Patent law set for amendment

The UK is set to undertake the first significant amendments to its 1977 Patents Act; a move aimed at encouraging industry’s incentive to innovate.

A consultation on proposed changes to the 25-year-old patent laws has been launched by Melanie Johnson, the UK government’s Minister for Competition, Consumers & Markets.

Apart from some limited changes in 1988 and 2000, the proposals represent the first significant up dating of UK patents legislation since the introduction of the Patents Act 1977. The consultation is said to be an essential step in deciding what measures will be included in new legislation.

‘Changes to the law are essential if the UK is to deliver on its commitment to implement the recent changes to the European Patent Convention (EPC) with which UK patent law is aligned,’ said Johnson. ‘This will ensure that UK businesses can continue to use a single application to obtain patents that are valid in up to 24 European countries including the UK.

She added: ‘An effective, up-to-date and flexible system for patenting sharpens UK industry’s incentive to innovate. We are seeking input on the impact of these proposals from all who have an interest in the patent system, especially from UK businesses including SMEs’.

In 2001, UK businesses applied for just under 5000 such European patents, covering on average 14-15 European countries, making the UK the third largest European user of the system. The changes will, for example, encourage investigation of new medicinal uses for known pharmaceuticals and provide a new procedure for patent proprietors, in the event of a legal challenge, to limit their patent coverage rather than losing it altogether.

Other proposed changes are designed to make it easier for businesses to maintain and protect their patents once granted. For example, it may be possible that the UK Patent Office could provide a more rapid and lower cost alternative to court proceedings as well as providing a reliable and effective assessment of a patent’s validity prior to such proceedings.

Modernising the Patents Act 1977 to make it more responsive to the needs of customers while also simplifying the administrative procedures to get a patent has also been addressed in the consultation document.

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