FAST launches 'The UK Software Industry: a Manifesto for Growth'
Software sector is key contributor to Britain’s tech sector and will play a key role in its continued economic growth
The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has launched its own manifesto ahead of the UK General Election on 7th May 2015.
“The UK Software Industry: a Manifesto for Growth” contains a series of policy initiatives that it wants to see the main UK political parties commit to in their own manifestos.
Alex Hilton, CEO of FAST, commented: “By the current Government’s own measurement the UK’s Creative Industries are now worth a staggering £76.9 billion a year, accounting for 1.71 million jobs in 2013 – a full 5.6 per cent of the entire working population in the UK. The tech sector in its own right is now worth £58 billion. This is a sector that is reporting strong and sustained growth year-on-year with over 60 per cent expecting a rise in business activity and both employment prospects and profitability on the up.
“Plainly, the software sector cannot be ignored as somehow just the preserve of large global multinationals. As we have seen with the growth of tech clusters in London, Cambridge and the North East, technology is a creative powerhouse born and bred here in the UK that needs constant nurturing within a policy and legal framework that will enable it to continue to flourish,” he added. “The UK economy is made of an increasing number of small technology businesses; notably 95 per cent of the 120,000 enterprises in the information economy sector employ fewer than ten people. This entrepreneurial community needs a strong legal structure to discourage IP infringements and offer a backbone of support. We have therefore developed a Manifesto that focuses on three key areas: enforcement, deterrence and accountability.
“The EU Atlas of ICT hotspots shows where digital technologies thrive and while most activity takes place in 34 regions across 12 of the 27 nations, the UK tops the poll with its unique mix of universities, research centres and good funding opportunities. It is this unique environment that FAST wants to see develop and we are calling on all the political parties to address the points we raise in our manifesto.”
The ten-point plan comprises:
- Encouraging R&D
FAST recognises the vitally important work of organisations such as Innovate UK (the operating name of the Technology Strategy Board), which encourages collaborative R&D between businesses and academia. Innovate currently claims that for every £1 invested in collaborative R&D some £7 in Gross Value Added is returned.
Over the past year expenditure on R&D amongst the UK’s mid-sized businesses has increased at 2.7%, over the 2.4% invested by larger and smaller companies.
Innovation lies at the heart of technology leadership and the UK has for generations been looked at as a leader in new tech, processes and ways of working. But to maintain this, the UK needs to continue to proactively offer the business community support and encouragement to invest in R&D.
More importantly UK tech companies are struggling to raise second round funding ($50m-$200m) from within the UK. The result often means that control shifts to the US market and the IP follows. So FAST is calling on the Government to provide incentives not just for R&D but also for investors in tech companies here in the UK so that the companies in turn can expand and grow into overseas markets.
- Extending connectivity
15 years after broadband first appeared in the UK there are still many at home or at work for who claims that average speed is now over 18Mbps is nothing more than a dream. Billions have been spent on broadband here in the UK and there have no doubt been solid improvements in connectivity. The question is has this money been spent in the right places? Ask any business in a rural community and you will get a straightforward answer: no. Without strong connectivity, the Internet economy will struggle to develop at the pace it could. Dependant on this is in particular access to and the benefit of cloud computing power and data storage.
- Building on the legal framework
Since its inception, FAST has worked hard on behalf of the UK software industry to ensure that software perspective is considered in the development of IP law, particularly on copyright. The UK must also have a strong voice at European level to ensure that the law is developed in a balanced manner in accordance with valuing and protecting IP.
FAST believes that the law needs to be drafted with one goal: in order to instil certainty. Businesses need certainty to invest and innovate, which is why FAST is calling on lawmakers to ensure that the UK has and continues to offer a suitable and advanced IP regime.
- Support a vigorous IP regime
The IP education report, researched and produced by Mike Weatherley, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade, and former Intellectual Property Adviser to the Prime Minister, Copyright Education and Awareness’ needs to be addressed and implemented.
In the report Mike Weatherley MP made a number of key recommendations, including:
- A step up in the coordination of IP awareness programmes, led by the IPO
- Greater measurement of IP perceptions and behaviours’
- Incorporating IP education in the school curriculum
- The BBC to create a copyright education programme
- Emphasis on better, clearer information on IP education
- Making better use of technology
- Introduction of an IP/Education coordinator
- Emphasis on reporting outcomes across Government
- The IPO to coordinate an inclusive steering group to deliver a robust programme of IP respect throughout the country.
- Muscular law enforcement
Back in 2006, The Gowers' Review on Intellectual Property recommended that the enforcement regime should be both ‘effective and dissuasive’. In 2009, the Ministry of Justice’s Response to Consultation on The Law of Damages recognised that it is ‘currently possible to acquire licenses for software applications after an infringement has been discovered without any penalty being imposed.” Since that time nothing on this has changed and there is still a notable lack of legal deterrence of corporate use of software out of compliance.
FAST is also calling for Trading Standards to keep its legal right to inspect shops without notice and request to see what is being sold from under the counter. From FAST’s experience this right has allowed them to unearth counterfeit software that might have been missed and sold to the consumer had a notice period been required by law to be given to the trader.
- Balanced digital content consumer law
FAST has always welcomed the development of law to bring it up to date and, as such, has been working closely with the Government as the Consumer Rights Bill as it has gone through the Parliamentary process. However, FAST is anxious that the law should remain balanced, clear and not an impediment to the software industry supplying software to consumers in the UK.
It is FAST’s contention that increased legal burdens – especially for smaller software developers – could severely impact the SME software development sector, creating a higher barrier for such developers to supply the consumer and, ultimately, higher software prices for software Digital Content. The Consumer Rights Bill still needs considered debate and FAST urges the Government not to attempt to rush the legislation through prior to the General Election.
- Maintain investment in PIPCU and championing Trading Standards Enforcement
FAST fully supported and endorsed the setting up of the Police IP Crime Unit (PIPCU) by the City of London police. It is now time to have a national debate of how Trading Standards, given the cuts, can be organised on a regional and/or national basis to remain an effective fighting force to drive out rogue traders and IP crime often operating through cyberspace.
- Implement Article 4 of the EU Enforcement Directive
Furthermore FAST is calling on all political parties to support its call to give organisations such as FAST Representative Rights under Article 4 of the EU Enforcement Directive. This would allow these organisations such as FAST to act directly on behalf of software vendors, including to protect their IP rights as a representative collective allowing publishers to continue unimpeded in their commercial activities and not to be the aggressor necessarily in pursuit of a pirate.
- Sensible data protection
The EU is still debating the issue of upgrading the Europe wide Data Protection regime and FAST is calling on all political parties in the forthcoming election not to overlook this and ensure that the UK is not burdened with an overzealous regime, which acts against economic growth for all businesses. A modernised data protection regime that can help clarify data subject rights, provide a clear governance framework for businesses that operate across the EU and robust enforcement is to be welcomed. Care needs to be taken to avoid the imposition of overly prescriptive rules that inhibit future paths to data-driven economic growth.
- Deterrence and accountability
FAST also believes that company Directors need to be held more accountable under the criminal law for simply knowing about illegal software use but cannot necessarily be pursued personally under the current criminal copyright provisions unless a high legal bar can be passed proving they were the controlling mind behind the offence. FAST is pushing for company directors to be made liable for personal negligence. Furthermore, FAST is campaigning for UK legal compensation provision for up to 100 per cent of the value of pirated or unlicensed software.