Delivering on Ambition: A Conversation with Adam Williams, Interim CEO of the UK IPO
Published: September 21, 2022
Adam Williams, interim CEO of the UK IPO, discusses his plans to build on the legacy of his predecessor, Tim Moss, by continuing to pursue the goal of building world-class IP services around the needs of UK IPO customers.
Congratulations on your appointment as interim CEO at the IPO. What are your top priorities for the Office?
Firstly, I want to ensure we have continued strong leadership at the top of the UK IPO. Tim Moss, my predecessor, has left a fantastic legacy within the IPO and the wider IP community and will be missed. However, I am confident that our great team of directors and staff will continue to deliver on the ambitions we set under Tim’s leadership.
I want the UK IPO to continue to deliver on our ambition to be the best IP Office in the world, based on the goals set out in our strategy; that is, to put customers at the heart of everything we do and deliver excellent IP services. We’ll do this by pressing ahead with our One IPO Transformation Programme, building world-class services around the needs of our customers.
We will continue with our work to create a world-leading IP environment. We need to ensure the IP system is fit for purpose—both in terms of current demands, and to meet the needs of the future. We must ensure that the IP system supports and inspires innovators and creators so they, and society, get the most from their ideas. To do so, IP law, policies, information, and the enforcement framework must enable innovators and creators to access, use, and protect their IP effectively.
Lastly, but no way least, for our staff, I want to make the UK IPO a truly brilliant place to work and have staff that are truly passionate about IP, the excellent services they provide, and a commitment to putting the needs of our customers at the heart of everything we do.
What do you see as the most critical challenges and opportunities for the global IP community, and how will the UK IPO address these?
We are living at a time defined by disruptive change. In many respects, rapid change—affecting almost every facet of life—is the one real constant. The world is increasingly interconnected.
The environment in which young people are growing up, interacting with the world, undertaking research, and developing careers is increasingly complicated and nuanced.
This gives rise to challenges—and opportunities—that know no boundaries. I see these challenges and opportunities as interwoven. The relentless pace of change is, in itself, the first challenge. To embrace this, the IP framework must adapt and keep pace with the huge changes in technology, the environment, the culture, the economy, and the wider social trends we are seeing.
The UK IPO has introduced greater capability for considering “futures” issues to stay ahead of the curve. We are embedding horizon scanning across the organization as part of our ambition to be flexible to the changing needs of those using and affected by the IP framework.
We are considering these issues in areas such as: IP and the metaverse—how will the IP system need to adapt to our digital future? The future of IP licensing—how can IP licensing continue to enhance innovation and creativity in a changing world? IP’s future social value—how do we ensure that the IP system still balances private rights and public benefits in the face of societal changes?
We must ensure that the IP system supports and inspires innovators and creators so they, and society, get the most from their ideas.
These are big and long-term questions, but we need to think about them now to ensure that our current policy development and operational changes take the IPO and the IP framework in the right direction.
Of course, IP crime is a significant challenge to our IP system—IP rights are only as valuable as the ability to enforce them. And it’s a challenge that knows no boundaries. In an increasingly interconnected world, everything from online marketplaces to seamless transport links to integrated supply chains creates opportunities for businesses, but sadly, for criminals as well.
We know that in the UK and across the world, IP crime damages economies, causes consumer harms, and, in the worst cases, underpins serious organized crime. Last year, the UK IPO launched an ambitious new counter-infringement strategy. The strategy takes a collaborative approach and aims to tackle both the supply side and the demand side for counterfeit goods.
We have taken a lot of time, over two years, to develop our approach, and have the long-term goal of making IP crime and infringement socially unacceptable to all. It’s our five-year plan, and we hope that INTA members will help us on our way.
A big part of tackling that demand side is educating businesses and consumers about their rights and responsibilities. Respect flows from understanding. As a society, we need to promote how IP is recognized, understood, and respected.
And, as a global IP community, we all have the same goal of promoting respect for IP. With a shared understanding of the problems we face, it should be easier to find solutions.
