UK intellectual property law has long been criticized for failing to keep up with the digital age

Posted by Edward Barnes

Head of Corporate & Commercial

Thu 13th, Aug

Partly in response to this, the Intellectual Property Act 2014 came into force in October last year (with all measures to be implemented  by the end of this year), in an attempt to modernise and simplify the law relating to designs and patents in the UK.

These are some of the key provisions:   

-        Design infringement is now a criminal offence - someone knowingly copying a registered design, without the owner’s consent, could be liable for a maximum of a 10 year prison sentence and/or a fine. It is hoped that the requirement that the copying be intentional will achieve a fair balance between design owners and potential infringers.

-        In commissioned work, ownership of both unregistered and registered designs no longer vests in the commissioner, but rather in the designer. This means that from now on commissioners will need an agreement with the designer, transferring ownership, otherwise the designer will retain all ownership rights to the design so a well drafted agreement is essential before the work is begun.  

-        A design opinion service is now being provided for anyone affected by a registered design (and this may be extended to include unregistered designs). This will be similar to the patent opinion service already provided by the Intellectual Property Office, providing a view on the validity of registered designs, and whether an infringement claim, or indeed a defence to infringement, would be successful.           

-        ‘Virtual patent marking’ provides the option for all patent owners to mark their patented products with a weblink (instead of a patent number) which will give detailed information about the patent and any applications that are associated with it. The use of a weblink will serve as notice to a third party of the existence of the patent.

-        The  Act widens the powers of the Intellectual Property Office by allowing it to revoke a patent if it has previously given the opinion that it does not fulfill the necessary requirements to be valid. This is a quick and low cost option to invalidate the patent of a competitor, without the need to issue costly proceedings although it may discourage businesses from seeking opinions in the future, as it could render their patents void.

Theft of intellectual property can cause major economic and reputational damage, which can be avoided by businesses being able to identify and protect what they have.

Businesses should review their intellectual property in the light of this new legislation. For more information regarding the Act, and how best to protect your intellectual property, please contact Ed Barnes on 01244 354829 or at edward.barnes@dtmlegal.com.

 

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Posted by Simon Reid

Sector Manager, Advanced Manufacturing, Liverpool City Region LEP

Wed 12th, Aug

The ability of today’s technologies to self-diagnose, self-maintain, self-repair and optimise based on communicating with each other (‘machine-to-machine’ or ‘M2M’) means that there is an increasing amount of work that can be performed by machines in terms of increasing the quality and quantity of outputs whilst reducing costs and resource consumption. The German government aptly coined a phrase for this transition that we are now undergoing - ‘Industrie 4.0’ - the fourth industrial revolution.

The ‘cyber-physical systems’ involved in such operations are essentially robots that are programmed to not just do one task, but to do multiple tasks as relayed to them through a network filled with huge volumes of data being sent backwards and forwards from many servers, computers, inputs and outputs.

The communication system underpinning all of this is the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). In the context of its applications in manufacturing, it is popularly referred to as the ‘Industrial IoT’/IIoT, enabling ‘Smart Factories’. It has further adaptations in its various renditions as an enabler of ‘Smart Cities’ and of many future preventative and clinical medical technologies – Smart Healthcare. In short, it is everywhere that we can find an object, connect a sensor to it and measure some variables in order to better inform the decision we make or the actions we take.

There is concern amongst some groups that further automation might be good for businesses but could displace workers whose jobs will eventually be taken over by machines. Nobody can say for certain what effect innovation such as the Industrial IoT will have on the overall necessity to employ people, but it is likely a little overly dystopian to assume that a digitalised workforce will render human effort obsolete in all but a programming capacity.

The ‘Industrial Internet Survey (2014)’ by the World Economic Forum indicated that participants in the survey were largely positive about the potential future employment impacts of IoT integration within their operations. What would be reasonable to expect to see is a shift in the dynamics of working groups, operating teams and OEM employee skill sets. Teams of technicians and engineers will not just need soldering equipment and hammers – it will become a necessity to have an embedded software expert and an electrical engineer with broad expertise across circuit boards, sensors, data transfer systems and operating nodes. In short, this should be seen as a huge opportunity – not a challenge or the end of the line for existing professions. As with all innovations in business, now is the time to upskill and adapt.

At the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, the Advanced Manufacturing team are driving forward efforts on multiple fronts to get businesses in the region in a position to be ahead of the curve. Through working with Sensor City we are looking to make the region a hub for the production of the technologies which enable the IoT, whilst the ‘LCR 4.0’ brainchild is being built to help existing manufacturers of products across the full application spectrum to adopt and incorporate the latest in IoT and cyber-physical technology, as well as ensure there is sufficient human resource to utilise it effectively.

