22 January 2014

Saucy! How to spice up an IP debate

The Intellectual Property Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, meaning it is that little bit closer to becoming law.

Chief among the headline-grabbing provisions of the Bill, you would think, are the proposals to criminalise the copying of registered designs.  

Some say these provisions would have a chilling effect on innovation (notwithstanding that there is little evidence that similar provisions for other intellectual property rights have such an effect), while others have called for even wider measures to encompass not just registered, but also unregistered design rights (a different class of IP right altogether and one which is more frequently relied on by the majority of UK designers).

However, all of this has largely been overshadowed by the unfortunate comments of one MP during the recent debate. 

Jim Dowd, Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, in a slightly off-piste contribution, commented on the issue of what he called "parasitic packaging". He treated the Commons to an anecdote of how, when sat in a pub having lunch, he had asked for Worcester Sauce only to be presented with "something from Sheffield, from someone called Henderson’s, whoever they are".

According to The Star, this has provoked outrage on Twitter and other social media as citizens of Sheffield defended "Hendos", a much-loved and established product with a 100-year heritage, and called on him to apologise for any suggestion the bottle design was a copy of Lea and Perrins'.  Even Nick Clegg has jumped on the bandwagon weighed in.  

Passing off (or "parasitic packaging" as Mr Dowd calls it) is just as important an issue as design right infringement.  But ill-informed comment rarely helps to move the debate forward.

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