK. This featured in the Labour Party manifesto in the last election, which included a commitment to "modernise copyright and other forms of IP so that they are appropriate for the digital age".

According to the UK 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.

Rows 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 offence, 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 a company boss could be jailed if his firm was found to have infringed another's copyright.