The team welcomes interaction from companies operating in or thinking about IoT, IIoT and advanced technologies in general and have a strong support network featuring local creative communities, SMEs, support services and large industrial partners. For an informal discussion about what’s going on in the sector and the city region, e-mail Simon or Jonny at either simon.reid@liverpoollep.org or jonathon.clark@liverpoollep.org

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Posted by Thomas Sutherland

Employment & HR - Morecrofts

Mon 03rd, Aug

Whilst driving to work yesterday, I heard a shocking statistic – that 1 in 5 employees in the North-West don’t take their full annual holiday leave entitlement. 

Let’s be completely clear on the above statistic. Holiday leave doesn’t necessarily mean a trip away from home in the traditional sense of ‘holiday’, but rather days off in general (i.e. for a wedding, relative’s birthday or purely for a lovely extended weekend).

Some people may even choose to take a week or two off just to relax at home and spend time with the kids, catch up with local friends and family or even (gulp!) catch up with the housework! Even with my adventuring hat on, I must admit the opportunity to avoid the rigmarole of airport security and simply put your feet up sounds pretty appealing.

Let’s be honest, everyone loves holidays. I certainly know I do. I only have to return from a trip to snowy Germany or sunny Barcelona to then have thoughts of planning another adventure. At the moment, the picturesque Christmas markets of Belgium and/or the stunning Northern Lights of Iceland are catching my eye and looking likely to destroy my piggy pig in the next six months. 

But putting my desire to explore the globe to one side, why is it so crucial that an employee takes all of their annual holiday leave? Well, the above statistic is particularly concerning due to annual leave being there to protect the health and safety of workers through the provision of well-needed rest from working time. Failure to do so may well be detrimental to an individual’s health in the long-term and lead to increased sickness absence in the future.

Because of this, an employer should encourage its workers to use all of their holiday leave, especially as the 28 days holiday leave provided for under working time legislation may not be carried over from year to year unless exceptional circumstances apply. Therefore, any worker who does not take all of their statutory annual holiday entitlement, may lose it during the next leave year (and not be paid for this).

To be clear, an employee is generally not entitled to be paid in lieu of any accrued, but untaken, holiday at the end of a holiday year.

Naturally, the above statistics are concerning for employees and employers alike due to both being affected by underuse of holiday leave. An employer will look to encourage full use of holiday leave in order to meet its legal obligations and have a well-rested, happy and healthy workforce. 

Should either an employee or employer outwardly refuse to act in a way that enables the full use of annual statutory holiday leave, legal advice should be sought by the relevant party from an employment law solicitor.

Hopefully, these statistics will reduce over time and more people can recharge their batteries. After all, the thought of a sunny/snowy adventure is a fitting motivation when being blown half backwards during the gloomy, rainy commutes into work…

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Posted by David Hesketh

Senior Business Manager at HM Revenue and Customs

Wed 29th, Jul

David Hesketh explains how UK businesses can benefit from better supply chain management and visibility.

It’s a simple analogy and one that many of us can relate to. Check in at the airport, and one of the many questions you are likely to be asked is, ‘did you pack this bag yourself?’ There are strong similarities between this and how we manage information about cargo being moved in the international supply chain.

I have spent 40 years working in all areas of international supply chains and despite major advances in technology and communications, a UK buyer does not know what their order contains until the container arrives and it is unloaded. And, all of that is down to the lack of good quality data.

In the past, the international trade process was relatively simple. The buyer would travel to another country, identify the goods they wanted, pay for them, load them onto a ship, return to their own country, unload them, pay the customs duty and sell them.

When the buyer stopped travelling to buy the goods and there was no face-to-face transaction, international commerce became more complicated. Coupled with the fact that globalisation during the last 30 years has seen many companies put productivity into developing economies and supply chains have increasingly lacked certainty and clarity from a security, legal and commercial point of view.

 With a lack of accurate data, the regulatory authorities do not get the information they need to carry out the risk assessments and create efficiencies. This lack of visibility makes supply chain costs unclear, profit margins unpredictable and the price to the end consumer ambiguous. Research has shown that data inaccuracy among the UK’s top five retailers and their suppliers is costing as much as £1.4billion a year.

For major multi-national brands that can afford to implement their own in-house quality control procedures, these risks can be mitigated but for other national UK retailers and SMEs without those levels of resource, the losses can be significant.

So how can we make things better? The most important part of the supply chain is the understanding between the ‘buyer’ and the ‘seller’ and to keep the items safe in the supply chain.

