Intellectual Property Office issues update on Standard Essential Patents

March 15, 2024

In the August 2022 response to its Call for Views about SEPs, the IPO committed to continued assessment of the issues raised, including further analysis of the submitted evidence and additional evidence-gathering. It also committed to reporting its findings to Ministers in 2023. Since then, the IPO has launched a questionnaire for SMEs, small-cap and mid-cap businesses. It has engaged in other evidence-gathering activity, including commissioning research.

The IPO has now reported its findings to Ministers and agreed key objectives concerning SEPs, which are:

  • helping implementers, especially SMEs, navigate and better understand the SEPs ecosystem and Fair Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) licensing;
  • improving transparency in the ecosystem, both pricing and essentiality; and
  • achieving greater efficiency in respect of dispute resolution, including arbitration and mediation.

With those objectives in mind, the government is now focusing on introducing key non-regulatory interventions before it starts a technical consultation later in 2024 or in 2025. It will cover the SEP framework and FRAND licensing. Those non-regulatory actions and details of the future technical consultation are set out below.

Introduction of a UK SEPs Resource Hub

The IPO understands that resource-constrained SME and smaller innovators (generally referred to as implementers) often have a poor understanding of the SEPs ecosystem. This includes information around licensing, pricing, essentiality, and dispute resolution. There is information available, but this can be patchy, complex, hard to find, and may not come from a trusted source. The IPO is aiming to launch an online SEPs Resource Hub by May 2024. This will be a repository of tools, guidance and other material designed to help SMEs navigate the SEPs ecosystem. Guidance may include signposting to dispute resolution procedures, information on patent pools, and court processes in the event of disputes. The Hub’s contents will be refreshed on an ongoing basis, including after any future technical consultation.

International collaboration and enhanced engagement with Standard Development Organisations

The IPO recognises that SEPs are a global issue, and its ambition is more coordination on those issues at an international level. As such, there will be an increase in the pace and visibility of its discussions with other patent offices on global ecosystem challenges. Government will also increase its engagement with Standard Development Organisations on both Intellectual Property Rights policy and the involvement of SMEs in standardisation.

A future technical consultation on SEPs and FRAND licensing

The IPO is considering other options that could help improve the functioning of the market in respect of SEPs. It will carry out a full and formal technical consultation later in 2024 which will include any options that would require a change to legislation.

Clarifying the position on SEP Injunctions

The government has considered the views from industry regarding injunctions through the Call for Views and industry engagement. After considering the evidence, the relevant legal frameworks and international obligations, it has concluded that it will not be consulting on making legislative changes to narrow the use of injunctions in SEPs disputes. As part of the Lords debate at Report stage of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill this week, peers discussed the IPO report and expressed disappointment about the position on injunctions. The IPO says that it will continue engagement with relevant industry and institutions to continue to inform its ongoing policy development and implementation of those actions set out above.