So, the final element of this picture—as I see it—is about building awareness of IP. As I touched on earlier, the world in which young people are starting out in life is increasingly complex and nuanced. But this also presents opportunities that would not have been imaginable just 30 years ago.
IP touches on so many of these. A knowledge and understanding of IP will increasingly be an invaluable asset for life—and I see a huge opportunity to educate and inspire the next generation of creators and innovators. This year, the UK IPO launched a new education framework. We hope this will help younger people understand the value within their inventions and creations, and how they can unleash this. The potential for IP to open doors—and magnify the impact of research, creativity, and innovation on society—is huge. Building this awareness is in itself a huge challenge, but one that will benefit all of us within the IP community—and wider society—if we rise to it successfully.
And we will need to do all the above efficiently. The UK government is rightly, given the various fiscal challenges of recent years, considering how the Civil Service can be more efficient, so within that ambition, we need to be clear on priorities and good use of our existing resources.
A knowledge and understanding of IP will increasingly be an invaluable asset for life—and I see a huge opportunity to educate and inspire the next generation of creators and innovators.
The UK IPO has a reputation around the world for high quality and strict examinations. With an increased post-Brexit volume of applications, how will you seek to maintain those high standards with a growing group of examiners?
Maintaining our high-quality delivery of rights is a top priority for us, and something we heavily invest in.
We’ve completed a huge amount of work in this area since Brexit. We started by adapting our recruitment, training, and quality review processes, to bring new staff into the organization at speed while still maintaining our high standards for examination.
Our most experienced examiners have played a critical role in mentoring and supporting our newest staff. This has provided us with the model to adapt to future challenges and ensure that our high standards are maintained.
We have also invested in new quality systems allowing us to deal with any issues in “real time,” before they actually affect the customer. These systems identify specific learning opportunities and additional training packages for staff where needed.
We’ve also overhauled the process and requirements needed to reach senior examiner grade.
Our One IPO Transformation Programme is key to our ability to continue to meet our customers’ expectations and deliver high-quality work. This program will deliver fully digital and integrated services, which are quicker and easier to use—and that are built around the needs of our customers.
They will be able to apply for, view, manage, and challenge the use of their IP all in one place, and access powerful search and analysis tools to help them research IP.
We remain ambitious in our plans for growth. UK trademark applications have been increasing for over a decade, and the market remains vibrant. We are delighted that customers value the service we provide, as our most recent customer satisfaction score of over 88 percent reflects.
Please describe the UK IPO’s level of cooperation with the EUIPO beyond Brexit. What needs to be done to further enhance cooperation?
We continue to seek strong relationships with many national and regional IP offices—including the EUIPO—and we look forward to further strengthening this relationship in the future.
Our aim is to make sure that we, as a national IP office, can help stimulate innovation, creativity, and economic activity in both the UK and via the global IP system.
We continue to work toward the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the EUIPO to realize these goals, although progress has been frustratingly slow.
In the meantime, though, we maintain an open dialogue with our friends at the EUIPO on a range of issues. This helps ensure that stakeholders in both jurisdictions continue to have the tools they need to file and enforce their rights.
The EU legislative regime on online IP infringement has advanced significantly over UK law, and there’s a growing list of parties advocating for stronger laws in the UK. Given the expansion of e-commerce globally, is the UK IPO satisfied that its existing system of voluntary measures and limited legislation is sufficient?
Yes, I think the UK’s current approach is robust, and, in fact, I believe that voluntary approaches can be quicker and more flexible in many cases than legislative intervention, which is important in the rapidly evolving online environment.
That said, the UK IPO recognizes that new challenges may require different solutions, and that is why under our new Counter Infringement Strategy, we have convened a cross-government policy group to identify issues which may require a joined-up approach across government, including legislation, to fully address this issue.
One of those issues includes Know Your Business Customer checks and the role they play in reducing infringement online. We want consumers and IP rights holders to have faith when dealing online, and we are considering ways to reduce the presence of fraudulent online actors which deal in counterfeit goods and pirated content.
