Finding Ways to Unlock the Potential of Ideas; Alex Shiel, Partner and Head of Intellectual Property and IT at Ward Hadaway, Looks at How a Proposed Shake-Up of the Regime Governing Intellectual Property Rights Could Affect the Fastest 50 of the Future

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THE value of ideas can be hard to quantify, but one look at the output of an innovative company such as Apple (last seen with a quarterly turnover of $28.6bn) is enough to demonstrate that coming up with new ideas and developing them into products and services is a highly lucrative business.

Many of the companies in this year''s Fastest 50 have themselves harnessed the value of intellectual property - whether with brands such as Barbour and Fox Head or innovative manufacturers like Wilton Engineering Services - to achieve major success.

One estimate from 2008 put the value of UK investment in intellectual property at pounds 65bn - whatever the figure is today, it is certain that ideas, processes, brands and innovation are worth having - and worth protecting.

However, big changes could be on the way. Following concerns that the UK may be getting left behind when it comes to harnessing and profiting from intellectual property, the Government is looking to overhaul the current system in an effort to unlock an estimated pounds 7.9bn of additional GDP and promote greater innovation and growth in the UK economy. Ministers have pledged to implement changes recommended in an independent report from intellectual property expert Professor Ian Hargreaves.

The main changes proposed in the Hargreaves Report include: ? The establishment of a Digital Copyright Exchange where licences to use copyright content can be bought and sold Greater access to so-called 'orphan works'' whose copyright owners cannot be traced through the Digital Copyright Exchange Allowing more lawful copying, such as from a laptop to an MP3 player and copying that doesn''t conflict with the core aims of copyright ? A relaxation of rules governing parodies and non-commercial research By and large, the recommendations have been well received.

Existing copyright holders have breathed a sigh of relief that the Report did not go down the 'fair use'' route adopted in the USA, where large portions of a work can be replicated without permission, while those calling for a more open system say the new rules will stop innocent activities being criminalised and allow greater scope for innovation.

Creative enterprises will clearly be affected by the new regime, but what about businesses operating in other sectors? While copyright does cut across a number of industries - particularly those where creating content is important - it would be a big mistake to assume that the Government''s plans to change intellectual property begin and end with tweaking the copyright rules to take account of the digital age. …