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Intellectual Property Rights

30. Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to review the law relating to intellectual property rights. [153661]

Dr. Howells: UK law relating to intellectual property rights is continually being updated in response to new developments at international, European and domestic levels. Where relevant European legislation provides specifically for a review, we intend to play a full part in that process.

Business Regulation

31. Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to reduce the amount of regulation of small and medium-sized businesses. [153662]

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Ms Hewitt: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry takes the issue of burdens on business very seriously and is working to ensure that red tape is kept to a minimum, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.

The Department of Trade and Industry announced new proposals to strengthen and improve the employment tribunal system in November 2000. The new measures will help to ease the burden on business caused by weak and ill-founded claims. We are also considering the responses to a consultation on a proposal to exempt small and medium-sized businesses from the requirement to pay merger fees.

The Small Business Service has been set up to work with small firms and Departments to ensure that regulations do not impose unnecessary burdens. The Government have revised guidance on Regulatory Impact Assessments, emphasising the need to think small first in drawing up regulations and to consult with the Small Business Service.

Overhead Power Lines

33. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent assessment he has made of the costs of burying overhead power lines; and if he will make a statement. [153664]

Mr. Hain: Developing technology is unlikely to provide any immediate help in offsetting the cost penalty that goes with burying overhead power lines.

Education (Business Co-operation)

34. Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how he plans to encourage co-operation between universities, colleges and the business community. [153665]

Ms Hewitt: We have introduced a number of measures to encourage collaboration between higher education and business. We have established the £140 million Higher Education Innovation Fund to support higher education and business interaction--particularly with SMEs--and are supporting university innovation centres, which are regionally based partnerships between large businesses, groups of small businesses and academia. We are also running one further round of University Challenge and Science Enterprise Challenge to further assist the commercialisation of research and help bring business skills into the science curriculum, and will be supporting 20 Business Fellows to lead their academic colleagues in working with business. Collectively, this represents a significant public investment in knowledge transfer. We plan to maintain this investment through a permanent "third" stream of funding to reward and incentivise excellence in knowledge transfer alongside funding for research and teaching.

We are also working towards the target of 1,000 TCS Programmes running at any one time, enabling firms of all sizes to develop their competitiveness by using a graduate to embed new ideas or technology, and we have doubled the number of new starts of Faraday Partnerships so that the national network of at least 24 Partnerships will be in place by 2002. We will also continue to support LINK programmes which encourage businesses to work with the research base in universities and elsewhere.

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Additionally, we have recently announced a further round of Foresight LINK Awards focused on key Foresight research priorities from Panel reports published last December.

Arms Exports

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to introduce controls on the end-use of arms exported from the United Kingdom in the forthcoming draft legislation on arms export controls; and if he will make a statement. [153647]

Dr. Howells: The Government rigorously assess all export licence applications to determine the risk of any proposed export being misused in contravention of the consolidated EU and national export licensing criteria. Under these criteria we will not issue an export licence where there is a clearly identifiable risk that the equipment could be used for internal repression or external aggression. Applications are also refused if we assess that an unacceptable risk of diversion exists.

We have taken a number of steps to strengthen the process of risk assessment at the export licensing stage. Such improvements have not required a change in the law and there no plans to include specific measures on end-use monitoring in the draft Export Control Bill.

Patent Office

Mr. Borrow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what targets he has set the Department's executive agency, the Patent Office, for 2001-02. [155546]

Mr. Alan Johnson: I have set the Patent Office the following targets for 2001-02:

In addition to these key targets:

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Mr. Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the second stage of the quinquennial review of the Patent Office will be completed; and if he will make a statement. [155542]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The second stage of the five-yearly review of the Patent Office has now been completed. The Patent Office has a key role to play as a driver in the knowledge economy.

I am pleased to say that the review found the Patent Office has achieved a remarkable transformation over the last decade and is now extremely customer focused and responsive. The Office's patent granting and other registration functions are well regarded and compare favourably with those of other IPR Offices. Indeed on trade marks, the review found that the Office was thought to be one of the best in the world.

The Patent Office's role has to be seen in an international context, which is evolving. Trade is becoming increasingly international and intellectual property protection has to reflect this. The Patent Office is in the forefront in initiating and promoting development of the international systems. The European Community and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) have both embarked on substantial programmes to achieve harmonisation and there is significant work in progress in the EU in areas such as the proposed Community Patent. The review concludes that the Office should work to make the international routes for patent granting--which SMEs as well as larger companies need--cheaper, faster and more accessible and to reduce duplication of work. There is also a growing need to ensure that copyright can be protected and enforced on an international basis.

The Patent Office has an important part to play in fostering innovation and encouraging technological transfer. The review finds that more could be done to help ensure that inventions achieve successful commercial exploitation. It suggests that the Patent Office should work with the Small Business Service to help small businesses in this respect, such as by helping to match inventors with business partners. This would complement the wider activities of my Department in support of innovation and the knowledge economy.

IT has great strategic and financial importance for the Office. The Office has made good progress in introducing electronic services and a significant further programme is in train.

The Office needs objectives and targets appropriate to this agenda of internationalisation and effective help for small business, allowing delivery through e-communication channels wherever possible.

The demand for patents is outstripping the ability of Patent Offices to deliver, both internationally and in the UK. Reducing duplication of work between offices is thus all the more important. The Patent Office has a wide programme to try to ensure that scarce examiner resource is used to best effect. The report makes recommendations about recruitment strategies for patent examiners, flexible working schemes, training and use of examiners as well as pay.

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Obtaining IP rights is only part of the story: small business made clear that effective enforcement of rights is crucial to their value and they found that effective enforcement could be both difficult and costly. The report recommends that the Patent Office should work with others to develop alternative dispute resolution procedures and to help facilitate the greater use of insurance in this field. It could also usefully extend its work to improve awareness of the range of intellectual property rights and how to enforce them. On trade marks and copyright significant action to assist enforcement is already in hand. The report recommends that the Office should consider further streamlining its procedure for handling trade mark oppositions.

The report looks at the Office's use of contractors. It finds that in the case of the London Front Office, there have been gains in terms of cost and efficiency, but the option of bringing the function back in-house should be appraised before a decision is taken whether to continue with contracting out. In the case of accommodation services, the report finds that it is not clear-cut whether these should remain contracted out or be brought back in-house. The Office should undertake an internal benchmark costing, taking into account all the relevant factors, before deciding how to achieve best value.

The report suggests new procedures for the handling of appeals for entry to the patent and trade mark agent profession and on cases of misconduct. It suggests that the Office should encourage multi-disciplinary partnerships, which can offer a "one-stop shop" on a range of issues.

Overall, the review shows what a success story the UK Patent Office has become. The Office is found to set a high example in its responsiveness to customers and open communications with staff, its new IP Portal and its successful involvement in the "New Deal" initiative. Other agencies, and other parts of government, could particularly learn from its example in these respects.

I would like to place on record my appreciation for the efforts the staff and management of the Patent Office have made to bring about these achievements.

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