Going back to my airport analogy at the beginning of the blog, we need to start by asking the people who packed the container to input accurate information and make them accountable.

So, how can we make this happen?

As part of my work, we are piloting a project to capture consignment data from UK trade through the Port of Felixstowe. Working alongside three, end-to-end UK supply chain management companies, Warrant Group, Uniserve and Metro Shipping, we are working on developing a 'single window' seamless electronic data pipeline to conform to standards set by the United Nations, the World Customs Organisation and the European Commission.

My work with Warrant Group in particular, has shown how I am not alone in my quest for reducing risk in the supply chain and delivering a pro-active approach to planning and data management. The company is already demonstrating to its clients how supply chain certainty and exact data can deliver accurate forecasting to create a whole range of benefits from improving warehouse operations to avoiding unnecessary costs such as wasted labour, detention and demurrage fees.

Thanks to this commercial expertise, I am pleased to report that we are now successfully supplying live data into the pipeline and shining a light on the huge benefits companies of all shapes and sizes could enjoy.

Growing the UK economy through international trade is essential and this new approach could make a real difference.

David Hesketh leads the UK Demonstrator Work Package 10 for CORE which seeks to demonstrate international supply chain visibility and security centred, initially on UK trade through the Port of Felixstowe. The project is funded under the European Commission Framework Programme 7.

 

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Posted by Alison Lobb

Managing Partner at Morecrofts LLP

Wed 29th, Jul

Liverpool is an exhilarating place to do business.  You can feel the energy that our city-region’s businesses project. You can almost touch it.

Independent businesses in particularare integral to the city’s fabric and that’s why we launched the MIB awards in 2012 as we celebrated our 200thyear.The awards provide a chance to recognise those businesses that are forging ahead with grit, determination and creative thinking – the very qualities that make Liverpool and Merseyside great.

The people of Liverpool are, in my opinion, some of the proudest in the UK. We wear our culture and heritage on our sleeve.  We’ve built the UK’s second largest regional economy.  We have more than 250,000 businesses choosing to call the city home.  We have captivated the world stage with the story of our cultural and economic renaissance.It’s no surprise then that as the deadline for the third MIB awards looms, the search for the city’s most innovative and dynamic independent businesses reaches fever pitch.

But what makes a successful business?  Winners in business have clear aspirations, defined goals, drive and a clear sense of responsibility.  They know how to compete, to change and flex as markets change and have the passion to keep going.They write their own success with confidence.

Those of you who know my passion for tenniswon’t be surprised when I draw comparison between the game and the world of commerce. For me, Wimbledon Women’s Champion Serena Williams sums it perfectly.She said:  “Tennis is mostly mental. You win or lose the match before you even go out there.”

This message chimes well with business and judges for this year’s MIB will be looking for entries that show confidence and bravery in their decision-making,tackle challenges with innovation, deliver growth in the face of adversity, capitalise on new opportunities and wave the flag for Merseyside.

Past MIB winners Mattas, The Brink and CyberHost Pro are part of Liverpool’s success story and proof of why the city has earned its place as one of the UK’s leading business destinations.

It’s too early to know who will be crowned the most worthy independent businesses of 2015?But if you act quickly, it could well be you.

To enter Morecrofts MIB awards visit www.mibawards.co.uk.  The closing date for entries is 14th August 2015.  The awards will culminate with a glittering black tie dinner at the Rum Warehouse on 1st October and the winner of ‘Independent Business of The Year’ will be gifted a £10,000 businesssupport package. 

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Posted by Zee Hussain

Employment Partner - Colemans-ctts

Thu 23rd, Jul

Social Media is here to stay, whether it be the instantly disappearing messages from Snapchat to the more detailed blogs of Tumblr. Most employers will recognise that most of their staff now have some form of social media presence. Understanding how social media should be used at work and what businesses may need to have in place to ensure employees are not breaching any contractual obligations is crucial.Zee Hussain, Partner and Head of the Employment at Colemans-ctts provides guidance around this rather tricky subject.

Bad news travels fast

While having a social media presence can be commercially beneficial to business, many employers will be aware of the risks associated with employees’ personal accounts given how fast (bad) news can travel. To what extent an employer can take action when an employee speaks out on their social media account is a burning question. Below are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to social media use in the workplace

Do:

  • Have a policy which is clear and spells out what is acceptable conduct on social media and what is not and also provides specific examples. If you are going to monitor social media, then this should be made clear in any policy.
  • Have a strategy in place.If employees are representing your business professionally (e.g. on linked in) do ensure that their updates and profile is consistent with your brand message.
  • Take steps to protect your clients and any confidential information.Often ‘off the shelf’restrictive covenants do not prevent employees from befriending clients on social media which can be lethal if an employeejumps ship.Therefore, it is advisable to regularly review your policies in light of social media to ensure they adequately protect your business.