The potential for IP to open doors—and magnify the impact of research, creativity, and innovation on society—is huge.
Looking at the UK’s negotiations with Canada and Mexico, what particular challenges do you hope the UK will address through the IP provisions contained in these free trade agreements?
The UK has a sophisticated, effective, and widely respected IP regime, which is reflected and supported by our IP trade policy. We have an ambitious program of Free Trade Agreement negotiations, and getting the right outcome for UK inventors, creators, and consumers is key.
An enhanced agreement with Canada and Mexico provides an opportunity to agree on bespoke deals that are more tailored to our UK interests. We published our objectives for these agreements on GOV.UK earlier this year.
Broadly speaking, we want to protect the UK’s existing IP standards and to help secure provisions in these deals that will support our economies through effective and balanced protection and enforcement of IP rights.
Our recent agreements with Australia and New Zealand demonstrate this. We have secured provisions which recognize best practices for the efficient registration and renewal of trademarks and have also agreed on language related to the enforcement of trademarks.
The FTA with New Zealand includes commitments related to blocking orders for websites which sell counterfeit goods and encouraging domain registrars to take measures to suspend domains used to infringe intellectual property rights.
The UK IPO has been very active in supporting the development of IP regulation and enforcement capacity around the world, especially in Asia and Latin America.
- What do you see as the most critical IP issues in these regions?
- How can INTA collaborate with the UK IPO to further these objectives?
Having been the International Director here at the UK IPO for the last five years, I am very proud of our international work and all that we have achieved.
Our attaché network has gone from strength to strength, providing support to UK businesses and engaging with local partners. Most recently, we expanded the network with a new attaché taking up post in Saudi Arabia to cover engagement in the Gulf Cooperation Council. We are also currently working on recruiting a new attaché in Europe.
One of the biggest barriers preventing UK companies and brands from making the most of international opportunities is IP enforcement, and that is reflected in our activity in key markets around the world.
In Brazil and elsewhere, we’ve supported efforts to take down infringing websites that would have totaled hundreds of millions of visits and tens of millions of pounds of damage.
In Asia, we’ve worked with Indonesia and Vietnam to increase enforcement coordination and give UK businesses the confidence that their rights will be enforced.
While in China, despite COVID travel challenges, we have maintained senior level engagement between offices, and our program of technical exchanges continues to showcase UK best practices.
We also recently joined WIPO’s Global Brands Database. The addition of more than 3 million UK-registered trademarks to WIPO’s database will help businesses grow their brands with confidence and reassure them that their trademark is less likely to be infringed.
Looking ahead, we will be addressing some of the challenges through the implementation of our new counter-infringement strategy that I mentioned earlier, where we have committed to further collaboration with international partners.
We have always valued INTA’s input and support of our international objectives. Given the organization’s global reach, your insight into the international IP landscape is invaluable to the UK IPO as is your ability to amplify key messages through your networks and via your members. We are looking forward to working with INTA later this year on a brand protection conference in India, which will demonstrate the good collaboration between us in recent times and will be timely as the UK and India finalize the free trade agreement.
The UK IPO is an important member of the Madrid System for the international registration of trademarks. The International Bureau is proposing to add Arabic, Chinese, and Russian as full working languages of the Madrid System, in which case applicants will be able to file international trademarks in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, English, French, and Spanish. Please describe what impact this will likely have on the UK IPO.
We recognize the importance of an inclusive approach to languages at WIPO to make IP systems and information available to a wider audience. However, any extension should not increase costs to users of the system or introduce delays for users.
With regard to the impact on the UK IPO, this could result in an increase in trademark applications from Arabic, Chinese, and Russian speaking countries if applying in their own language was seen to be less of a barrier to using the Madrid System.
However, it’s worth noting that China had the third highest number of applications through the Madrid System in 2020, and 85.5 percent of all international applications through the Madrid System were filed in English.
Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.
© 2022 International Trademark Association
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