Q&A with James Nurton

Bloomsbury Professional catch up with journalist, James Nurton.

1 - What first garnered your interest in IP & IT?

Like many history graduates, I didn’t know what career to pursue! However, having done some student journalism, I applied for training contracts in the media and was lucky to get a position as a trainee reporter on Managing Intellectual Property, where I worked for 21 years. I started in January 1996 which, in hindsight, was a pivotal time for the development of IP: the Community Trade Mark (now EUTM) was being launched, the Madrid Protocol was expanding, there were some significant patent cases looming such as Markman and State St and the WIPO Copyright Treaties were being negotiated.

The late 1990s saw enormous growth in the profile and value of IP assets, thanks to globalisation and the emergence of new technologies, particularly in the life sciences and internet industries. It’s hard to believe but it was also in 1996 that Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed their first search engine, which went on to become Google Search.

2- What has been the been the biggest development in the last five years in your opinion?

Can I pick two developments, both of which are broader social trends whose impact on IP I think will be profound? One is the emergence of artificial intelligence, which has the potential to affect all areas of IP: the creation and development of inventions and works of art; searching databases of rights and case law; and the settlement of disputes. The other is what we might call the sharing economy, which represents a challenge to the traditional IP paradigm of “ownership”. We have already seen the impact of this in copyright law with file-sharing sites, which have raised lots of difficult questions. With social media, open source and crowdsourcing, we may well see similar questions arising in other areas of IP.

3- What impact do you think Brexit will have on IP law?

The impact will be huge, and in many respects hard to predict at this stage. I am actually fairly optimistic that the relevant agencies will find means to maintain protection for registered rights such as EU trade marks and registered Community designs. But I think it could take many years, and potentially lots of litigation, to address issues such as enforceability of judgments across borders, genuine use of trade marks and parallel imports/exhaustion.

4- In light of recent events, do you think tech giants have too much power?

There has undeniably been a shift. We have seen the impact of that in the media industry, for example, as advertising revenues have moved to entities such as Google and Facebook. That’s bad news for many newspapers and magazines, but on the other hand you can’t deny the enormous benefits that companies based on new technologies bring to consumers and society generally. The important thing is that governments and the courts ensure that the incentive to innovate is balanced with the wider social benefit: IP laws (as well as laws on tax, data protection and other matters) have a vital role to play here.

James Nurton is the author of our monthly Bloomsbury IP/IT  Briefing.

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