Don’t:

  • Leave it to chance.Not having a policy in place can mean that it becomes difficult to take action when things go wrong. The case of Game Retail Ltd v Lawssays it all.
  • Ban employees from having social media.Most people have some sort of social media account nowadays and it is part of everyday life.
  • Share employee content. Regardless of any disclaimer, sharing employee content appears to be an approval and you may find your contacts following them.
  • Overreact. If an employee remarks on Facebook that they have had a bad day, it does not automatically warrant disciplinary action and certainly may not warrant dismissal. 
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Julie Duffy from Health@Work looks at the research into sickness absence

Posted by Julie Duffy

Health@work

Wed 22nd, Jul

Recent research into sickness absence found that direct costs of sickness absence, including statutory sick pay, cost of replacement staff and loss of output was estimated to generate a bill of £11.6 billion for the UK economy every year. The report also highlighted that the North West has the highest sickness absence rates of any other area in the UK. So what can employers do?

It’s been said that “If being active were a pill we would be rushing to prescribe it!” Indeed, if exercise were a pill we would not be able to manufacture it fast enough! A remedy that will boost your immune system, lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis? If I told you the same pill will also boost brain power; improving concentration and productivity, reduce depression, improve feelings of well-being and improve endurance and strength, without any negative side effects (or cost!), who would not want a piece of that?!

At a recent event organised by Liverpool & Sefton Chambers and health@work, over 40 local businesses had the opportunity to learn about the benefits of promoting physical activity in the workplace as well as practical advice on the support available. The following actions are just some of the things that businesses can do for little or no cost at all to start to embed physical activity into the ethos of their organisation:

  • Develop a physical activity policy and appoint a physical activity champion from your existing staff body to act as a source of support to colleagues
  • Provide information on the benefits of physical activity generally and more specifically during the working day
  • Set up a staff travel survey and produce a travel action plan with help from Liverpool and Sefton Chambers of Commerce 
  • Join the Merseytravel Employers Network and get free resources to encourage active travel as well as information on grant schemes for workplace improvements.
  • Investigate cycle to work schemes through Giant Liverpool and Cycle Scheme
  • Establish fun workplace challenges and incentivise physical activity
  • Promote upcoming events, like Race for Life, Santa Dash etc and display walking and cycling routes
  • Explore flexible working options to make it easier for staff to be physically active during the day

 

The Workplace Wellbeing Charter is now a nationally recognised award endorsed by Public Health England and a fantastic starting point for anyone wishing to improve workplace health. The City Council would like to see every business across Liverpool accredited with the Charter and are willing to fund 120 organisations to take part this year. If you would like to be one of them, give health@work a call 0151 236 6608.

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Posted by Giles Lever

Ambassador to Vietnam

Thu 16th, Jul

With a population of 90m, of whom 25% are aged 10-24, Vietnam is an exciting and dynamic although sometimes challenging market, full of long-term potential. 

After two decades of rapid growth from a low base, Vietnam achieved lower middle income status in 2009.  Growth was more subdued in the early years of this decade at around 5%, but picked up again in 2014 to almost 6% and looks set to strengthen in 2015.  

Import demand is expected to grow by around 250% between 2010 and 2020 - faster than any other emerging economy - and Vietnam also boasts the fastest-growing middle class in South East Asia. 

The British government sees the four primary sectors in Vietnam for potential UK commercial interest as Healthcare/Life Sciences; Mass Transport; Energy; and Education

We also have three secondary sectors: Food & Beverages; Retail/Consumer Goods; and Advanced Engineering.  In all these sectors, we see a combination of UK comparative advantage and also strong growth. 

However, other sectors are also well served by the local British Chamber, which this year became part of the Global Accredited Network of the British Chambers of Commerce. 

Infrastructure has been identified by the Vietnamese government as one of its priorities in its Socio-Economic Development Plan 2011-2015, in particular in transport with opportunities not just for infrastructure firms but also financial and professional service providers.

Prospects are good for conclusion of an EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in 2015, which should open up significant further opportunities for UK companies.

Similarly, Vietnam has implemented a 10-year-long modernisation policy which has opened the need for products and services which UK businesses can take advantage of. Particular sectors that offer great opportunities include consumer goods including plastics, dairy products, raw materials, unfinished iron and cotton.*

*Export Britain. Visit http://exportbritain.org.uk/market-snapshots/vietnam.html for further Vietnam statistics.  

