The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.
Gustave Flaubert

Friday, 14 October 2016

Brexit

A blend of the words "British" and "exit" [from the European Union], coined by The Economist in 2012 but inspired by the earlier coining "Grexit" which dates from the time not long ago when Greek membership of the European Union seemed unsustainable. The main difference between the two might turn out to be that whereas Grexit was avoided, Brexit will become a reality, although it has frequently been described in the aftermath of the referendum of 23 June 2016 which gave the government its mandate to pursue it as a delusion.

The popular vote, in which 37.74 per cent of the electorate voted to leave, was advisory only, but this nicety may have been lost on many voters and it certainly does not appear to have had any influence on the government. The process of leaving the European Union requires the UK to give notice under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, and will be completed (unless all Member States agree to an extension, which is so unlikely that it can be ignored) two years later. The UK government has announced that it will give such notice by the end of March 2017, so the UK should cease to be a member of the EU on 1 April 2019. Whether the UK or what some of our politicians are pleased to call the "rump" EU will be the April Fools remains to be seen.

In the intellectual property law field, Brexit will not perhaps be quite as disastrous as in other areas. Indeed, repatriating intellectual property law and being able to ignore some idiosyncratic decisions of the Court of Justice could be a major improvement over the present situation. Primary legislation based on directives should survive Brexit unscathed, and secondary legislation under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 which implements EU obligations will, the government promises, be brought under some new statutory authority, so there will be no immediate changes to the law. The powers given under s.2(2) have been useful in that they have obviated a need for Parliamentary time to be found to change the primary legislation on copyright, trade marks and registered designs: in the future copyright law especially might have greater difficulty keeping up with technological change, but we might be spared other changes like the the Trade Marks (Proof of Use, etc.) Regulations 2004 which amended the anti-dilution provisions of the Trade Marks Act 1994 to remove the limitation to the situation where the parties' goods or services were dissimilar.

In two areas Brexit will have a significant impact on intellectual property law. First, owners of EU trade marks and registered designs will have to secure separate rights in the UK: some mechanism for achieving this is likely to be put in place before Brexit actually happens, but in the meantime applicants for EU rights are likely to consider applying for national rights in the UK too. Second, the Unified Patent Court agreement provides specifically that it must be ratified by the three states with the most European Patents in force, namely France, Germany and the United Kingdom, of which the UK might not feel any pressing urgency to take that crucial step.

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