'In the digital age, students must be taught the importance of intellectual property'

Lawrence Smith-Higgins

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The outlook for traditional jobs may seem bleak. Over the past few years we have seen rather lacklustre job growth at 2.1 per cent across the wider UK economy, while receiving frequent reminders from the media that robots will soon be well placed to take over many roles anyway.

The UK’s creative industries are, however, bucking the trend.

Since 2011 this sector has experienced significant job creation, at close to 16 per cent, and has grown to be worth more than £76 billion a year to the UK economy.

The UK’s proud history of innovation and creativity has been underpinned by one of the best intellectual property regimes in the world. If we are to build on our successes, it is essential that we reach out to future creators and impress upon them the importance of protecting their future work.

Technology has given us new ways of accessing and enjoying music, literature and film, with seemingly limitless online content. We should celebrate this unprecedented access to creative works, which enrich our daily lives.

Unfortunately, the downside of such quick and easy access to the things we love is that many people (and especially the young) have got used to not paying for music and films and do not appreciate the harm caused by illegal downloading. More must be done by government, industry, and educators to encourage respect for talented artists and creators and their contribution both to our enjoyment and the UK economy.

Fortunately the majority of today’s students recognise the importance of intellectual property (IP). A recent study by the NUS revealed that 80 per cent of students thought IP knowledge was important, but only 40 per cent thought they had the necessary knowledge to support them in their future careers. Ultimately students wanted better access to information on IP.

In today’s connected environment, even very young people are IP consumers, accessing online digital content independently and regularly. They are also creators of IP, and many will leave school or university to take up careers in industries that depend upon inventiveness and creativity. A basic understanding of IP and a respect for others’ IP rights is therefore a key life skill.

Despite this, IP is too often ignored in our education system. For the Intellectual Property Office, ensuring that the next generation is equipped with the knowledge it needs to succeed in a competitive world and is motivated to respect the effort others have invested in developing new products, images or music are key priorities within our wider outreach work to build IP awareness.

On 2 November, the Intellectual Property Office launched a new online hub, which gives schools and colleges free access to teaching resources to help students learn about intellectual property.

If you are teaching business, design and technology, media, music or citizenship, getting your students to engage early will be a huge step towards creating the IP-literate generation we need to keep the UK competitive and a creative global leader.   

Lawrence Smith-Higgins is head of campaigns and education at the Intellectual Property Office

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