If you want to find out more, contact export@liverpoolchamber.org.uk.

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Posted by Zee Hussain

Employment Partner - Colemans-ctts

Tue 14th, Jul

The recent budget unveiled a raft of new changes to boost the economy. Whilst with any budget, there is always concern with both winners and losers, changes such as corporation tax reductions and lower National Insurance for small businesses will certainly help businesses. To follow is a brief outline of some key changes.

  • National Living wage (NLW)

From next April, the NLW will rise to £7.20 and then to £9 an hour by 2020. While this is a promising move, the impact on both the employee and the employer may be rather different.While there will be a happy boost in earnings for 2.7 million workers, costs will increase notably for some businesses. The government has advised there will be reductions to Corporation Tax and an increase in the Employment Allowance. Employees will be sure to welcome this increase, however, businesses, particularly small businesses, are advised to watch this space closely – the big question lies with whether they can truly afford this increase.

The NLW applies to workers over 25 and coincides with the announcement of benefits being cut to those already in work. These cuts, however, will not apply to Maternity pay and disability benefits.

  • Employment Allowance

This will increase by a further £1000 to £3000. Businesses will have their employer National Insurance bill cut by another £1,000 from April 2016, as the Employment Allowance rises from £2000 to £3000. This means, next year, businesses will be able to employ 4 people full time on the National Living Wage and pay no National Insurance at all. As a result of the allowance, on a positive note, 90,000 employers will see their employer NIC’s liability reduced to zero. This has been introduced to try and offset the increase in wages, however, the question arises if thiswill really go far enough. The Employment Allowance will only allow employers (who are currently paying minimum wage) to offset the cost of the Living Wage increases up to 2,000 hours. After that, the business will be a net loser unless it is profitable enough to benefit from the reduction in the rate of corporation tax.

  • 3 million new apprenticeships

These will be created by 2020 and funded by a levy on larger employers.This suggests that firms that are committed to training will be able to get back more than they put in. The definition of large is usually taken to mean more than 250 employees. In practice, this may be an issue for large businesses who are not using apprentices but will still be taxed.  Should businesses who are already expending time, money and resources on apprentices also be taxed?

Click here to find out more.

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Mike Stott, DSG, comments on last week's budget

Posted by Mike Stott

Associate Tax Partner, DSG Chartered Accountants

Mon 13th, Jul

Well, what a day.  It takes me back to four or five years ago when there was a hive of activity running up to, during and after budget day.  Last week, I attended a Chamber of Commerce round table budget discussion, had an interview for TV, an interview for radio and then a fast walk, at HS2 pace, back to the office for a meeting with a client.

This was the first wholly Conservative budget in 19 years.  I must admit that I seem to remember Labour’s 1997 July budget having more of an impact on me than this budget.  In saying that, there were two announcements which I wasn’t expecting today: 

-The reduction in the headline rate of corporation tax from 20% to 18%.  10 years ago, countries with headline rates of corporation tax of 18% were treated with suspicion and UK companies with overseas subsidiaries in such jurisdictions were subject to additional tax compliance and potentially additional tax.  Now we seem to be one of the lowest rates in the developed world.

-A change to the taxation in dividends, which is likely to result in an increase in the tax arising on dividends. 

In both interviews, I was asked the question how I think employers will react to the implementation of a national living wage?  Obviously, this will be an additional cost to employers who employ lower paid employees, at a time when those employers are likely to be incurring further cost in the form of auto-enrolment pensions for their employees.  It is a fairly hefty increase, and will continue to rise until 2020.  We haven’t worked out the numbers yet but there will also be savings for employers in lower corporation tax, although this will only be of benefit to those companies with taxable profits, and an increase in the Employment Allowance. 

The Chancellor announced he would give more resource to HMRC to help him achieve £5billion in extra tax through a focus on “tax avoidance, evasion and aggressive tax planning”.  This is an interesting choice of words and perhaps sheds some light on the Government’s desire to clamp down on “aggressive tax planning” even though aggressive tax planning is perfectly legal.  I think that a better choice of words might have been “legal but immoral with no commercial substance” tax planning.  Given the changing landscape on tax planning, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Government focus on areas which were once deemed to be perfectly acceptable forms of tax planning. 

I hadn’t heard it said for a good few years that “The devil is in the detail” when commenting on the budget.  I have heard the phrase used, and have also used it a number of times today.  It is definitely the case with this budget.  Right, I had better go and read the detail...

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A thriving North not only needs reliable transport connections within the region; people and goods also have to cross borders easily and get to neighbouring parts of the UK.

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